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U.S. gearing up to produce advanced battery technology

Here's the good news: At least 50 U.S. firms are involved in making advanced batteries of the kind destined to power coming generations of electric vehicles. Now here's the bad news: U.S. activity is concentrated in Tier 1 (cell/battery pack assembly). There's a big need for more domestic manufacture of cells and cell components.

So says a new report from Duke University's Center for Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness. The report indicates that stimulus funds have helped the U.S. supply chain for advanced batteries create 119 sites spread out across 27 states that could play relevant roles in the production of advanced car batteries. Though Asia has a lock on the manufacturing of lithium batteries for laptops, report authors say there are 21 U.S. lithium-ion battery pack players relevant to automotive applications.

But most of these firms import battery cells from non-U.S. suppliers and only perform final pack assembly in the U.S. Currently, only EnerDel operates its own high-volume cell manufacturing facilities domestically. With the help of funding from the DoE, several companies are trying to establish vertically integrated cell-to-pack capacity, including A123, CPI, EnerDel, and JCI-Saft.

U.S. firms are trying to boost their capabilities in cell production, which accounts for the highest value, or 45% of total input cost. The U.S. is already a major player in two out of the four major cell components (electrolyte and separator), but so far a minor player in cathodes and anodes.

Two U.S. companies, Chemetall and FMC, together supply nearly 50% of the world’s demand for lithium, point out Duke researchers. Globally there are three main suppliers of lithium: FMC Lithium (based in Charlotte, N.C. with lithium holdings in Argentina and Chile), SQM (based in Chile), and Chemetall Foote Corp (based in Kings Mountain, N.C.).

Researchers also say several items critical to cell production remain difficult to source domestically, and thus more U.S-based cell component and material suppliers are needed to capture higher value. Arkema is the sole U.S. producer of anode and cathode binder. Oak-Mitsui is the sole U.S. producer of copper foil for anodes. Recently, several large chemical firms have created new divisions to fill these gaps, including 3M, DuPont and Dow Kokam.

U.S. firms are moving aggressively to catch up to the Asian giants in establishing highspeed, precision-controlled processing, researchers say. Five Japanese and two Korean battery manufacturers are 10 years ahead in high-volume production of lithium-ion batteries. U.S. firms are filling holes in battery processing expertise via global mergers and acquisitions, including Ener1’s purchase of Enertech, a large Korean battery maker, and the battery division of Delphi, an auto parts supplier. EnerDel has also hired a
number of Asian battery engineers to expand their battery R&D

The complete report is available here:

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