Tag Archives: Steve LeVine

The Battery Breakthrough That Could Juice U.S. Manufacturing

In a new report, McKinsey describes a broad new age of manufacturing that it calls Industry 4.0. The consulting firm says the changes under way are affecting most businesses. They are probably not “another industrial revolution,” it says, but together, there is “strong potential to change the way factories work.”

For decades, the US has watched its bedrock manufacturing industries wither away, as they’ve instead grown thick in Japan, in South Korea, in China, Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the US lost about 5 million manufacturing jobs just from 1997 to 2014. This includes the production of lithium-ion batteries, which, though invented by Americans, were commercialized in Japan and later South Korea and China.

So Chiang’s innovation could be a poster-child for a new strain of thinking in the US. This says that, while such industries are not likely to return from Asia, the US can possibly reinvent how they manufacture. The country wouldn’t take back nearly as many jobs as it has lost. But there could be large profits, as the country once again moves a step ahead in crucial areas of technology.

To be clear, this is not Chiang’s goal. He is a professed universalist, divorced from scientific realpolitik. But should he succeed, as he plans to, then in addition to helping to decode the perplexing problem of batteries, he might contribute to continuing America’s political and economic dominance.

—Steve LeVine, Washington correspondent for Quartz and author of The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the Worldexplains how Yet-Ming Chiang’s startup 24M is reinventing lithium-ion battery manufacturing, potentially making the devices able to compete on cost with gasoline.

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Why the World Is Betting on a Better Battery: A Reading List

Photo from the Henry Ford Collection, via Ford

Nick Leiber | Longreads | March 2015

 

The first battery, a pile of copper and zinc discs, was invented more than 200 years ago, ushering in the electric age. Subsequent versions led to portable electronics, mobile computing, and our current love affair with smartphones (1,000 of which are shipped every 22 seconds). Now batteries are powering electric cars and storing electricity produced by solar cells and windmills, but they don’t last long enough and are too expensive for either use to really go mainstream. To cut the cost, Tesla plans to double the world’s production capacity of the popular lithium-ion battery with its forthcoming $5 billion battery manufacturing plant in the Nevada desert. Tesla’s idea is to use economies of scale to lower prices. Meanwhile, other companies and many industrialized countries, including China and the U.S., are racing to develop batteries that are more advanced than Tesla’s. They’re betting billions that breakthrough battery technologies will help create new industries, juice existing ones, and wean us off fossil fuels because we’ll be able to use the sun and wind in their place. Here is a book, a documentary, and five stories on our battery-powered future. Read more…