Lithium Batteries: Boosting with Subsidies, Draining with Regs

By September 13, 2010Energy, Regulations

More mixed messages on lithium batteries from the Administration…

Associated Press, “Production of stimulus-aided car batteries revs up“:

WASHINGTON — The first wave of mass-produced advanced batteries funded by the Obama administration’s economic recovery program is starting to roll off assembly lines, setting the stage for new hybrid and electric vehicles.

So how will consumers respond?

Fending off criticism of the $787 billion stimulus program, the administration has cited the battery industry as one of the success stories. With new facilities coming online in the Midwest, battery manufacturers for the advanced vehicles are providing a test case for the government’s attempt to revive the economy.

One factor in how consumers will respond is price, obviously. So again we ask, why is it that the Administration wants to make it more expensive to ship lithium batteries?

In January, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed regulations in consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration, “Hazardous Materials: Transportation of Lithium Batteries.” The docket is PHMSA-2009-0095. here), which also noted a March 3 joint letter from the NAM and U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

The National Association of Manufacturers submitted comments (available here). Excerpt:

These are products that power our consumer and industrial markets and support economic growth, safety, health, and national security. We believe the proposed rule goes too far in regulating the air shipments of lithium ion and lithium metal batteries and the Department of Transportation must better analyze current available data concerning battery incidents, seek additional data and information regarding battery behaviors aboard aircraft, and carefully consider new research in the pipeline. Manufacturers underscore the key fact well-articulated by PRBA – The Rechargeable Battery Association, “there has never been a fire on an aircraft attributable to lithium ion cells, batteries, or the products into which they are incorporated where existing U.S. regulations were complied with.” The most appropriate path forward is to bring current U.S. regulations in line with international standards and practices.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is Livonia, Mich., today for the dedication of a new lithium-battery plant. (A123 Systems Inc., news release: “A123 Systems Opens the Largest Lithium Ion Automotive Battery Manufacturing Plant in North America.”)

Secretary Chu also speaks at a press availability this afternoon at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies. One hopes a reporter might seek illumination on the issue, asking something along the lines of: “Mr. Secretary, the Administration wants to impose shipping rule on lithium batteries that manufacturers regard as regulatory overkill, adding to costs and making the U.S. industry less globally competitive.  How does the Administration reconcile these contrary positions?”

Earlier Washington Post story, “Lithium-ion batteries spark transportation-safety debate.” Earlier Shopfloor posts, puzzling over the same mixed messages.

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