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Department of Energy Incentivizing EV Battery Development

The U.S. Department of Energy is partnering with Stellantis on the Battery Workforce Challenge, a competition to boost EV battery research, development and the worker pool for this emerging industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy is incentivizing new educational efforts to make the United States a leader in electric vehicle batteries.

“One of our core objectives is, as we grow EVs, we want to make sure we have a secure, solid, domestic supply base. And that’s a combination of workers, as well as the factories and materials,” said Michael Berube, deputy assistant secretary for sustainable transportation at the U.S. Department of Energy.

The DoE is partnering with Stellantis — maker of car brands like Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat — to launch the Battery Workforce Challenge, a three-year competition aimed at colleges, vocational schools and other educational institutions. The goal of it is to boost not only the engineering brain power behind battery technology, but also the technicians who will be working on EVs.

“We need to develop the batteries. We need the supply chain. We need the workers to build it,” said Berube. “This program is a big chunk — not the only one — but a big chunk of our overall work on workforce.”

Starting this year, the battery challenge will include a battery design and development student competition, aimed at vocational schools and universities from across North America “to design, build, test and integrate an advanced EV battery into a future Stellantis vehicle,” reads a press release announcing the program.

The Argonne National Laboratory will function as the government’s partner, which will work alongside Stellantis, helping to team with universities, as well as community colleges and vocational training.

The DoE hasn't announced the total funding for the project, but it will also be directing other resources into the program in the form of professional expertise from scientists and engineers at its national labs. The program puts students in direct touch not only with officials from automakers, but some of the nation’s leading battery scientists.

Major automakers like Ford and GM are already moving forward with multibillion-dollar projects to develop batteries for EVs, along with the domestic manufacturing infrastructure. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act makes consumer incentives for purchasing an EV contingent on some level of domestic battery production, helping to reorient the industry away from Asia and other regions, in part, to help put new energy into American manufacturing.

“We view the United States as the historic leader in developing battery technology … We have been one of the leading driving forces, if not the driving force, for fundamental battery technology now for decades,” said Berube. “Much of the core battery chemistry used all around the world, all were developed and came out of work in the United States."

Stellantis is aiming for 100 percent zero-emission sales in Europe, and 50 percent in the United States by the end of the decade. The company is launching a fully electric Jeep SUV this year, and a Dodge Ram pickup next year.

“As part of the overall Dare Forward 2030 strategic plan, in the short term, full battery electric vehicles are coming to the North American market from Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Fiat brands,” said Dan Reid, a spokesman for Stellantis’ North American operations.

The growth in the EV battery market is set to accelerate growth in other residual markets like battery recycling, where the recycling of previous generation batteries will make up 40 percent to 50 percent of the supply chain of raw materials going into new batteries.

The Battery Challenge will place a premium on designs and other technologies which take into consideration the end-of-life process for batteries and designing them with recycling in mind.

The Argonne National Laboratory developed the EverBatt model, a battery life cycle tool, which allows researchers to estimate cost and environmental impacts such as energy consumption, water consumption and emissions along each stage of the battery supply chain. The model is available as a free download, to be used by anyone.

EverBatt evaluates the environmental impact of battery production from virgin materials as the benchmark.

“Then model the closed-loop battery recycling, which starts from collection and transportation of the batteries, and also includes the recycling process itself,” said Qiang Dai, a sustainability analyst at the Argonne Laboratory, during a brief webinar demonstration in June 2022.

“We can use the model to compare different recycling scenarios, and we can also benchmark battery recycling against virgin material production to give us a more holistic picture of the cost and benefits of battery recycling,” she added.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.