Power Electronics

U.S. Consortium to Tackle Lithium-Ion Battery Development for Transportation

Leading U.S. battery and advanced materials companies, with support from the Argonne National Laboratory, have formed the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture (NAATBCM) to manufacture advanced lithium-ion (li-ion) battery cells for transportation applications in the United States. The alliance is seeking $1 billion or more of U.S. government funding to create a plant to produce the new li-ion battery cells.

The call for a U.S. manufacturing capability came out of a Chicago conference on battery technology in June 2008. The consortium moved quickly and held its first meeting November 21. It hopes to define its membership terms and will soon draft a business plan.

The founding members of the Alliance include 3M, ActaCell, All Cell Technologies, Altair Nanotechnologies, Dontech Global, EaglePicher Corporation, 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.

Modeled after Sematech, the consortium’s goal is to make the U.S. the worldwide leader in transportation power. Sematech was formed by U.S. computer-chip companies in 1987 to compete with the Japanese. Sematech, based in Austin, Texas, is credited with helping U.S. companies regain their footing by focusing on manufacturing and design advancements with funding from the federal government. "We think Sematech was one of the best examples of government intervention in industry," said Jim Greenberger, a Chicago attorney at Reed Smith LLP, who is working with the battery consortium.

The alliance is thought to have a good chance of getting the funds, because Steven Chu, the DOE (depart of Energy) secretary designate for the incoming Obama administration, is a proponent of government investing in advanced energy research, which is run by the DOE. Chu, a Nobel laureate physicist, currently directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

Some experts believe battery technology and manufacturing capacity could become as strategically important as oil is today. Auto makers, including General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., say they plan to roll out plug-in electric cars by 2010. But the U.S. now has limited capacity to make the lithium-ion batteries for those cars. When in production, the Battery Alliance could make electric cars powered by li-ion batteries more viable.

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