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The Department of Energy Announces $3.5 Billion for Batteries

In the latest push to strengthen the U.S. battery supply chain, the Department of Energy has announced $3.5 billion in funding for companies who produce batteries and other necessary components.

Batteries are a large focus on the fight toward a climate solution since they can be used to power automobiles as well as be a viable alternative to gasoline.

Batteries can also be used as a solution for storage for both clean electricity made from solar panels or wind turbines.

Lithium batteries are currently the main type of battery in both electric vehicles and storage for clean electric services such as solar panels or wind turbines.

The DOE estimates the demand for lithium batteries will increase 10 fold by 2023.

Due to this rapidly approaching increase, the DOE wants to strengthen the supply before the demand hits.

The Biden-Harris administration has a goal of lowering the pollution that causes climate change to zero by 2050 and for half of all new car sales to be electric in 2030.

Jodie Lutkenhaus, professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University, said she is closely watching U.S. battery production and manufacturing. 

“I’m worried that we may not catch up and end up in the same situation we’re in now with the semiconductor industry,” she said. 

During the pandemic, assembly lines came to a stop, causing a halt in manufacturing in Asia. This led to a global shortage of microchips that are still affecting the availability of vehicles and electronics.

“The same thing can happen with batteries if we don’t diversify where batteries are made and where materials are sourced,” Lutkenhaus said. “It is essential that the U.S. participates in battery production and manufacturing so that we can avoid global shortages of batteries, should that ever happen.”

Albemarle, a major lithium producer, received funding in the first round for a facility in Kings Mountain, N.C.,that processes lithium from ore collected around the world. The company said that in addition to EVs, demand for lithium also comes electronics like medical devices and smartphones. Without the DOE funding, the project “would have likely progressed along a different time scale,” it said in an email.

Matthew McDowell, associate professor of engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, said the bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act have greatly transformed the U.S. battery manufacturing sector in the past three years.

He is excited, he said, about the next generation of batteries for clean energy storage, including solid state batteries, which could potentially hold more energy than lithium ion.

Companies can apply for funding through mid-March.

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