back to article Battery builders beg for $1bn

A consortium of 14 US tech companies is asking for $1bn in federal aid to build a lithium-ion battery plant. According to a report in today's Wall Street Journal, that steaming heap of cash would be used to help build a factory that would enable the companies, in the words of the report, to "catch up to Asian rivals that are …


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  1. Dave

    Pork Barrels

    It seems that lots of CEOs are waking up and smelling the bacon.

    As with some of the UK banks, if there's government help, it should be done as a shareholding that the government can later sell if it proves profitable. Why shouldn't it benefit taxpayers by reducing what they need to pay in a few years?

  2. Tom

    Even if they start making them in the US...

    How long before some manager figures they can boost their bonus by outsourcing one piece at a time until they are back where they started from...

  3. E
    Thumb Down

    Karl Marx and Vlad Lenin

    are laughing their asses off at the great western capitalist democracies just about now.

    State socialism? Naaaahhhh, we're implementing corporate socialism!

    For those of you a bit slow on the uptake: the USSR was a corporate political structure (as was Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Fascist Spain) - the interests of groups superseded those of individuals - that is what corporatism is all about!

    The USA has a large capitalist component to it's economy but once it agreed to bail out the financial industry it put itself out of the capitalist free market system. It refused to let the market resolve a serious failure of resource allocation and instead chose the gov't to do the job. Same for UK, EU, Oz, Japan and shortly Canada too.

    We have just invented a new financial system for the west: begging bowl terrorist finance. Whichever sector as a group can most terrify the masses while felating politicians will get it's begging bowl filled with tax dollars. This effectively removes economic decisions from the market and eliminates moral hazard.

    Want a stock market tip? Look for political lobby groups floating stock issues.

  4. jake

    Horses for courses ...

    "According to a report in today's Wall Street Journal, a consortium of 14 US tech companies is asking for $1bn in federal aid to build a lithium-ion battery plant."

    And I want $1bn in federal aid to resurrect the horse-drawn carriage industry. Horses are cheaper to run for short distances around town than electric cars, the exhaust is fertilizer, and the ease of disposal of worn and broken parts is almost infinitely easier and more environmentally friendly ...

    I might expand on this later, but the cameras say we have a foal on the way ... gotta go :-)

  5. Darkwolf

    I would buy that for a dollar..

    I think they have a good idea, the US could use more factories.

    However I think if they do get the money, they should be required that all production is maintained in the US for at least 30 years.

    After that time, it may be to costly/hard to outsource.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Karl Marx and Vlad Lenin

    Quote: "We have just invented a new financial system for the west: begging bowl terrorist finance."

    In the context of socialist economies this is Stalin invention. Read on "Trust" and think on how much does the concept resemble Al-Qaida. An organisation which is behind every action against the young worker and peasants republic. Organisation which is involved in every terrorist action. And an organisation which nobody has f*** seen.

    Wonderfully convenient for funding purposes.

    As far as the topic of the article - yeah, so what. Even if given 1B they will still outsource the manufacturing to the far east in a couple of months as a part of the efficiency drive.

    Me coat.

  7. Matthew
    Thumb Down

    Car batteries?

    Well that's probably NOT the future of where car's are heading so hrmm.. seams like money down the drain to me.

  8. Nick

    Not just returns

    Its not just the returns, its also the patent problems which prevent people without a strong stomach taking part. There are around 10-20 different components in a battery like electrodes, backing foils, separators, spacers, electrolytes and their additives etc etc and many are patented by different companies. To create a best-of-breed device you would probably have to licence from every owner.

    Well this was the case 10-15 years ago when I was last involved.

  9. Stu Reeves

    Dear sir....

    ...we have decided there is no point saving our money for a rainy day as we know full well .gov will help us out.

    In return for $1bn we will promise only to pay our shareholders 80% of this each year, 15% to top execs pay and the rest on parts and the 100 people we will employ...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @Well that's probably NOT the future of where car's are heading

    So come on enlighten us.... where are cars heading?

    Where else do you propose to store recovered kinetic energy? oh you believe in flywheels...Facts is that Kers is coming, whether you believe in eletric as a main power source or not.

    And dont forget that high efficency constant output engines whether that is petrol or methanol or hydrogen fuel cells, also need to store excess energy ready for when you put your foot down so they use batteries too..

    I dont believe in free money for anyone, if industry wants it squeeze the cats.

    btw its 'seems'

  11. Simon Painter

    Fuel cells?

    Why are they wasting money on battery plants when the future should be invested in fuel cell technology or getting hydrogen production to the pumps.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So just print off another $1B

    It's only money and money money is only a belief system:

    It's not like money is expensive, the Fed rate is nearly zero, i.e. borrow free money. And banks can deposit it in the reserve and earn interest on that deposit, i.e. we'll lend you money AND PAY YOU INTEREST ON THE MONEY WE LEND YOU!

    And Americans are buying Treasury bonds knowing they'll be worth less than now, to minimize their losses, since every other US investment is expected to plummet.

    So yeh, why not just print off some $$$ and build stuff with it, while $ still has some value.

  13. Jim


    "Where else do you propose to store recovered kinetic energy? oh you believe in flywheels...Facts is that Kers is coming, whether you believe in eletric as a main power source or not."

    Erm, a flywheel, in the KERS sense, is a direct (ie plug-in) replacement for a battery pack (in large power apps), without the 'nasty' ingredients. The major difference it that electricity is converted to and from kinetic rather than chemical energy. We are not talking about something similar to the big lump stuck to the end of a crankshaft that smooths out the piston impulses.

    As for the $1bn aid, we are talking about a for-profit organisation so it should be given in the form of a loan or in exchange for stock. Particularly when it is pointed that this industry is trying to correct some earlier, rather greedy, short-sighted policies. Isn't it about time we switched to a market economy and require every company to declare all government subsidy, either direct or through reduced taxes (or other 'incentives'). Oh sorry, forgot, the free market only exists when western companies need to be able to dump their subsidised product on a 'not 1st world' country - in the name of progress of course.

  14. theotherone
    Thumb Up


    Velcome to the U.S.S.A Comrade .....

  15. Alex D

    Good Idea

    This is a clear public good. creating an opportunity which other wise wouldnt be available to any of hte manufacturers. Agreed that the gov should take a nice stake in the factory/group, which it can have the right to sell at a later date as a taxpayer investment. Basically the gov is acting as a PE/VC firm, but with the added benefit of funding a 'national strategic industry.'

    Let them outsource it all to China, as long as the US companies hold the IP, receive the goods and take the profits.

  16. A

    Re: Fuel cells?

    The problem is that creating and compressing the hydrogen requires a great deal of electricity in the first place; so it may well be far less efficient than a standard battery plug-in vehicle, when you take complete system into account.

    Robert Llewellyn offers an interesting, if somewhat (overly) profane, grasp of the problem here:

  17. Daniel Garcia

    Re: Karl Marx and Vlad Lenin

    Thanks for made me to laugh until my head strated to hurt!

  18. Mike Richards

    Sounds familiar

    Older readers will remember 1980s America pouring billions into fabs so it would have a guaranteed supply of memory chips in case of war with Japan.

    How well did that go again?

  19. Andy Enderby
    Thumb Down

    Hang on a mo....

    Batteries for what. Just about every western hemisphere manufacturer of consumer electronics has either outsourced, or is under pressure to do so.

    It's all very well wanting a lithium ion manufacturing plant now, but as has been pointed out, the patents are held elsewhere.....

    Why the hell would any self respecting taxpayer go for this ?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In a nutshell

    We made a stupid business decision now we want the government to pay us to catch up with the people who made the right decision.

  21. James Woods

    i don't understand

    Federal Aid, is this USA federal aid? Our government has a deficit that would make a blind person snear. What are we doing giving federal aid to private companies. I own my own company and i've never gotten a dime of aid and i've seemed to of done just fine, i'd be doing better if my money wasn't being taken and redistributed to things like this.

    Im no idiot, I know we live in a socialist country already, we've had wealth re-distribution for years but by god, today in 2008 these people want handouts? The unemployment rate for the country is skyrocketing, nobodys working, the tech industry offers very little to those that want to make a living here, it's all outsourced, go ask the indian government for money to do these things or ask china, that's where the actual work will end up anyhow.

  22. Andrew Culpeck
    Thumb Down

    State of the art

    "front the $1bn to $2bn needed to build a state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery plant"

    Am I wrong or lithium-ion battery tech. old hat?

    And that is before you start asking questions like do we need a plant now, bearing in mind the numbers of electric cars being produced?

    And as others have pointed out, will the car makes buy Chinese anyway.

    Sonds like someone noticed the government had its wallet out so thought lets ask for some cash!

  23. Bad Beaver

    RE: So just print off another $1B

    Nice link thanks.

  24. Rick Brasche

    "build a better mousetrap..

    ..and the world will beat a path to your door." But if you lack the vision, creativity, intelligence, skill, knowledge, etc. to invent a superior product, beg for government subsidy. Because despite what government leftists or right-wing pundits or conspiracy theorists claim, a truly superior product will make it's way to market, because it will make whomever controls it money. If that superior product fills a enormous needed niche, it will make them lots (metric *and* standard @ssloads) of money.

    Government subsidy of dying industry has killed innovation and improvement even more than monopolies...most of which were allowed to come into existence by government interference as well. Government subsidy of a battery plant will mean they will end up making a legislated market for the product, even long after that product is more detrimental than the products it replaces, and the products inevitable progress (in free markets) will produce.

    To make it simple, US spends $1B in (stolen from it's people) tax money for this battery plant. No one buys the batteries since the market prefers the Japanese product. So US makes laws forcing American car makers and people to buy these batteries. Detroit puts out these mandated inferior cars that don't sell (sound familiar?) and the people can't get the Japanese batteries without mail order tricks to keep their laptops running.

    Then, half an election term later, someone in India/Australia/Canada invents the Mr. Fusion solid state portable total mass conversion powerplant. It runs off of anything, zero emissions other than desired output, rewrites all thermodynamic principles as we know them, wins all land wars in Asia, and humbles Chuck Norris.

    It makes batteries obsolete, but that battery company still needs to sell enough to pay back the $1b put into it. In true bipartisan mode, "for the good of the economy" the Mr Fusion is banned from importation into America (except for rich celebrities and political fundraisers) until the next administration is elected, where the campaigning will rest on attacking the previous administration for the waste of $1b (that BOTH parties demanded) and then force the theft of an additional $2B or more to subsidize..errr..develop an American designed version....

    and it goes on from there...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how cute

    >> the American Big Three preferred to churn out high-margin, low-mileage behemoths such as the Cadillac Escalade, Hummer H2, and the once immensely popular Ford Egregious.<<

    What's funny is that all three examples you give there are the SMALL versions.

    There's an Escalade ESV which is a foot and half longer than a regular Escalade.

    The Hummer H2 is a radically smaller vehicle than the Hummer HMMV, aka H1.

    The "Egregious" was a link to the Ford Expedition, which replaced in Ford's lineup the much larger Ford Excursion.

    On top of that, only H1's and a small percentage of Excursions were diesel. The remainder as far as I know burn petrol at an astonishing rate, i.e. 8 or 9 mpg in US units.

  26. TeeCee Gold badge

    @Simon Painter

    'Cos Fuel cells are piss-poor at turning out a shitload of power very quickly on demand but bloody good at turning out a given supply continously (fuel cell efficiency drops quite dramatically as the power draw increases). So you either need a massively overspec set of fuel cells to provide peak acceleration or a bog-load of batteries to assist by smoothing the peaks 'n troughs. Batteries also provide somewhere to store energy scavenged regeneratively to avoid consuming unneccessary fuel (a sort of "fuel cell hybrid" if you will).

    All the electrically-based solutions (petrol / diesel / hydrogen hybrid, fuel cell, plug-in hybrid and pure 'leccy) require batteries to a greater or lesser extent, so it's the one part of the market you can be in that'll be in demand regardless of which drivetrain wins out.

    You also answered your own question. "Invest in fuel cell technology" is just that. It's still a developing technology that has some way to go for a definitive standard to turn up. If someone else does it better than the version you signed up to produce, your 1bn just went down the crapper. Investing in producing something that you know a) is going to be required, b) there is a shortage of production for and c) has a long-term developmental future, makes far more sense.

    Finally and probably most importantly. It's a hell of a sight easier to screw 1bn out of yer average government to build a plant hiring a load of blue-collar workers to make batteries than to build a lab hiring a few white-collar techs to design fuel cells. If you want Pork, start with pigs.

  27. Chris C

    More of the same...

    Yet another group of US corporations who have been mismanaged to their financial detriment, and yet now they want the US citizens to finance their turnaround. So who's going to be there when the US citizens either A) make a bad decision and thus lose *their* money, or B) lose all of their money because it has been taken/stolen to finance these corporations?

    Seriously, if I make a bad decision regarding my personal finances, I'm shit out of luck. I'm on my own. I don't have anyone to go crying to. I have to face the reality that I made a bad decision, and hopefully learn from it.

    Why should these corporations be any different? They had all of the information they needed, and they still willingly and voluntarily made their decisions. And yet now *I* am being forced to literally pay for their bad decisions, thus telling them that their actions do not have consequences?

    At the same time, my state is forcing me to reduce the risk assumed by private health insurance corporations by requiring me to purchase health insurance from these private for-profit corporations at whatever rate these corporations want to charge. Yes, that really was their explicitly-stated reason -- to force healthy people, who would normally not purchase health insurance, to purchase it thus increasing the income and profit of the health insurance companies, reducing their payout ratio.

    Boy, I sure am glad I live in the "land of the free".

  28. AJames

    Not playing fair

    Isn't this exactly the kind of government subsidy that the U.S. penalizes other countries for in trade disputes? Oh, I forgot - those rules only apply to countries other than the U.S.

  29. GumboKing

    Dr. Evil must be pissed!

    You used to need Sharks with frikkin' lasers, a secret lair and a threat to destroy the world to demand 'One Billion Dollars'.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Slide Rule Manufacturer asks for $700 million

    My Slide Rule company is in financial difficulties due to the economic downturn in the markets. We are asking for $700 million in financial aid from the federal government.

    On a related note, my company will be soon offering an IPO. Shares will start at $5.00, but are expected to increase in value shortly.....

  31. Joey


    Rik Myslewski obviously missed the correspondence last week about words that should nver be used. Shame!

  32. Rick Brasche

    @ A "Kryten" forgets to look into his history

    I love Llewellyn, Loved him in Scrapheap Challenge, and in Red Dwarf. I love his rants, even if he's missing some common sense and historical perspective. First, oil/gas companies are "energy" companies. They make money no matter what the source. There's no need for a Petrol Conspiracy.

    Second, you can only fill a battery for "pence" now because the rate currently charged for it. When it is the only source of motivation, it *will* go up in price by orders of magnitude. How do we know this for sure? Let's look into the history of everyone's favorite overpriced petroleum distillate. Gasoline, in the early days, was practically a waste product. Oil was needed for many other things, greases, heating oils, and other heavier stuff. What a person paid for at the pump, was for the service to their vehicle (early gasoline cars were even finickier than anything Lucas or Stromberg equipped!) and for the transport and storage of the fuel. The gasoline itself was practically free. Once it became a commodity, that people sought for the product instead of the service, the prices went up. And soon, taxes came along with it.

    When states lose the revenue from fuel sales, they will tack them onto whatever fuel comes along to replace it. If our cars were powered by sewage, sh*twater would sell for $3.00 a gallon or higher. Electricity will get the increased tax burden. Speculation and commodity action during CA's last gubernatorial administration, along with Enron's help, made energy vastly more costly than elsewhere in the country even though it was generated here. And that was with a quick bit of mismanagement and fraud. What do you think happens when the terawatts of gasoline energy now have to come from electrical sources? Do you think commodities traders and speculators aren't going to increase the costs of electricity to maximize their profits *like they do now*?

    This doesn't even touch the infrastructure expenses, the extra taxes required to handle the tripled, or even quadrupled maximum power transmission needed if everyone changed to electric. main transmission lines would glow and melt under the increased load, houses, apartment buildings would burn their wiring assuming their people could even plug in. In order to fund the extra power plants, the higher capacity wiring substations, there'll be more tax, more fees. Your "pence" for fillups becomes "pounds" comparable with your fuel expenses today. Except now, you pay even if you don't drive. That new big screen plasma TV? You'll be watching episodes of Dr. Who at miles per gallon. Lights will not be rated by wattage but by fuel efficiency.

    History has shown us already, repeatedly, that anything that is both necessary to and manufactured by society, will become as expensive as possible. A former waste product becomes the political and financial cornerstone of culture and industry, what couldn't be given away now is the king commodity. Once it was coal. Then steel, then oil, next, lithium, and electricity. You wait and see.

    But, I admit, that's not as funny as Llewellyn dropping F bombs like a typical American redneck high schooler..:)

  33. Matthew
    Paris Hilton

    RE: AC

    I'm thinking NiCad due to Lion batteries being so unstable, and also the fact that there is a severe shortage of lithium, oh and also price.

    Though, I think ultimately some smart cookie will invent a cleaver way of making liquid H viable..

    But: the future is definitely not Lithium.

  34. E

    @Daniel Garcia

    I am glad you liked it.

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