Building Lithium Ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles

Quentin Sharpe, a technician in A123 Systems’ new battery factory in Livonia, Michigan, takes a foil packet out of a white plastic container and sets it down within reach of a robot, which scoops it up and adds it to a growing stack of metal plates and foil packets.

It’s the start of a process that makes one of the dozens of types of battery packs assembled here—all of which will power advanced hybrid and electric cars designed to cut petroleum consumption.

Production of advanced lithium-ion batteries for electric cars and hybrids has so far been dominated by companies in Asia, but the U.S. government hopes to see it become a major new industry in the United States.

The new factory will have the capacity to produce 30,000 battery packs a year once all its equipment is up and running (A123’s plans call for the factory to be fully operational by this spring). It is one of nine that the U.S. Department of Energy helped fund in a $2 billion program created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

A123 received $249 million in government funding for two facilities, which it matched with additional money from private sources. "Just a few years ago American businesses could only make 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries for hybrids and electric vehicles—just 2 percent," President Obama said when he called in to the factory’s opening ceremony last fall. The new factories are meant to help increase the U.S. share to 40 percent of the world’s capacity.