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Will Washington Kick-start the U.S. Battery Biz?

The United States will need a domestic lithium-ion manufacturing industry to meet its plug-in goals

3 min read

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to put 1 million plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015, one of several steps toward energy independence. But getting there, say auto industry analysts, will require a heavy dose of government intervention and, crucially, the rapid construction of a domestic industry to manufacture advanced batteries. U.S. industry groups are pushing strongly for both.

Widespread penetration of plug-in cars remains far in the future. A Boston Consulting Group study predicts that under current trends, just 5 percent of new cars sold in the United States in 2020 (roughly 750 000 vehicles) will be plug-ins. Even 1 million plug-ins would still be less than one-half of 1 percent of the entire U.S. vehicle fleet of 250 million, but they would be more than 1000 times as much as the number on U.S. roads today.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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