Lithium-ion car batteries

lithium-ion-car-battery

With the potential emergence of plug-in hybrids and electric cars, many expect them to be powered by lithium-ion cells, and it will be interesting to see if American producers can compete with Asian companies.

Should Uncle Sam provide billions in loans and grants to a promising but unproven business? Or should the government wait for the market to sort things out before it backs a U.S. company? The risk is that by then another major industry could go the way of memory chips, digital displays, the first solar panels, and the original lithium-ion batteries used in notebook PCs and cell phones. American scientists, funded by federal dollars, were at the forefront of each of those. Yet the industries—and the high-paying manufacturing jobs that go with them—quickly ended up in Asia. U.S. labor costs and taxes drove many operations abroad, but often industries fled simply because Asian governments, banks, and companies were more willing than Americans to risk big capital investments.

This time federal help could be on the way. Battery makers are expected to get some of the $25 billion set aside last year under Washington’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program to speed the commercialization of green cars. EnerDel, a subsidiary of Ener1, has applied for a loan to build a plant capable of making 600,000 batteries a year. Rival A123 of Watertown, Mass., wants $1.8 billion to build a car-battery factory in Michigan. Under the $790 billion stimulus package under debate in Congress, U.S. lithium-ion makers also could compete for $2 billion in grants to fund research and development and manufacturing.

The Obama administration is determined to assist the development of next-generation cars in the United States, and Obama has said he wants to see them built here. The new stimulus package and the programs referred to above will be just the beginning. We can expect significant government support as many view plug-in vehicles and electric cars as critical to our future economic security. It lessens our dependence on foreign oil and can help to save domestic manufacturing.

  

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