We’ve heard the terms “rust belt,” “manufacturing belt,” and “factory belt” over the years to refer to New England, the Midland, the Midwest, and the northern fringes of the South. These are areas of the US where factories once flourished but a sharp decline in industrial work left many factories abandoned and bleak. But things may be looking up for some of these areas. With the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) on the rise, new Battery Belt factories are reinventing the workplace in many communities. Battery manufacturing is creating new economic development opportunities — and you don’t need a college degree to be qualified for employment.
The Battery Belt is geographically diverse, and with that diversity comes discrete economic and infrastructure requirements that differ from the software surge of Silicon Valley. Certain regions have infrastructure and population stability that suits battery manufacturing needs, and they’re getting lots of attention these days.
It doesn’t hurt that, in the fight against climate pollution, the federal government is injecting $370 billion into clean energy.
Sure, several Battery Belt plants are still in the planning or early groundbreaking stages. Then again, it seems as if a green economic center of gravity in America, after being overly concentrated in communities full of college graduates, is finally broadening out as we set out to build the industrial economy of the future.
Battery manufacturing requires sites with large tracts of land, suitable physical infrastructure, and major population centers from which to draw workers. Batteries for EVs and other large-scale industrial uses can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. The production and warehousing requirements for that kind of equipment rules out urban knowledge centers — the popular economic siting of the past 40 years — as the focus for this new wave of industrialization.
Behind-the-scenes negotiations make a huge difference if and when a billion-dollar plant comes to a particular area. A governor and economic development officials do all they can to work out a deal with manufacturing companies like Stellantis, Hyundai Motor Co., General Motors Co., or Ford Motor Co.
Georgia and South Carolina meet the criteria and have had 5 multi-billion-dollar battery plants awarded to their regions over the past few years. With more restrained, pragmatic Republican governors, they’ve had solid success getting agreements for battery plants in their home states. Windbag, ideologically-driven Republican governors who court the media in Texas and Florida haven’t had as much luck. Hmm. What can we deduce from these differences in governing about job creation?
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced in November that FREYR Battery, a developer of clean, next-generation battery cell production capacity, will invest $2.57 billion into Georgia’s sustainable technology ecosystem and create 723 new jobs over the next 7 years at a manufacturing facility in Coweta County. In the 4 counties in Georgia where battery plants exist or are being built — Jackson, Bartow, Coweta, and Bryan — the percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree are 23.5%, 19.8%, 33.3%, and 33%, respectively, as reported by the Washington Post. That compares with 50% for the main two counties encompassing Atlanta: Fulton and DeKalb.
South Carolina, too, is rapidly becoming a focal point of the EV revolution in the US. Hyundai has begun construction of a $5 billion factory to build EVs in South Carolina. BMW and Volvo also have factories in the state. They don’t manufacture electric cars yet but likely will do so soon in order for those cars to be eligible for US tax incentives. Redwood Materials announced it will start construction on a $3.2 billion battery recycling facility on 600 acres near Charleston, South Carolina, early next year.
West Virginia will build a manufacturing plant in the state with partner Form Energy, Inc. The startup seeks to make long-duration storage batteries from materials including iron to store power from renewable energy. The plant is slated to be built starting next year in Weirton, once a top steelmaking town. The plant will be built with a total investment of up to $760 million and will begin making battery systems in 2024. The endeavor will create at least 750 jobs in the state, which has suffered for years from a lack of high paying jobs as coal production falters amid the energy transition.
Ford and SK Innovation announced a memorandum of understanding for a joint venture — to be called BlueOval SK — to manufacture battery cells and arrays in the US. Stellantis NV is building a battery plant in Kokomo, Indiana, in large part because it already has a plant there that produces vehicle motors (gasoline and hybrid for now, electric in the future). Samsung will build in Indiana, too.
KORE Power has 214 acres in Buckeye, Arizona, which will be the site of the KOREPlex, a two million square foot manufacturing facility which will have the capacity to produce 12 GWh of lithium-ion battery cells annually, bringing thousands of jobs to the region.
Putting the Money Where the Research & Development Is
In October, President Biden launched the American Battery Materials Initiative alongside $2.8 billion in grants from DOE to build out the battery mineral and material supply chain.
The funding for the selected projects will support:
- Developing enough battery-grade lithium to supply approximately 2 million EVs annually;
- Developing enough battery-grade graphite to supply approximately 1.2 million EVs annually;
- Producing enough battery-grade nickel to supply approximately 400,000 EVs annually;
- Installing the first large-scale, commercial lithium electrolyte salt (LiPF6) production facility in the US;
- Developing an electrode binder facility capable of supplying 45% of the anticipated domestic demand for binders for EV batteries in 2030;
- Creating the first commercial scale domestic silicon oxide production facilities to supply anode materials for an estimated 600,000 EV batteries annually; and,
- Installing the first lithium iron phosphate cathode facility in the US.
The projects intend to develop enough lithium to supply over 2 million EVs annually and establish significant domestic production of graphite and nickel.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has also been pumping millions of R&D dollars into new technologies that are making EV batteries charge faster and last longer, while also improving safety. The DOE, through its Loan Programs Office (LPO), announced in December a $2.5 billion loan to Ultium Cells LLC to help finance the construction of new lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing facilities in Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan.
Ultium Cells, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, will manage battery cell production at the 3 facilities to address the growing US consumer demand for EVs. The project is expected to create approximately more than 11,000 good-paying jobs — 6,000 in construction jobs and 5,100 in operations — across the 3 facilities, including more than 700 United Auto Worker jobs in the newly-organized Warren, Ohio, facility. This loan boosts the nation’s standing as a global leader of EV manufacturing.
Final Thoughts about Battery Manufacturing
The Biden–Harris administration has the goal of 100% of the nation’s electricity being carbon free by 2035. It has committed more than $128 billion of announced investments into EV plants, battery plants, and battery recycling.
But, while many residents of Rust Belt rural communities are delighted to welcome battery manufacturing and other renewable energy plants and the jobs they bring, lots of these same communities are still opposed to renewable energy projects in their regions.
Green jobs? Good. Commercial solar and wind farms in your town? Fat chance.
The cognitive dissonance is mind-boggling.
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Source: Clean Technica