After months of applications and speculation, the U.S. Department of Energy has finally announced the winners of the $2.4 billion in stimulus grants earmarked for the advanced battery industry. With a tight focus on batteries tailored to next-generation cars, the department used the money to once again prop up the country’s ailing automotive royalty — setting them up as natural leaders in the battery sector going forward.
General Motors, for example, is slated to received upwards of $240 million of this money, split between three grants. Ford will get $92.7 million, $62.7 million of which will go toward a new factory dedicated to electric drive components. Chrysler also made out with $70 million to bring its plug-in hybrid pickups and minivans to fruition.
That being said, the biggest chunks of money went to lesser-known (but increasingly high-profile) battery makers like A123 Systems, which will receive $249.1 million — a grant that will indirectly help Chrysler, which already has a supply deal with A123. EnerDel, parent company of Ener1 — which supplies batteries for Fisker’s luxury Karma vehicle — will receive $118.5 million to keep producing lithium-ion battery packs in Indianapolis. The big winner, however, was Johnson Controls, set to get $300 million to keep making battery parts for both hybrid and fully electric vehicles. It already has a manufacturing facility in Michigan in the works previously supported by Ford and plans to sink $600 million total into its domestic operations. It says it will open its plant by the end of next year.
In addition to helping companies in need of funding to continue development, the distribution of these funds could have a major impact on certain geographic areas and employment. It looks like Michigan’s gamble to attract battery companies to the Detroit area has paid off, with both Johnson and A123 setting up shop there several months ago. Of the 48 projects receiving DOE funds (see the full list here), 11 are in Michigan, and seven are in Indiana, where automotive unemployment has also depressed communities. The two states will receive the largest amounts of money. The Obama administration says it expects the electric-vehicle sector to generate tens of thousands of jobs in coming months.
The announcement comes after several intense months of applications and lobbying. About 257 companies applied, seeking $9.6 billion total.
While the DOE and Obama are optimistic about the elevating influence the stimulus funds will have along the whole supply chain of next-generation cars, batteries pose some sticky questions. Increasingly, industry analysts are pointing to the waste associated with large battery manufacturing operations.
On top of that, if batteries for fully-electric vehicles are to achieve any sort of scale, transportation infrastructure will need to be overhauled everywhere. Today, we reported on Coulomb, one company working to install easy-to-use EV charging stations along U.S. roads, but it only has 50 models in the field so far. Perhaps the boom in batteries will propel rapid growth of companies like Coulomb — but it certainly will be a challenge regardless.