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USA: Battery innovation is alive and well in the U.S.

Battery giants in Japan and Korea have long dominated the world’s battery technology, and still do when it comes to small format batteries for laptops and consumer electronics. But at the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E event this week, a dozen or so battery companies and research labs showed off their innovations for batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid, signalling how battery innovation, at least at the prototype level, is alive and well in the U.S. and could even lead the next-generation of transportation and grid tech.

In Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s speech on Tuesday, he said that battery innovation in the U.S. over the past three or four years has been “fantastic.” In numerous interviews with the CEOs of these battery companies at ARPA-E, executives referred to the emergence of new energy storage tech for the grid and EVs as a new boom.

In Chu’s speech he referenced a startup called Vorbeck Materials, which is working with Pacific Northwest National Labs (PNNL) and Princeton University, to develop next-gen lithium batteries using graphene. In a speech by former Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, Scott took the opportunity to talk about Fluidic Energy, an energy storage company in Phoenix, Arizona, that’s making rechargeable metal air batteries, and on which Scott is on the Board.

Silicon Valley battery maker Envia Systems made news at ARPA-E this week thanks to its breakthrough that it can build a high energy-dense battery that could create a 300-mile range electric car and could cost around $25,000 to $30,000. Envia is backed by venture capitalists, General Motors, and the Department of Energy. “There are three countries in the race for batteries for electric vehicles: Japan, Korea and the U.S.,” said Atul Kapadia, CEO of Envia Systems to me in an interview at ARPA-E. Envia is looking to partner with global battery manufacturers to license it’s tech or establish joint ventures.


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