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US Corps Want $1B From Gov't For Battery Factory 394

Posted by timothy
from the when-you-really-truly-need-some-free-tax-money dept.
tristanreid writes "The Wall Street Journal reports that a consortium of 14 US technology companies will ask the Federal Government for up to $1 billion for a plant to make advanced battery technology, as a part of the broad fiscal stimulus package that Pres. Elect Obama is planning. The story quotes a report by Ralph Brodd, which suggests that while existing battery technology was developed in the US, the lead in development is now held in Asia. From the WSJ story: 'More than four dozen advanced battery factories are being built in China but none, currently, in the US.'"
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US Corps Want $1B From Gov't For Battery Factory

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  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:40PM (#26162997)

    Maybe Congress should take a look at why U.S. companies didn't choose to manufacture this technology domestically, and implement policy changes to fix the underlying problems. Otherwise it's just economic Whack-a-Mole.

    And no, I'm not a supply-sider. I think the incentives are more complex than "high taxes drive jobs away." Maybe that's part of the answer, but only a part.

  • Why play catch up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by critical_point (1430417) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:40PM (#26163009)
    Instead we should invest that $1B into researching fundamentally new battery technologies.

    Hopefully Obama realizes how many theoretical research salaries can be paid with $1B and chooses to spend the money on this kind of long-term project.
  • by Eggplant62 (120514) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:44PM (#26163057)

    Um, say gents, you can feel free to pool your resources on your own to develop new battery technology. However, there's no need for the government to pony up my tax dollars on this endeavour, especially considering how eager you folks are to outsource jobs overseas left and right, mm-kay?

  • The reason US Companies didn't choose to manufacture this technology domestically is because Wall Street only cares about projects that turn a profit in 4 months.

    While that probably does have some effect, there are three words that come to mind when I think of battery development:

    Environmental
    Impact
    Statement

    That right there will kill any power generation or storage technology before it's even a glimmer in an scientist/engineer's eye.

  • by internerdj (1319281) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:54PM (#26163193)
    Like how US workers demand to be paid something for their work? How they demand not to work in places that are deathtraps? With all the horror stories of what it is like to make clothing, I can't imagine what it would be like to work in a Chinese factory whose products contained large amounts of caustic chemicals...
  • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:55PM (#26163207) Homepage

    i say give it to them. it's a wise investment.

    that is, of course, so long as:

    • any battery technology developed is released into the public domain. (if you want public funding, you need to make your research results public as well.)
    • there are government price controls to ensure the public isn't getting reamed on products they're subsidizing. and every 2-3 years the government and industry representatives get together to renegotiate the prices. (this is similar to how health care is run in Japan as a hybrid between privatized and socialized medicine.)
    • small companies/start-ups also have access to the plant, and it's not just a handful of major corporations that are benefiting from this federal aid.

    we need improved/cheaper battery technology to boost the development & adoption of electric vehicles.

  • by haystor (102186) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:59PM (#26163273)

    This should carry the requirement that batteries be interchangeable.

  • by jeffshoaf (611794) * on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:00PM (#26163283)

    I think the real issue w/ battery manufacturing is evironmental more than high taxes. Making batteries requires the use of a lot of toxic chemicals and generates toxic waste. Since China and other Asian countries have less stringent (or no) regulations on those chemicals, it's much cheaper to make batteries there than it is to deal with the proper handling, storage, and disposal of the toxic stuff in the U.S.

    Personally, I'd prefer that the policies and regulations governing use and disposal of that nasty stuff not be "fixed."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:01PM (#26163305)

    " 'More than four dozen advanced battery factories are being built in China but none, currently, in the U.S.'"

    So what?

    If we want advanced batteries, we will buy them from China. That's why we need them built in
    China.

    You give the peasants half a handful of rice over there, and they toil for 23 hours a day in an atmosphere of nickel and cadmium. Then we just print a few more dollars and buy the batteries for use over here.

    That's the advantage of being the top country in the world, and running the reserve currency. We can just suit ourselves what we take from the rest of the world. What's not to like...?

  • by sexybomber (740588) <boccilinoNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:03PM (#26163331)

    Yeah, but China's natural environment is, to quote Zero Wing, "on the way to destruction." If a country takes absolutely zero environmental precautions (like China is doing currently,) then that country is going to get fucked six ways from Sunday eventually.

    Nature has a way of squaring any debt you might have with her.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:04PM (#26163343) Journal

    I think a battery design firm would be a good investment with those rules. I don't think a battery factory would be a good investment under any circumstances. What's the advantage to building them in the U.S.? It's not like it will create more than a dozen jobs---those sorts of plants are all pretty much automated anyway.

    Besides, most manufacturers build their products in Asia, so a component plant in the U.S. is likely to have a hard time selling any products, particularly given China's stiff import restrictions.... You'd have to make the products a lot cheaper than they can be made in China, which seems dubious at best. Otherwise, no manufacturer in their right minds would go through all the hassle and expense of buying batteries from an American plant, shipping them to China to be assembled into a product, then shipping them back to the U.S. for consumption....

    See why this is a silly idea?

  • by Smidge204 (605297) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:07PM (#26163387) Journal

    So what you're saying is: you'd rather leave scientific development in the hands of private finance, where practically nothing will get done unless someone sees a very straightforward and profitable outcome to the research within a few year's time and the distribution can be effectively suppressed with copyright and patent laws.

    Congratulations! You have just created the pharmaceuticals industry, which gave us a dozen meds for erectile dysfunction but no actual cures for important things like AIDS or cancer.

    The alternative is to let the government fund science, and historically speaking the government is not afraid to spend money on purely theoretical and/or nonprofitable research. Even more so if the technology can be used for a military edge - and new battery tech is definitely something the military wants.

    Electronic computers? Satellite communications? GPS? The Internet? Nuclear power? Jet powered aircraft? All born of government funded projects.

    Of all the things government pisses away money on, science is the last thing I'd complain about.
    =Smidge=

  • by DittoBox (978894) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:11PM (#26163445) Homepage

    Yes but the people in charge today will be dead when nature/Gaia/God-Almighty/FSM decides to smite them for abusive assholes.

    It's their children—and quite possibly ours—that are getting shafted by it.

  • by larry bagina (561269) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:13PM (#26163473) Journal

    not to mention (but I will!) the US environmental regulations are much more stringent. Batteries, advanced or otherwise, involve some nasty substances.

  • by OldeTimeGeek (725417) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:13PM (#26163483)
    Yeah, because we all want to live next to Love Canal [wikipedia.org].

    Yes, the process is slow and is often abused, but there is a good reason why it's there...
  • by John Whitley (6067) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:17PM (#26163531) Homepage

    Enivonmental Impact Statement

    Duh, what? Yes, requiring industry to figure out what it's going to dump on us before it does so can be a "burden". So be it. At the same time, it drives innovation into avenues that don't dump pollution on the rest of us. And as more people get into the act, "green" approaches previously not up for consideration are discovered to often yield better results (more efficient, cheaper, etc.). The more baseline work that goes into sustainable industry, the easier it gets for everyone.

    Also, take a walk on the other side for a minute -- a friend visited Shanghai a few weeks ago. The air pollution was often so bad that he could barely see a block ahead from the brown haze. Quote, "my lungs feel tanned." Look also at the environmental disaster zone that are the former Soviet states. One Russian I spoke to put it this way: many people there know that excessive smoking and drinking aren't good for their health, but do it anyway out of the belief that it won't really matter because of everything else they're exposed to.

  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:23PM (#26163589)

    If so... no battery stimulus for you. And BTW.. they can fuck off and die.

  • by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:29PM (#26163697)

    Telecom is a natural monopoly, because building multiple networks in parallel is economically inefficient. Hence the attempts to regulate the one existing network, often with poor success.

    With batteries it is easier to start up a competing factory, if the technology is well documented.
    So I think GP's point #1 would be sufficient, no need to regulate prices on top of the requirement to release the research into the public domain. That release, however, should be closely checked for completeness and correctness.

  • by SkyDude (919251) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:39PM (#26163847)
    A manufacturer wouldn't ship batteries to Asia or anywhere else if it was for the purpose of assembly. Any battery would add many many pounds of weight to, say, a container of products, and that extra weight translates into dollars spent on shipping.

    If the batteries stay in this country and be assembled into the products here, the wages and other fixed costs would be the deciding factor.
  • by Luthair (847766) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:46PM (#26163929)
    How do you plan on changing the cost of living so you can pay workers $1/hour?
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:46PM (#26163931) Journal
    There are a lot of people who could be working for the betterment of humanity on research. Because there is no profit in research(unless you make a breakthrough), it is basically a field where you can't support yourself. Research is something that could be funded by the government like public roads.
  • by AJWM (19027) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:47PM (#26163947) Homepage

    What's the advantage to building them in the U.S.?

    Comes time to build electric (or hybrid) replacements for Humvees and the like, (as well as various robotic systems), you really don't want to be beholden to other countries for your battery supply. (Even if the manufacturing company is an ally, you have to worry about supply-line disruption.)

    For that reason alone (and there are others), this is worth some government up-front money.

  • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:09PM (#26164249) Homepage

    I believe the GP answered with a question, ideally for you to answer.

    Many of you Americans are quick to bash socialism (for reasons I do not know), even while the "American way" is crashing down and ruining your so-called lives.

    Tell me, what good does it do to give money to corporations, if they don't do anything for you in return ? Pure socialism only works on a small scale (think remote islands with no outsidevisitors), it is indeed quite fragile, but applying some aspects of socialism to a handful of areas can be quite beneficial to society at large.

    If there is a product or service that can benefit the great majority of people, I think it should be owned and controlled by the government (thus the people) and turned into a non-profit. I'm not sure batteries are such an essential need, maybe later... but for many other things the socialism model leads to greater efficiency and no greedy bastards skimming off the top.

    If anything, recent history should have taught you that corporations will take any funding and spend it in the most irresponsible way they can think of, usually by giving their top brass lavish bonuses for "bringing in the dough". I personally don't think one person's work in a management position can impact society in a way that justifies multi-million dollar bonuses, but I'm one of those goddamned socialists! What the hell do I know, right ?

  • by elmerfud2000 (1349717) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:09PM (#26164263)
    Oil closed at ~$36/bbl today. The electric car is dead. Again. Gasoline is about $1.50 per gallon. Consumers are broke. Nobody wants to buy an electric car these days. Its funny how we think that electric cars would save Detroit. Detroit isn't very tech savy. They are savy at building big hulking SUVs and pickup trucks. They can't compete in the small car market. How will they ever compete in the electric car market. Do we really think that US made batteries, managed by the likes of Rick Wagner (sp?) and assembled by Joe Detroit Autoworker at a cost of $75/hour are going to be competitive with batteries built in China ? Its funny how just a couple years ago we had billions and billions of dollars for home mortgages. Now we have to go to the government to finance something that our future may depend on.
  • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:16PM (#26164353) Journal

    But products are usually not destined exclusively for the U.S. market, so if you do the assembly here, that means you're shipping products back to the U.S. to add the batteries to them, only to then turn around and ship a bunch of them to Australia or Europe. That makes even less sense than shipping the batteries. The alternative is to have battery plants around the globe, which is just not particularly efficient.

    If we really wanted to have tech manufacturing in the U.S., we needed to have beefed up American component manufacturing twenty or thirty years ago when the Asian component market was still nascent. At this point, it's pretty much like trying to put the cat back in the bag. As far as the global economy is concerned, we're better off having the component manufacturing and finished goods manufacturing in the same place, much as we'd be better off with more car parts manufacturing in the U.S. (Cars can't be shipped cost-effectively once assembled, so it makes economic sense to move production closer to the point assembly even if that means automating more of the manufacturing to keep labor costs down.)

  • by Shotgun (30919) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:27PM (#26164523)

    No, but you can imagine what it would be like to buy clothes that are made there.

    The facts of the matter are that people hate pollution just enough to legislate it out of their immediate neighborhood, but not enough to pay more for the stuff they buy if they can find the same stuff cheaper. Businessmen with money to invest usually aren't stupid, else they wouldn't have money to invest. All the factories have left the US, because the produce pollutants and the labor is cheaper overseas.

  • by PingXao (153057) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:38PM (#26164707)

    My perpetual motion machine factory will provide every benefit that battery factory does, and more. My perpetual motion machines will allow water to flow downhill a la traditional hydropower, but with some of that generated electricity used to pump the water back up the hill again, to be used over and over in a never-ending cycle of very cheap electricity. And I can do all that for half what those battery dipsticks want!

    Seriously, a trend that has been evident in the US that will probably aid in our demise is that we, as a society, value ignorance and a good line of bullshit over well-thought-out positions and opinions. The sad part is that with the right PR people and lobbyists, my perpetual motion idea might actually find support in Congress.

    The saddest part of all is that such a scheme is no longer morally repugnant to too many Americans. See "Wall Street and the Banking Industry, 2008" for truly mind boggling fraud. Now see Paulson and Bernanke rip off the taxpayers to enrich their friends and get away with it.

    My perpetual motion machine venture pales beside those corruptions in moral turptitude. It's going to be either that or start my own religion.

  • Re:Capitalism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joh (27088) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:44PM (#26164807)

    China is for a large part a kind of capitalism gone wild, uncontrolled and unregulated. Corporations there build factories without looking at how their workers fare, without looking at the environment, without looking at anything else than profits.

    If you want to work for $1/h or less while living on the streets and travelling all over the land looking for work, without any health insurance or any protection against work-related accidents (lost a hand? You're fired!), look to China and its capitalism.

  • by russotto (537200) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:52PM (#26164929) Journal

    Easily solved.... the CEOs, boardmembers, stakeholders and major profit earners of these companies have to live adjacent to the factory. On a daily basis they have to 1) drink a nice 64 oz. glass of any waste water that may exist, 2) they have to sit for an hour in a room fill with any exhaust gases, and 3) any solid waste is ground up and sprinkled over their food.

    You can bet that any byproducts will be clean or the guilty parties will receive their just rewards.

    And that nothing will ever be made, ever again.

  • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:52PM (#26164935) Journal

    Fine, but don't complain about Starbucks and MickeyD's as being the only job you can get.

    And if you buy a computer, with parts made in China, rest assure, you're just as much of the problem as anyone, as you don't care enough about the environment as long as it is someone else's back yard that pays for it.

    It is like all those Kennedy Liberals wanting "clean renewable engegy" but don't want windmills blocking their view of Martha's Vineyard.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:59PM (#26165077)

    Ummm... Sorry to refuse to be the whipping boy here, but I'm a Pharma guy in a company that's put out 7 new drugs for cancer and cancer related complications in the last 5 years.

    You may see lots of ads for viagra, because the drug companies market it at you, Mr. Limp Dick Consumer. For cancer drugs, however, they spend their money educating doctors about treatment options and conducting clinical trials.

    Just because you're not a target of the drug company hematology/oncology media spend doesn't mean that advancements aren't being aggressively made in those areas... just that they have no interest in letting you know about them. You're not a doctor and you're not going to "ask your doctor" about a chemotherapy or targeted therapy.

  • by Score Whore (32328) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @05:00PM (#26165093)

    No free market has just imploded. What you are seeing is the failure of central planning. Even in western societies the results come from lack of transparency and government intervention (ridiculously low interest rates, mandatory lending to unfit borrowers, etc.), both are toxic to a free market (if you don't have informed parties or you have government intervention you don't have a free market by definition.)

  • by divisionbyzero (300681) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @05:03PM (#26165137)

    Don't be ashamed! Just stick your head in there eat as much of the tax-payers money as you can!

  • by Rei (128717) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @05:09PM (#26165215) Homepage

    I guess we're not supposed to care that pharmaceutical companies today spend more money on advertising than on research. Chalk that up to the "efficiencies of the free market" or something.

  • by ianare (1132971) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @05:18PM (#26165353)
    No, the problem is that now that making the batteries here could actually be profitable, all the experienced workers, materials, manufacturing plants are elsewhere. Without the government stimulus, the as-yet unborn US battery industry would never become profitable simply because it wouldn't exist.

    The idea that private industry could survive without ever receiving help from the government is ridiculous.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 18, 2008 @05:25PM (#26165483)

    The US obsession against anything considered socialist comes from a variety of sources.

    - The rich and large corporations seeking to guard their power and wealth. They have historically been the biggest source of anti-union, anti-public assistance, anti-regulation propaganda. The union busting during the 1800-early 1900 is a stark example of this. The hysteria of the dying monarchies and the industrial barons of Europe during WWI and the Russian Revolution further fed this.

    - The Calvinistic belief that continues to lie in the US unconsciousness that the poor are that way because they are fundamentally flawed or sinners.

    - The mythology of the "self made man/woman" that anything is possible and if you don't get it it is because you lack the will. According to this, there are no outside forces you need help to surmount. Therefore socialism is bad because it helps those who do not deserve help. In the US everyone thinks that they are the next star and those very tiny numbers that do achieve that are held up as proof of the "self made man/woman" myth. No mention will be made of help from relatives, good luck, monetary help, etc. It is class advancement via dice rolling.

  • by fucket (1256188) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @06:16PM (#26166163)
    I highly recommend not believing everything you read.
  • by An Onerous Coward (222037) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @07:48PM (#26167289) Homepage

    Paging Captain Obvious! People ingest lithium when they want to feel better!

    Sigh. So much misguided thinking to correct, so few mod points.

  • by russotto (537200) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @08:46PM (#26167847) Journal

    I get it from the idea that someone that creates noxious fumes, toxic solid waste, and poisonous wastewater should clean it up before releasing it into the environment.

    When you drink a 64 oz glass of your own urine each day, spend an hour each day in a room filled with nothing but your exhalations and flatulations, and have your feces sprinkled over your food, then you can make the demand you made in your original post. Until then, you're totally unreasonable. Any useful process creates waste, and the process of "cleaning up" that waste is both unlikely to make that waste actually consumable, and generates waste of its own.

  • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @09:06PM (#26168007) Homepage

    it's pretty simple:

    if you institute environmental regulations that force each company to minimize their environmental impact--using scrubbers, wastewater treatment, dust collection, etc.--then the cost of producing the product (material costs, manufacturing costs, and environmental costs) will all be paid for by the manufacturer and product consumers.

    but if you don't employ any such regulations, then most industrial corporations will simply ignore their environmental responsibilities to save money. and in this situation the environmental cost of producing the product is being paid for by everyone in terms of the environmental degradation caused by the industrial pollution.

  • Re:Capitalism? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by twostix (1277166) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @09:36PM (#26168199)

    Sounds just like every single western country from 1800-1930.

    My grandfather was telling me about his father many years ago...

    "He was working in a quarry and a hundred men were swinging pickaxes, my old father included. Up on the ridge there was a hundred unemployed men sitting down watching. If you stopped swinging your pick, even for a moment, even to stretch your back the foreman would nod his head in your direction, his offsider would yell at you to drop your pick, give you money owed and that was it, you were replaced.

    Part of a rock wall fell on a man while he was working and a group of men quickly ran over to help. They pulled him out and took him off to the nearest hospital, when they came back a few hours later they all no longer had a job. The company didn't pay the injured man a red-cent, his kids ended up in the poor-house"

    What's funny is there's a bunch of unfit, lazy, socially inept middle class boys here on the internet, who for some insane reason, think that those times were better and strangely believe that it wouldn't be them who would be sitting up on there on the ridge.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @09:52PM (#26168291) Journal

    No free market has just imploded. What you are seeing is the failure of central planning.

    Which is why the "socialist" Canada and EU seem to be doing much better in this crisis than the Land of the Free, right? Oh...

  • by fucket (1256188) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @10:22PM (#26168457)
    I was talking about beef from McDonald's, not all that other stuff. Nothing you said made any sense. I'm not a fan of food from McDonald's but if you're looking to argue against them you should stick to the facts (insanely high sodium and saturated fat levels to start) and avoid bullshit FUD composed of half-truths and urban legends. 1) The FSIS inspects meat, not the FDA. This is a binary pass/fall system. 2) USDA grading of meat is a VOLUNTARY process, there's no reason to get "their own grade of meat". 3) McDonald's ground beef is made from a mixture of fatty domestic beef and lean, mostly imported beef. I think this is done mainly for the sake of consistency but the fact that it's cheaper this way doesn't hurt.
  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday December 19, 2008 @08:50AM (#26171511) Homepage Journal

    I think you underestimate the way the automobile industry works. And having a standard cell size does not mean you will organize it into a standard battery size. Automobile manufacturers design and order expensive parts that often are only used on a narrow range of models.

    It is certainly *simple* to base a new car design on some standardized large battery system. But I don't see this happening with the Big Three. And I also don't think it is even that important, you rarely replace the batteries today in EVs and in the future the rate the operable life of a battery will likely improve. Who cares if you have to special order a pack from the dealer after 100k miles? How many other model specific parts did you have to replace during that 5-7 year period that it took to get to 100k? For me it's usually around 6-10 specialized parts. As stupid as it seems, I can't bolt any old heater core in my car. It has to be one that fits about a half dozen different GM models. Nothing magical about a twisty pipe with fins on it, all people had to do is agree on where to put the holes from the bolts. But they didn't bother.

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