In 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.
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