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Battery Plants Gain Ground

Lithium-ion battery makers move ahead with U.S. facilities

by Ann M. Thayer
April 20, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 16

Credit: Argonne National Laboratory
Scientist examines a lithium-ion battery cell at the Battery Test Facility at Argonne National Laboratory.
Credit: Argonne National Laboratory
Scientist examines a lithium-ion battery cell at the Battery Test Facility at Argonne National Laboratory.

TAPPING INTO PUBLIC and private money, lithium-ion battery developers are expanding production in the U.S. If all of the projects move ahead, new facilities could create thousands of jobs in the manufacture of millions of batteries for electric vehicles that are scheduled to be launched in the next few years.

Last week, the State of Michigan granted tax incentives of more than $540 million to four battery developers—Johnson Controls-Saft (JCS) Advanced Power Solutions, LG Chem, KD Advanced Battery Group, and A123Systems—for building facilities in the state.

In Kentucky, the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Batteries (NATTBatt) selected a site in Glendale for its proposed $600 million contract manufacturing facility. And Argonne National Laboratory, an adviser to the 50-member NAATBatt consortium, agreed to create a National Battery Manufacturing R&D Center with the state and two universities there.

Other countries have already spent heavily on battery manufacturing. "The U.S. has been investing in fundamental research in this area for quite some time, but this is the first time that people have really been serious about manufacturing lithium-ion batteries in the U.S.," says Ralph J. Brodd, president of Broddarp of Nevada, a consulting firm specializing in electrochemical energy conversion.

JCS announced last week that it would spend $220 million to build its first U.S. plant, in Holland, Mich., with an initial capacity of 15 million lithium-ion cells per year. It already has a plant in France and will be supplying batteries to automakers Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Azure Dynamics, and Ford.

A123Systems intends to invest more than $600 million in a Livonia, Mich., facility from which it can provide batteries to Chrysler and Chinese carmaker SAIC. The Watertown, Mass.-based firm also raised $69 million last week from General Electric and other investors.

KD Advanced Battery Group—a joint venture of Dow Chemical, Kokam America, and Townsend Ventures—plans to build a $665 million facility in Michigan. Likewise, Compact Power, a U.S. subsidiary of South Korea's LG Chem, will invest $200 million in a plant to supply batteries for General Motors' Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle. LG already supplies automakers Hyundai and Kia.

According to LG, electric or hybrid vehicles account for less than 1% of the 72 million cars sold annually worldwide. But it expects the market for batteries for these vehicles to grow from $700 million in 2008 to $3.2 billion by 2012.

"If you believe the projections that the car companies have been making about the growth for electric vehicles, then you need this kind of investment and production capability," Brodd says.

To support their construction plans, NAATBatt and some company ventures say they'll apply for grants under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 or loans from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program.



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