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

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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  • 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. The answer? Do away with Wall Street's drag on R&D, fund it directly. Or better yet, add a 5% consumption tax on all stock transactions to fund Japanese style industry research cooperatives.
  • want $1bn from Govt? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hierophanta ( 1345511 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:48PM (#26163113)
    when did it become ok to rely on the government to put up funds to save / create business? this is the opposite of lazaire faire (no i dont know how to spell that).
  • Environmentalism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:52PM (#26163163) Journal

    I can assure you that one of the biggest reasons we don't build toxic batteries here in the US, is because of Environmental Regulations would make them prohibitively expensive. And China would steal the tech and make them cheaper, and without a care about environmental concerns.

    We have effectively regulated the ability to produce anything away.

    If I were a manufacturer, I wouldn't make anything in the US either. I wouldn't even consider it.

  • by dk90406 ( 797452 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:54PM (#26163189)
    Given the current economical environment, government aid may be needed. But *if* money are granted, they should be considered an investment, so the government (and US taxpayers, in the longer turn) should be given stocks appropriate to the investment size.

    Government: do not give 1BN gifts.

  • Re:Environment? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by L0stm4n ( 322418 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:55PM (#26163205) Homepage

    Except China has a metric assload of people. They could power the plants with people used as fuel and still have more than enough for cheap labor.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:56PM (#26163213)

    Actually, investing in efficient portable sources of electricity is a great way to spend tax money. It's the kind of thing that comes back in a good way. You assumed that these people are full of resources to throw at advanced new technology, and also that they are responsible for job outsourcing, which is just ignorant. To stay on the cutting edge the US gov't needs to fund exactly this kind of research. Otherwise we're spending the same tax dollars buying the batteries from China.

  • by Brad_McBad ( 1423863 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @02:56PM (#26163217)
    Who's certain that Li-ion batteries are going to be the way forward? Last time I checked, Hydrogen fuel cells were the way forward...
  • Communism (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nightfire-unique ( 253895 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:10PM (#26163427)

    Can anyone quantify the difference(s) between communism, and capitalism in which the government hands out tax money, extracted at gunpoint, to various large corporations?

    Is it just a question of degree (percentage points) or is there some other major difference?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:12PM (#26163455)
    Simple government matrix for the politically impaired:

    Who owns the resources?|Who Allocates the resources?|Government type
    Private individuals     Private individuals          Capitalism
    Government              Government                   Communism
    Private individuals     Government                   Fascism
    Government              Private individuals          Socialism
  • Capitalism? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:33PM (#26163749)
    • in China, corporations build factories to make batteries, and profit from their investment.
    • in America, corporations whine and plead for the government to build factories for them.

    Quick quiz: which is the capitalist country, and which is the communist one?

  • by Tiro ( 19535 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:35PM (#26163783) Journal

    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...

    That's how a lot of US turkey is produced--shipped to Asia for processing then returned for sale. Of course the difference is that turkeys are labor intensive to process and consumers would avoid foreign-raised meat.

  • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @03:43PM (#26163883) Homepage

    ...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....

    Yes, most manufacturers build their products in Asia. But this is about car batteries. The auto makers (the folks that TFA focuses on as the main consumer for next-gen batteries) aren't in China. Most vehicles bought in North America are assembled in North America. No round-trip necessary for these batteries.

    You are correct about the price - American-made batteries would likely cost more than batteries made in China. Probably even after factoring in the shipping on those heavy suckers. However that would be largely due to China's lax environmental restrictions rather than labor costs (a typical culprit). So, while we'd save some money by just abandoning the battery industry and letting China take it, every time a consumer bought a "green" car, they'd be making an excessively nasty dent in the environment. (Battery production would be messy here too, but a helluva lot cleaner than in China.)

    All that said, I'd really prefer to see private investors step up for factories and tax-dollars only used for public-domain research...

  • I dunno, it strikes me as shake-down financing. If it is commercial viable, they should come bleating to government.
  • Environmental

    I'll see your three words, and raise you one:


  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:25PM (#26164493) Homepage Journal

    IMHO, that's taking a bit too narrow a view of the problem. Car batteries generally use the same cells as batteries for hundreds of thousands of other products. They just use a heck of a lot more of them, built into larger packs with different configurations. It's not like engine parts that are pretty much limited to use in cars. Building additional plants to manufacture a general-purpose part and targeting sales specifically to a single industry isn't likely to be cost effective by any stretch of the imagination. Quantity-wise, the packs for cars are likely to represent a small percentage of the cells sold and manufactured for a very long time.

    When you're talking about batteries, you are likely better off trying to make the packing density as high as possible for the cells themselves so you don't waste volume during shipping. Then, ship the individual cells over and assemble the packs in the U.S. That way, you do the custom work (pack assembly) as close as possible to the point of assembly.

    Besides, battery technology is not the most effective way to power cars. They are too volatile, have too short a life expectancy, and produce too much nasty chemical waste (both during manufacture and disposal). We should be focusing on ultracapacitor research, not chemical storage. It seems pretty clear that the future for automotive power storage does not lie in battery technology.

  • No, I'm talking about mining the lead out of old landfills to make new lead-acid batteries. Or using algae to suck the carbon dioxide out of the air to make biodiesel. Or refining Lithium, copper, and salt out of seawater to make fresh drinking water & Lithium-ion batteries. Or the best yet- using cow waste to create fertilizer, flower pots, and electricity (that one was actually on Dirty Jobs).

    That's the problem with labels sometimes.
  • by Score Whore ( 32328 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:42PM (#26164765)

    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.

  • Re:Capitalism? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Thursday December 18, 2008 @04:48PM (#26164875) Homepage Journal
    I dare you to find a major Chinese company that doesn't have close ties to the government, especially the local government. Even foreign governments that set up shop in China frequently have to set up a constant stream of bribes to the local government to get all of the preferential treatment and government largess needed to build a major factory.
  • by Wandering Wombat ( 531833 ) <> on Thursday December 18, 2008 @05:12PM (#26165265) Homepage Journal
    I find it much easier to buy a 10 lb chicken from the farm down the road, where I can go and pick out the little sprinter that I want to cook up. I swear, all that running and fresh air makes them so TASTY!

    Your turkeys don't get to run? Well, what do they do all day?
  • Individual investors are not inherently impatient- but the SEC reporting schedule has a tendency to force businesses to report on their income quarterly- and if a project shows up as a dollar sink two quarters in a row, the investors are going to want a darn good reason why, as they rightly should when "investment" is seen as a means of earning a living.

    That's where my four months came from anyway. I happen to disagree with investment as a method of gaining capital for R&D entirely for this reason.
  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday December 18, 2008 @07:54PM (#26167345) Homepage

    You're just digging yourself into a deeper hole.

    1. I don't just mean catching fire, but sure, let's go with that. Lithium cells don't stop burning until the contents are power. Lithium can burn through steel. Even gasoline fires won't do that. Lithium also can reignite after you put the fire out. I'm assuming Lithium because quite frankly no other battery tech has enough energy density to really be viable, last time I checked.

    Lithium ion batteries contain no metallic lithium. Now, traditional li-ion batteries have a defect, where when they age significantly or are charged in sub-freezing temperatures, metallic lithium can plate out. This ruins the batteries. This effect does not happen in the advanced li-ions that are being considered for use in EVs. *There Is No Metallic Lithium In Them*.

    2. Yes, lots of batteries last a long time. Let's put that in perspective. Those advanced Li Ion batteries are still only rated for a couple of decades.

    That's a great point, because as you know, the average person keeps their car around for about 4,000 years. ;)

    Also, the Rav4 EV had a maximum range per charge of roughly a third what is expected from a consumer vehicle, and requires five hours to charge, which is also unacceptable for most people.

    Which is, of course, completely unrelated to the topic of how long batteries take to charge, but if you'd like to talk about that, that'd be golden! :) The more the range an EV has, the *longer* its battery pack lasts. Each cell goes through fewer cycles per mile travelled. As for charge times, phosphates and stabilized spinels can fully charge in 10 to 20 minutes. Titanates can fully charge pretty much as fast as you can cool them down; individual cells have been charged to 80% in under a minute, while pack charging times are more in the 5 to 10 minute range due to cooling. The titanates are capable of such fast charges and are so stable in doing so that they're being promoted for grid stabilization, where the grid feeds megawatts of power into them or pulls it out of them depending on its needs, with cycle times on the order of 5 to 10 minutes, over and over nonstop for decades.

    3. Sure, it's not as nasty as some stuff, but if you're just throwing these things in the trash every few years---even every twenty years---that's a significant amount of metal salts leaching into the soil.

    Lithium is not a heavy metal. It's not toxic. Heaven forbid that the average person throw away, say, LiPs, which are made from about 1kg of lithium carbonate per kilowatt hour, so ~30 kg for a ~30kWh pack, once every couple decades, when I dump that much sodium salts on my driveway every couple years. Much better is to burn a hundred kilograms of gasoline straight into the air every year, right? Mmm, I love the smell of VOCs in the morning!

    Disposing of these batteries is a nothing environmental consequence. The metal in the car's frame poses more of an environmental consequence as the batteries (hey, ever looked what's in alloying agents?). The plastics in the interior probably pose more environmental consequences. So do the tires. Heck, the *single* lead-acid battery in a conventional car is probably ten times more of an environmental risk than an entire EV LiP battery pack. Or antifreeze for that matter. LiP battery disposal is simply not an issue.

    I'd be concerned about the health effects if that much of these chemicals end up in our water supply.

    You do realize that mineral water contains 0.05-1mg/l of lithium *already*? Lithium isn't exactly rare. And seriously, do you *really* want to try and avoid lithium? Better boycott lithium greases! Better boycott air conditioners! Better boycott glazed glasses! I could go on for days. Lithium is used all over the place.

    I would also add that the biggest problem with batteries is charge time.

    You have a problem with 5 to 20 minute charges every 2-3 hours of driving? Because that's *current* tech. Let alone what we'll have in five years.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas