Stabenow floats bill to promote battery, lithium production

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is touting new legislation to promote U.S. production of advanced batteries for hybrid cars and the high-quality lithium to power them.

The "Battery Innovation Act" creates grants for companies and groups working on developing batteries for light to heavy-duty vehicles, encourages domestic research efforts for next-generation batteries and secures loan guarantees for certain companies seeking to buy them.

Stabenow's bill is mainly an effort to promote Michigan's growing battery industry and replace at least some of the job losses stemming from the recent troubles in the U.S. automotive sector. She spoke about the legislation last week at an A123 Systems Inc. facility in Livonia, Mich.

"This new innovation initiative will create the conditions to ensure our high-tech companies can continue to expand and Michigan can lead the world in advanced battery production and job creation for years to come," Stabenow said.

Jason Forcier, an executive at A123, said in a statement, "The battery systems being produced in our Livonia facility are already serving programs from passenger vehicles to commercial delivery trucks and we are exporting systems to Europe and Asia. The demand has spurred us to grow to more than 1,000 employees in Michigan alone."


Despite growth in Michigan and efforts by President Obama, the United States remains behind in advanced battery production.

Recent congressional efforts have not only focused on growing America's clean-tech sector but also on securing materials, including rare earth elements, important early in the supply chain.

The Stabenow bill directs the secretary of Interior to study the supply of raw materials, including lithium, necessary for the production of the high-power batteries. It also requires the administration to assess international trade opportunities for securing those raw materials.

There are three companies involved in producing the high-quality lithium necessary for car batteries, including FMC Lithium and Chemetall, both with U.S. operations, and Chile's SQM.

In March, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) introduced legislation to boost the domestic production of the advanced lithium needed for electric car and smart grid batteries. The bill, S. 421, which would authorize Department of Energy grants to companies involved in producing and developing lithium technologies, has already gotten a subcommittee hearing (E&E Daily, March 8).

When it comes to lithium mining, Chemetall's Nevada brine deposit is the only domestic commercial extraction operation. While new projects are under way, deposits in South America currently provide an abundant supply (Greenwire, April 21).

Stabenow touts her legislation as the broadest yet to promote the growth of U.S. battery production and the associated material supply chain. She said, "We cannot afford to lose the race to build the clean energy technologies of the future to countries like China."

A spokesman for Stabenow said she may formally introduce the legislation as early as this week.

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