US administration to spend $2.5 billion on next generation batteries and electric vehicles; over $700 million on science

Details are emerging about how the Obama administration is spending funds from the multi-billion dollar economic stimulus package enacted in February, with billions going into green vehicles and over $700 million (?419 million) allocated to scientific research and infrastructure. 

On 5 August the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced that nearly $2.5 billion in stimulus funds will go to support the manufacture of next generation batteries and electric vehicles. This represents the single largest investment ever made in advanced battery technology for hybrid and electric-drive cars. 

The department will fund 48 new projects, intended to help the US establish leadership in next generation advanced vehicles.

’These are incredibly effective investments that will come back to us many times over - by creating jobs, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, cleaning up the air we breathe, and combating climate change,’ stated DOE’s secretary, Steven Chu. The efforts will also help achieve President Obama’s goal of putting one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015, and launch an advanced battery industry in America.

The DOE estimates that the investment, combined with an additional $2.4 billion contributed by the awardees, will generate tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the US battery and auto industries.

Dow Chemical, which will receive $161 million of the funds through its joint venture with Townsend Kokam of South Korea, will use the award to establish manufacturing operations, including a new 800,000 square foot facility in Michigan to produce advanced lithium polymer battery technology.

BASF has also been awarded a $24.6 million grant, which will go towards building what it says will be North America’s largest cathode material production plant at a new lithium-ion battery materials production facility in Ohio. 

But the most sizeable chunk of the award money goes to the struggling auto industry. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler will receive a combined total of over $400 million for research and development in areas including plug-in hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, and high-volume battery packs. 

Investment in research, scientific infrastructure

Stimulus funds of $327 million will go towards scientific research, instrumentation, and laboratory infrastructure projects. The awards will benefit ten of the DOE’s national laboratories in six US states, as well as academic researchers. Approximately one-third of the funding will go to universities, non-profit organisations, and private firms. 

The new approved projects focus on areas including enhancement of high-intensity light sources, integrated climate research, upgrading facilities and equipment at national labs and the DOE Bioenergy Research Centers, and initiatives looking at Smart grid technology and civilian supercomputing.

A further $377 million has been allocated to establish 46 new Energy Frontier Research Centers to ’accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build a new 21st century energy economy’. Of the funds, $277 million comes from the Recovery Act, with the remaining $100 million from the DOE’s 2009 budget. Researchers at theses centres will make use of capabilities in nanotechnology, high-intensity light sources, neutron scattering sources and supercomputing to make advances in solar energy, biofuels, transportation, energy efficiency, electricity storage and transmission, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration, and nuclear energy.

NIH applicants play the waiting game

Meanwhile, there is some confusion about how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will spend the extra $10 billion it received through the stimulus package. The agency received roughly 20,000 applications for its new Challenge Grants programme, approximately equal to the total number of applications it receives in one of its three major review rounds each year. 

Although most applicants received their scores from peer review in late July, the NIH says they may have to wait until 20 September to learn whether they will actually be funded. The anticipated start date for the grants is 30 September. Applicants tell Chemistry World that NIH program officers have indicated the agency might only fund one per cent of those applications. 

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Europe