Energy Secretary Stephen Chu

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu addresses the crowd at A123 Systems

With a packed room of dignitaries, government representatives, and industry notables, President Barack Obama addressed an enthusiastic crowd at the opening of A123 Systems advanced lithium ion battery production plant in Livonia, Michigan on Monday via teleconference. The event was well represented from across the electrification industry, including DTE Energy, Chevrolet, Navistar, business leaders, US Renewable Energy Association, scientists and countless others on the forefront of electrification of vehicles and the smart grid. The event was used to highlight the significant progress on advanced batteries and vehicle electrification in the United States.

A123Systems CEO Dave Vieau confirmed the site is the largest lithium ion battery plant in North America. Presenters provided their insight as to the significance of the site, such as executives from General Motors, Navistar, BAE Systems, Shanghai Automotive, and AES Energy Storage, as well as federal, state, and local political leaders. Substantial contributions have made the plant possible, including state, federal stimulus, and private involvement and investment. Government perspective primarily focused on the importance of public/private partnerships to advance American innovation, and the need to promote a strong American manufacturing and technology sector. The plant is heavily automated to minimize reliability issues with advanced lithium cell production.

The goal is to bring costs down to around $400 per KWH (kilo-watt/hour) in the next 4 years, from the current level of $800-1000 per KWH. With a typical electric vehicle using 20 KWH per battery pack, the battery costs can comprise a significant portion of electric vehicle costs.

Various leaders from Michigan addressed the crowd and offered their views in an almost unified chorus —Working on many coordinated levels, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and U.S. Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) are working to carve out Michigan as a manufacturing center for clean technology. A123 Systems is a leader in the battery sector, for which Michigan has adopted the most aggressive incentives in the nation. Michigan companies have captured a substantial percentage of storage based battery advancement, more than any other state, according to Granholm. In the middle of the Granholm remarks, President Barack Obama teleconferenced into the assembly to congratulate A123 on the important milestone of opening its factory in Michigan. He noted that  the growth of the advanced lithium battery industry in the US will move our percentage of worldwide production from 2% in 2008 to about 40% by 2015. He noted the growth is in a new technology sector not actively pursued in before now.

—U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) stressed the importance of manufacturing to our economy…”it is worth fighting for. We are competing not just with other companies, but with other countries and governments. We must create partnerships between an active government and a committed private sector.”

—U.S. Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI): “Battery manufacturing is vital to America’s competitiveness. Other countries are no longer content to just compete, they want to lead. In America, we are debating whether we should have these private/public partnerships; other countries are not debating this question, they are acting. We somehow lost the notion that it was important to build it in America. We help invent advanced technologies, we must devote ourselves to becoming the leader in their implementation and manufacture.”

—U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu: “Under no circumstances should the United States cede manufacturing.” He emphasized the need for a new industrial revolution and the importance of public/private partnerships, and the urgent need for the US to move away from its dependence on foreign oil.

—Admiral Dennis Blair, former Director of National Intelligence: While noting the increasing obligations of the US around the world to maintain our supply of energy sources, he emphasized the reasons advanced batteries are important to national security. “Lithium ion batteries and the electrification of vehicles is the only practical way to end the country’s dependence on foreign oil.”