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Don Hillebrand

Director, Energy Systems Division, Argonne National Laboratory



The convergence of discovery science, process engineering, and manufacturing


Lowering the cost and improving the performance of batteries for plug-in electric vehicles requires improving every part of the battery, from underlying chemistry to packaging. Current goals call for making plug-in electric vehicles as affordable and practical as a 2012 baseline conventional vehicle by 2022, the Vehicle Technologies Office supports research on the fundamental chemistries and materials. 


By starting with the fundamental components, researchers can improve current technologies and develop new ones. For existing battery chemistries, they study why and how current battery materials fail using advanced modeling and characterization techniques. Then, based on those results, they propose and test various solutions to alleviate these problems. In particular, the research focuses on improving battery’s energy density while ensuring they operate safely, have a long life and a low cost.  Researchers are addressing issues that prevent these technologies from reaching commercialization, including poor cycle life, low power, low efficiencies, and issues with safety.


A key enabler of new material technologies is the ability to process, scale-up and manufacture at scale.  DOE and Argonne in particular will focus on this area of research as part of their Molecules to Manufacturing initiative.  The Molecules and Materials to Manufacturing (M3) initiative seeks to enable the full development spectrum for new materials and chemistries: from fundamental discovery, to process R&D and scale-up to the creation of demonstration platforms for manufacturing.  The underlying vision is to accelerate outcomes from prediction, discovery, design, and manufacturing starting at the atomic and spanning through mesoscale architectures.


Key components of all M3 activities include one or more of synthesis science, predictive modeling, or materials engineering. The identified target is establishment of a Transformative Manufacturing Facility that would establish a science-basis for innovations in manufacturing processes and enhanced work-flows that could impact multiple technology areas including:

  • Integrating analytical insights through predictive synthesis and processing models
  • Innovative manufacturing processes for advanced materials
  • Manufacturing systems rather than individual components
  • Leveraging of basic tools/capabilities to provide rapid analytical feedback


The following will be discussed: research, work and findings about natural organism-directed synthesis of new materials and functions; genetically-engineered, living organism-directed synthesis of new structures and functions; organized and confined controlled structure formation, directed by rationally designed multi-functional proteins; amd artificial synthesis, inspired by photo-synthesis. The bio process-inspired approach extends to present chemical methodology materials-production, especially under environmentally benign conditions.




Dr. Don Hillebrand is the Director of Argonne’s Energy Systems Division.  In this role Don is responsible for leading a team of over 300 engineers and scientists who are actively seeking to develop sustainable innovative technologies to improve the efficiency of resource and energy utilization; to minimize our dependence on imported energy; and to enhance our national competitiveness.


Prior to joining Argonne in 2004, Hillebrand worked for Daimler Research in Stuttgart, Germany. While there, he was responsible for Daimler’s research and technology liaison with the European Commission in Brussels, and interacting with European research organizations and business groups and leading integrated government industry research programs. 


In the 1990s, Hillebrand worked for three years in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as a White House Fellow, and ultimately spent nearly 20 years with Chrysler Corporation in a range of engineering roles.


In 2011 Don was named by Automotive News as one of the 100 most influential people bringing about the electrification of the automobile. He is listed on Forbes 10 list of automotive thought leaders, is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and served as the 2013 President of SAE international.  He was named Michigan’s Outstanding Young Engineer of the Year 1993 and is a Fellow of the ESD. 


Don has two patents and is the author of over a hundred publications and invited seminar presentations.  He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Oakland University.   






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