Alliance forms to enhance U.S. Li-ion capability

  • 22-Dec-2008 11:56 EST

Lithium-ion battery technology is a key enabler for the future of U.S.-made full and partial electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt (shown).

Recognizing the criticality of cultivating American expertise in the development and production of lithium-ion batteries for automobiles, the U.S. Department of Energy is supporting a new government-industry alliance to do ju­st that. The DOE's support for the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture comes via its Chicago-based Argonne National Laboratory, which is a leading developer of new battery technologies that has been encouraging formation of the alliance.

Founding members include 3M, ActaCell, All Cell Technologies, Altair Nanotechnologies, Dontech Global, EaglePicher, EnerSys, Envia Systems, FMC, MicroSun Technologies, Mobius Power, SiLyte, Superior Graphite, and Townsend Advanced Energy. Additional battery developers and materials suppliers are anticipated to join the alliance. Li-ion batteries are expected to replace gasoline as the principal source of energy in future cars and military vehicles.

Today, according to Argonne, U.S. automobile manufacturers and defense contractors depend on foreign suppliers—increasingly concentrated in Asia—for Li-ion battery cells. The Alliance seeks to develop one or more manufacturing and prototype development centers in the U.S., which will be shared by alliance members. Developing the capability to mass-manufacture advanced battery cells is anticipated to require an investment of $1 billion to $2 billion over five years. Most of that investment is expected to come from the federal government because, lacking current orders for advanced transportation batteries, no U.S.-based battery companies can assume the risk of making such an investment.

The alliance will permit the most efficient use of available government support by having members share in the use of a large, ultra-modern manufacturing facility rather than having them compete for smaller, less ambitious forms of government support, according to Argonne. 

"A small, fragmented battery industry will not long survive in the face of determined Asian competition," said Ralph Brodd, a longtime consultant to battery manufacturers. "Other countries are investing heavily in the manufacture of Li-ion cells. Those countries understand that whoever makes the batteries will one day make the cars."

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