U.S. Battery Makers Team up to Tackle Their Big Challenge: Electric Cars

By Eliza Strickland | December 23, 2008 3:44 pm

roadsterThe U.S. auto industry may be floundering in part because it failed to embrace fuel-efficient and alternative fuel cars, but U.S. companies can still position themselves to lead the way in the next phase of automobile manufacturing, a group of battery makers is arguing. Fourteen companies have announced that they’re teaming up and will seek $1 billion in federal aid to build a large-scale factory that produces lithium-ion batteries, which would be used in plug-in electric cars. Many 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 [The Wall Street Journal].

The consortium, which calls itself the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture, is modeled after a group formed in 1987 by computer-chip manufacturing companies that were struggling to compete with Japanese chip makers. The situation is similar now, experts say, as Asian companies dominate the battery market. “A small, fragmented (U.S.) battery industry will not long survive in the face of determined Asian competition,” Ralph Brodd, a consultant to battery manufacturers, said…. “(Other) countries understand that he who makes the batteries will one day make the cars,” he said [Reuters].

Currently, hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius use a nickel-metal hydride battery, but lithium batteries are considered the next technological leap forward and U.S. battery makers are eager to get into the business before they get left behind. The new consortium includes industrial giants Johnson Controls and 3M; with coordination and research help from Argonne National Laboratory, the group is asking for about $1 billion in federal funds to build a manufacturing site for the next generation of high-powered lithium ion batteries. If successful, the companies would pool resources and, to some extent, technologies [NPR].

The consortium members say federal funding is necessary because of the high up-front costs of building a manufacturing facility when auto makers aren’t yet mass-producing electric cars, and therefore aren’t placing orders for lithium-ion batteries. Aakar Patel, chief executive of advanced battery maker Mobius Power Inc. of Fremont, Calif., said it would be a “daunting task” for a small company like his to build a U.S. manufacturing facility because of the overhead costs and lack of domestic equipment suppliers. He hopes the consortium members, which include his company, can effectively pool resources. “There are plenty of U.S. companies that could blow away the competition” if they worked together, he said [The Wall Street Journal].

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80beats: The Electric Car Isn’t Dead! Here Comes the Chevy Volt

Image: flickr / tinou bao

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • kamran

    i thing it will be more comfortable for all people which live a round the earth and i will be benefite for all because in these days the oils become more expensives so the company corporation must be build this new technolgy for the people then maybe the rate of oils become a little less or may be any changing come in it

  • Jeff Molter

    Electric vehicles will no doubt bring their own set of problems, but consider what a fundamental change from petroleum technology would bring to the political structure of the world. If oil becomes a minor commodity, oil producing countries will become minor political entities. Any country that takes the lead in producing the products and the infrastructure for battery based transportation technology will be independent from these and as other nations see the advantages of this freedom, they will beat a path to their door.

  • Chris

    This would be a much better investment for the US than bailing out GM or Chrysler. The US needs to position itself for the future, not the past, and this kind of project would do just that.

  • Eric N

    If the United States desires to remain a world leader in manufacturing, it is imperative that US Auto manufacturers and other US firms dominate the research and development of the lithium ion battery technology. Asian technology is leading the way at present. We need to answer this challenge with the same effort we answered the sputnik challenge. This country needs more engineers and technicians in order to fill the jobs in this new field. If we meet the challenge head-on, we will be the leaders in the world in the next generation of Transportation technology. If we pooh pooh this challenge, we will become a second world country and eventually lose to the south asians. It is a daunting challenge. I pray we are up to it!

  • Richins

    great share


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