Friday, January 02, 2009

U.S. battery makers finally find the 'on' switch

U.S. battery manufacturers have, at last, realized that working solely within their own closed, proprietary worlds will not help them catch up with the Asians, who are laps and laps ahead in the race to power next-generation electric and hybrid vehicles.

Somebody finally had the bright idea to form an industry consortium to move U.S. innovation along.

Recently, as battery consultant Ralph Brodd declared that the country "who makes the batteries will one day make the cars," 14 U.S. companies, including Altair Nanotechnologies, formed an alliance to speed the development and manufacture of li-ion batteries.

Hopefully, this group will do for batteries what SEMATECH did for the U.S. semiconductor industry.

And on the government side, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm proved she understood what was at stake when she said on Meet The Press a couple of weeks ago that lack of government funding would mean "replacing our reliance on foreign oil with the reliance on foreign batteries, because it's the battery that's going to be driving the electric vehicle in the future."

The Michigan Legislature followed up the governor's words by approving up to $335 million in tax credits to make the state a center of lithium-ion innovation and manufacturing.

Also recently, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) appeared at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with the chairman of nanotech li-ion company Ener1 Inc. at his side, to propose $1.6 billion in federal grants to try to put U.S. battery makers in the passing lane.

It's still a race for second place, but at least the United States has reached the starting line.

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