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Battery Manufacturers Look to Grants in Infrastructure Bill

The recently-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act sets aside roughly $6 billion for grant awards meant to expand capabilities of U.S.-based battery research and development, looking to shore up the supply chain.

(TNS) — As President Joe Biden signed his $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law Monday on the White House lawn, researchers and manufacturers of battery technology hoped a provision tucked in the more than 2,000-page package could give a boost to a vital component in updating the nation's power grid and electrifying vehicles on America's roads.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act sets aside $6 billion for grant awards meant to expand capabilities of U.S.-based battery research and development, bolster the domestic battery production and shore up the American supply chain in an industry often reliant on foreign metals and raw materials.

"If there's a crisis in the supply chain, like we are seeing now, we are stuck," said Prashant N. Kumta, professor at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering.

For the U.S. to ensure its own fate in the battery market, researchers and manufacturers will need to make "critical breakthroughs" in several areas, including "dry manufacturing" — using less chemical solvents to produce a less volatile battery — and energy density, particularly when producing lithium ion batteries for electric cars. Fewer battery cells, less weight, less volatility means a safer car, Mr. Kumta said.

The professor, whose lab already receives federal funding for advanced battery development, said the U.S. is lagging behind on the technology that was commercialized in the 1990s.

"These batteries are heavily used in laptops, cellphones and electric vehicles, [for] which they're looking to drive the cost down, but there's also opportunities for expanding and exploring in terms of our electric grid, a huge opportunity," Mr. Kumta said. "...We're trying our best to see how we can get ahead and keep up."

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D- Forest Hills, who with four other lawmakers introduced the batteries measure in July, said in a statement that the funding would create "good-paying American jobs and enabling American manufacturers to prosper in the 21st century."

"Today, the U.S. relies heavily on importing advanced battery components from abroad. As a matter of economic and national security, we should be focusing on bringing critical manufacturing home," he said upon the passage of the infrastructure bill by the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 5.

A battery manufacturer in Mr. Doyle's district that touts buying 80% of its raw materials from the U.S. sees the grant program as an opportunity to expand its manufacturing capacity.

The Edison, N.J.-based Eos Energy Enterprises set up its zinc battery manufacturing facility in a former Westinghouse building in Turtle Creek where just over 100 employees produce modular units built for longer-duration energy storage — for example, to store solar power or standalone storage pulling power from the grid "to smooth out the spikes in supply and demand for power."

"You have the opportunity to create these companies with technologies to be, if you will, national champions for new energy mix," said CEO Joe Mastrangelo. " ... For us, every $50 million is approximately a gigawatt hour of production. When you look at what's forecast on a yearly basis, it's a drop in the bucket, a gigawatt hour, which is what our Pittsburgh facility will be able to do at the end of next year. So we would be looking to say how do we expand to get more additional capacity out there? [The grant] would be very helpful to accelerate our development."

The grants would be awarded in minimum amounts of $50 million to $100 million, depending on the project and use.

The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to an inquiry on when the grant application guidelines would be available. The department is slated to develop the grant program within 180 days.

© 2021 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.