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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Stimulus Funding Spurs Advanced Battery R&D for Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Examiner Chicago

In order to accelerate the R&D, manufacturing and deployment of hybrid electric vehicles, batteries, and components in the United States and create tens of thousands of new jobs, President Barack Obama announced last August- 48 advanced battery and electric drive projects that will receive $2.4 billion in competitive Department of Energy (DOE) funding through the Recovery Act, which will be matched with another $2.4 billion in cost share from the award winners. This stimulus funding will facilitate the country in achieving President Obama’s goal of putting one million (grid) plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015 in order to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and smog effects.

The primary stimulus funding grant categories are as follows:

1. $1.5 billion for U.S.-based manufacturers to produce batteries and their components and to expand battery recycling capacity

2. $500 million for U.S.-based manufacturers to produce electric drive components for vehicles, including electric motors, power electronics, and other drive train components
3. $400 million to purchase thousands of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles for test demonstrations; to deploy them and evaluate their performance; to install electric battery charger infrastructure; and to provide education and workforce training to support the transition to advanced electric transportation systems.

The state of Michigan, home to the Motor City, was the big winner, as they received $1 billion in grants to companies and universities- the most of any state. Two companies, A123 and Johnson Controls (which also has a facility in the Phoenix, AZ area) will receive a total of approximately $550 million to establish a manufacturing base in the state for advanced batteries, and two others, Compact Power and Dow Kokam, will receive a total of over $300 million for manufacturing battery cells and materials.

The U.S. government is now spreading the wealth of R&D dollars, as opposed to primarily funding only national labs, universities and domestic automakers. Of course, the DOE never had anywhere near this amount of funding previously to allocate, since the Stimulus spurred the nation’s largest single investment in hybrid electric vehicle technology ever. Moreover, the past two Obama Administration fiscal year budgets significantly reduced funding levels for hydrogen fuel cell alternatives set by the Bush Administration, while supporting increases for advanced batteries instead.

Lithium ion batteries are receiving the majority of the stimulus funding emphasis with respect to battery options for hybrid electric vehicles, since they are presumed to be the top candidate but are not ready for prime time. These types of batteries are rapidly penetrating into laptop and cell-phone markets because of their unique electrical characteristics, high energy-efficiency, high temperature performance, and low self-discharge. What’s more, components of lithium ion batteries can also be recycled. These features are also beneficial for hybrid electric vehicle applications. However, to make them commercially viable for electric autos, significant R&D is necessary, focused on calendar and cycle life, cell and battery safety, abuse tolerance under harsh conditions, and acceptable cost for consumers.

EnerDel, an electric car battery manufacturer with three Central Indiana plants, was awarded a $118.5 million stimulus grant yesterday to develop lithium ion batteries for hybrid electric cars. The grant will allow EnerDel to buy equipment to expand its production from 1,200 batteries a year to 60,000 annually and is expected to generate 1,400 green jobs. As part of the project, 100 electric cars will likely be on Indiana roads by the beginning of next year and a thousand by the middle of 2012.

In opposition to this momentum for hybrid electric vehicles, T. Boone Pickens has been ramping up his campaign supporting the transition of the nation’s auto fleet to readily abundant domestic natural gas. He helped formulate the Natural Gas Act, which is still being considered in Congress, along with cap-and-trade and other alternative energy legislation that has been delayed by the health care debate after many months.