A123 Systems is bringing more green jobs to Michigan with a gigantic new 300,000 square foot factory for its lithium-ion batteries, thanks to a whopping $249 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The move follows a decision a few years back by A123 to start manufacturing in China.
As profiled in the LA Times, the move speaks volumes about the ability of new green tech to create jobs and lift the U.S. out of its economic doldrums – if it gets support from the investment community.
What Good is Green Tech without the Green?
A123’s experience is a poor reflection on the state of private sector investment in the U.S. When the company’s founders were looking for backers a few years ago, the investment community let a golden opportunity to get a jumpstart on green job creation slip through its fingers, by more or less forcing A123 to create jobs overseas instead of here at home. As the LA Times reports, by backing an overseas manufacturing operation the investors also left A123 vulnerable to having its proprietary nanomaterials technology appropriated by future competitors.
Green Jobs and the Federal Government
Last August, President Obama announced $2.4 billion in grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for next-generation batteries and vehicles. With a U.S. facility, A123 may find itself in a better position to leverage additional federal grants and contracts, along with more private sector financing. International Battery made a daring move when it located its first factory in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and that is starting to pay off. Within the past few months the company, which focuses large-format batteries Li-ion batteries, has won contracts with the U.S. Army and NASA, and it just secured $35 million in private sector funding to continue scaling up the facility.
A Bright Future for A123 and Lithium-Ion Batteries
Once up to scale, the new Li-ion battery facility in Michigan will bring A123’s global assembly capacity to over 360 megawatt hours. The company has just signed new contracts with Eaton Corporation, Navistar, and Fisker Automotive so it looks like the assembly line will be humming along. As for the prospect of a healthy market for electric vehicles and new battery technology, British Petroleum’s debacle of unimaginable consequences in the Gulf of Mexico is already making more drivers take a long look at where their gasoline is coming from, which could mean that more car buyers will be willing to give electric vehicles and other alternative fuels more than a second glance the next time they go out shopping for a new car. If it says Made in the USA, so much the better.
Image: Old factory by joiseyshowaa on flickr.com.