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Stimulus revs up electric car batteries

Sarah Gardner Jul 14, 2009
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Stimulus revs up electric car batteries

Sarah Gardner Jul 14, 2009
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Bill Radke: A host of U.S. companies are anxiously awaiting word from the Department of Energy this month. They’re competing for 2 billion dollars in federal stimulus money aimed at jumpstarting the electric car battery business in this country. Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk


Sarah Gardner: When General Motors chose a battery-maker for its first crop of Chevy Volts, it picked a company few in this country had ever heard of. It was LG Chem, a big Korean manufacturer. Asia leads the world in what’s called “advanced battery” technology, the batteries set to power plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars.

Charles Territo at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says the 2 billion dollars in stimulus grants will help American companies catch up

Charles Territo: We want to make sure we don’t trade in our dependence on foreign sources of oil for dependence on foreign sources of batteries.

Applicants for these stimulus funds range from Fortune 500 giants like Dow Chemical to promising start-ups like A-123 in Boston.

Sanjay Deshpande heads up a consortium of over 50 mostly smaller companies who’ve applied for a federal grant. They want to build a factory to make lithium-ion batteries or “cells” for plug-in hybrids.

Sanjay Deshpande: The largest cells are not made in high enough volume to bring the costs down and the capital investment is very high and that’s why we are seeking the government support.

Ultimately carmakers want smaller, more powerful batteries that can take a driver hundreds of miles between charges at low cost. Nobody’s there yet. Right now an electric car battery can cost 20-thousand dollars or more.

But David Goldstein, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Washington D.C., says:

David Goldstein: The great unknown is the cost of gas. If the price of gasoline stays low, than we may have a problem, because automobile manufacturers may not build enough of these elctric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to reach that critical mass.

The stakes are high. Whoever ends up controlling the battery industry will control the auto industry.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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