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To Build a Better Battery

BatteriesIn the 1980s, the United States semiconductor industry was saved from moving completely overseas by the formation of a consortium called Sematech, a coalition of businesses designed to promote research and foster partnerships among the members. In a recent and similar move, the U.S. lithium-ion battery industry has formed the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture, which they are thankfully just calling the “Alliance” for the sake of brevity, to support the development and manufacture of new battery technology for hybrid and electric vehicles and to maintain a competitive edge against the Asian companies currently dominating the market.

A world leader in battery technology, Argonne National Laboratory, which was also active in promoting and forming the current consortium, will continue to advise the fourteen founding companies, including 3M, FMC, and MicroSun Technologies. The founding members hope other battery and materials suppliers and developers will join in the ensuing months and years.

The Alliance intends to reach out to U.S. automakers as well, inviting them to serve on the Alliance’s advisory board. The board will assist in standardizing cell formats, which will in turn simply the manufacturing process and ultimately lower costs of the cells themselves.

Current plans are ambitious. The Alliance wants to open at least one prototype development center within the U.S. to be shared by its member at a projected cost of $1 to $2 billion within five years. They expect the majority of this sum to come from government grants. Given the numbers of government handouts of late intended to merely keep the economy afloat, this may or may not happen, but such expenditures would at least generate new jobs as well as new technology and would save the individual companies from competing for the same money. Working together, they believe they will be able to spend more efficiently, maximizing benefits while minimizing costs.

Photo Credit: scalespeeder at flickr

Written by Lisa Wojnovich


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  1. I am very skeptical of investing too much money into batteries – and worry that we are trying to build better ‘buggy whips’.

    Asia dominates batteries. Beating out their existing supply chains, technical assistance, investor confidence, and loose eco-regulations will be tough.

    Despite all the hope around batteries, it’s just bad chemistry. Will they get better, yes. Will they be around for decades to come, probably. And despite the current hype, there is little chance that batteries alone can carry the auto industry forward into the next century.

    I’d rather see the US leapfrog batteries into next generation energy storage systems – around fuel cells and capacitors.

    There is no better way to store energy than in chemical bonds. And while hydrogen fell victim to the hype cycle post Dotcom bubble, steady progress is being made. And they offer more growth potential than mature batteries. Nanostructured catalysts are being developed to reduce costs of production and solid storage is progressing. Capacitors are moving along as well.

    I don’t think America can ‘win’ this one. Best to let batteries fade away. In my humble opinion!

    I’d rather leapfrog into more advanced systems!

    Garry G
    The Energy

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