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USA: The Ship Comes In: Battery Companies Grab Federal Funding

t’s a waiting game for many battery electric car companies. Coda, Bright, Aptera, Think and many more have applied for Department of Energy funding, and some (Aptera being the most dramatic example) are stuck in the “Valley of Death” waiting for that all-important phone call and looking here, there and everywhere for enough capital to get off the ground.

The ship came in for some August 10, when the DOE doled out more than $175 million in a program that supports 40 different projects under the broad heading of improving fuel economy. Quite a few are designed to improve battery technology.

I talked to Pat Davis of DOE’s vehicle technologies program, and he told me that its funding has helped EV batteries come down from $1,000 per kilowatt hour to $650 now and, the agency hopes, $300 per KwH by 2015. That would be a dramatic fall, and probably beyond what more cautious analysts are seeing right now.

“These awards are a continuation of funding the DOE has had since the 1980s, when it funded research into nickel-metal-hydride batteries,” Davis told me. “The Toyota Prius has DOE technology in it, the GM Volt, and the Mercedes S-Class hybrid, too.” That Mercedes actually has lithium-ion batteries, but they’ve certainly benefited from federal funding. Davis said that $1.5 billion in DOE funding for battery production facilities is matched 50-50 by industry, for a total commitment of $3 billion.

So which battery companies and automakers got DOE funding? Here’s an incomplete list of highlights. Many of these companies claim they can double current battery capacity, though only a few are saying they can also halve the price. Previous funding rounds favored Michigan (and Indiana), but this one has good geographic spread:


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