Today Volkswagen AG announced it and BASF SE will be jointly sponsoring what essentially amounts to a world-wide brain trust in the form of an annual contest intended to prompt new ides for electric energy storage.

The “Science Award for Electrochemistry” offers a 50,000 prize (about $63,750) for the winner, is open to all, and is intended to promote advanced research in electrochemistry science and engineering with the ultimate hope of improving on electrified vehicles’ energy storage capabilities.

Assuming the research pays off, perhaps also the end goal would be to eliminate the present need for internal combustion component from hybrid and plug-in vehicles, and make the transition to pure electric vehicles.

That would take a new technology beyond lithium-ion chemistries currently on the market to enable range and performance acceptable to the company, and of course it is not the only organization seeking new innovations which VW says are needed.

“Electrochemical expertise constitutes an essential foundation for the development of future energy storage devices,” Volkswagen said. “Without these technologies, neither a supply with renewable energy, which is both friendly to the climate and preserves resources, nor future drive system concepts such as electric mobility will be possible. Energy storage devices do not have the service capacity at present that customers are used to in terms of energy supply and mobility.”

In Volkswagen’s view, the most suitable automotive stop gap measure is hybrids and plug-in hybrids that will offer limited electric range, but rely also on fuel-efficient engines. Presently, VW Group has offered hybrids such as the Touareg hybrid and the Audi Q5 since 2010. This year, the range will be augmented with the Volkswagen Jetta, the Audi A6 and A8.

The company is not altogether against EVs though, and intends to release the Audi R8 e-tron in limited numbers in 2012, along with the VW e-up! and Golf Blue e-motion EVs next year. Also for limited release will be the XL1 plug-in hybrid in 2013.

Aside from the award process open to all intended to spur innovation – which you can access at this Web site – BASF has work ongoing to develop new battery components such as cathode materials and electrolytes that allow the production of high-performance lithium-ion batteries.

“Batteries are the key technology for the electromobility of the future. With the Science Award we are supporting highly qualified scientists around the world so that new future-capable battery technologies can be researched and developed even faster,” said Dr. Kurt Bock, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE.

According to the Science Award of Electro chemistry FAQ page, the scope of the awards actually goes beyond energy storage, and areas of research covers includes:

The Initiators intend to fund excellent scientific research in electrochemistry in the areas of chemistry, physics and engineering, as well as its applications. The research activities in focus of this contest could address, but are not limited to, battery materials, cells, battery systems, production and operations as well as recycling.

Following are criteria for who can apply:

The contest should give the impetus for a new generation of researchers, including, but not limited to, postdoctoral fellows intending to habilitate or assistant professors/junior professors establishing a new institute or chair. Only individuals aged below 40 years are eligible. Research groups are excluded. Applicants are not entitled to submit more than one application. The application requires (1) an excellent Ph.D. thesis, habilitation or research contribution in the areas of chemistry, physics or engineering which has been graded “excellent” / “sehr gut” or equivalent and (2) a recommendation by the supervising professor or equivalent (e. g. head of research). Employees of the Initiators or their affiliates including employees’ relatives and members of Jury are not entitled to apply.

Applications are to be via the Web site, and other pertinent info such as required documentation and more are also found on the FAQ page.

VW says its Science Award will “be offered annually from now on” with the first application process open through August 3 and an award ceremony following in Wolfsburg, Germany in October.

“The prize money of 50,000 euros makes it one of the highest endowed science awards. For the first time, a pan-industry science award will be conferred jointly by two companies,” VW says.