In a long-overdue move to finally get serious about developing and mass-producing Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries for automotive use, 14 key American battery and materials producers have teamed up to form the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture. Collectively known as the "Alliance," this group will be working with and receiving advice from the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. Founding members of the Alliance include 3M, ActaCell, All Cell Technologies, Altair Nanotechnologies, Dontech Global, EaglePicher Corporation, EnerSys, Envia Systems, FMC, MicroSun Technologies, Mobius Power, SiLyte, Superior Graphite, and Townsend Advanced Energy.

Alliance attorney James J. Greenberger of Reed Smith LLP says that original membership roster is destined to grow in time when "U.S. truck and auto makers and representatives of the Department of Defense will be invited to serve on the Alliance's advisory board." Greenberger notes that their input will help producers create standardized cell forms that are cheaper and easier to manufacture.

One of Alliance's first goals will be to establish one or more manufacturing and prototype development centers where basic research on how to cost-effectively design and produce advanced Li-ion automotive batteries can be carried out -- and ultimately shared -- by all members. The price tag for this ambitious program is projected to run $1-$2 billion, with funding expected to come largely from the federal government. However, success in this landmark undertaking will finally clear one of the most daunting hurdles that has plagued U.S. automakers looking towards a hybrid/EV future. Even more critically, it will ensure that the technology and the resources relating to Li-ion and other advanced battery designs remain inside America.

"A small, fragmented battery industry will not long survive in the face of determined Asian competition," says Ralph Brodd, a long time consultant to battery manufacturers. "Other countries are investing heavily in the manufacture of lithium ion cells. Those countries understand that whoever makes the batteries will one day make the cars."

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