Commercializing lithium-ion technology

Commercializing lithium-ion technology

CHICAGO – “Argonne National Labs is a key player. Illinois can be too if they act fast,” observes James Carlini.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a region to raise economic viability for all.
Interest on last week’s article on Lithium-Ion Battery commercialization has led to some great feedback from some prominent readers as well as an interview with Jeff Chamberlin, Senior Account Manager for the Office of Technology Transfer at Argonne National Labs.
Mil Ovan, Senior VP and Co-Founder of Firefly, Inc. a battery company in Peoria ( ) commented:

I read your article and am in general agreement that Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio are more aggressive in recruiting battery companies and that Illinois needs to get on the power curve.

Argonne’s Chamberlin mentioned the same states as well as Indiana as being aggressive contenders that create some good incentives to attract corporate facilities into their state. Illinois has to come from behind to get a plant here in order to get a piece of the $2 Billion federal economic development initiative that has been earmarked for this technology endeavor.
Let me clarify that these manufacturing plants are high tech, and not like the smoke-stacked steel mills of the last century. Chamberlain pointed out that you should think more of the Google headquarters than something out of the Chicago South Side Steel Works.
The whole concept of using high-capacity batteries for vehicles is moving quickly from concept to commercialization and it would be nice to have a plant in Illinois.
Strong reasons for hope
According to Chamberlin, there are three reasons for that Illinois could still be some type of benefactor to the transitional shift to electric cars:

  1. US Automakers (Ford, GM and Chrysler) are taking a serious approach to making these next-generation cars.
  2. The Automotive Industry has a strong Midwest presence and will continue to have a strong presence based on how cars are made within the United States (both foreign and domestic brands)
  3. Whether it is an American car company or foreign car company, the need to have the batteries close to the point of final manufacturing is critical. The cost of shipping a battery is a huge cost compared to sending a case of microchips to a manufacturing facility. This means batteries will more likely be procured from local plants and not offshore facilities.

So some states stand to get a whole new “next-generation” industry that will provide well-paying jobs to skilled people. That translates into strengthening the tax base and generating more tax revenues that can fund both local and social initiatives.
It was pointed out that Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont also recently won the Golden Family Award from the Society of Women Engineers. The award recognizes a company in the Chicago area for its commitment to support of family issues including the delicate balance between work and family
We need more companies that provide real benefits, a decent working environment and a real career future so that we can reverse the trend of job erosion in Illinois. Jobs are key for regional sustainability, not new taxes.
Other hurdles in Silicon Prairie
First of all, there is no Silicon Prairie here. Any comparison to Silicon Valley is a stretch, if not a full joke. Let’s stop the cutesy euphemisms and look at the hard realities of what really happens here.
There are too many individual facets and fiefdoms here in Illinois (and the greater Chicago area) that never seem to collaborate or move in the same direction compared to the multi-institutional cohesion of Silicon Valley.
In Silicon Valley, you have people working together for a common cause. Venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, bankers, politicians, academia and most importantly media make up the “recipe for success”.
Media? Yes, that is the secret ingredient. They have people who understand the technology as well as the total picture in Silicon Valley. And, they can articulate and spotlight it which creates a larger and larger following as well as a demand for action.
Reporters around here seem to gravitate on the political misfortunes of some and the gratuitous fluff pieces that they think so many will find “cute”.
As I have asked in the past, “Where is our equivalent to the San Jose Mercury News?” If technology is covered at all around here by the mainstream press or TV, it is more likely to cover the next generation Grand Theft Auto game or the latest pastel iPOD case rather than job-creating initiatives that are being discussed here.
This Lithium-Ion Battery initiative along with so many other tech-related concepts should be spotlighted so that we get interest intersecting from all the institutions to push this along as well as the common reader understanding that real jobs can be had here in Illinois if our political structure pursues them.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a region to raise economic viability for all.
(Part III of this Lithium-Ion series – next week.)
Recent columns by James Carlini