Energy Dept. spends $43 million on researching better electric car batteries

Paul Conner Executive Editor
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The Department of Energy continues to make good on President Barack Obama’s promise to double down on electric car research and development.

The DOE announced on Thursday that it is giving out $43 million for 19 new research projects aimed at improving energy storage technology, such as batteries for electric cars and storage for electric grids, and for the U.S. military in remote bases around the world.

The research would directly benefit cars like the Nissan Leaf and the subsidy-backed Chevrolet Volt, whose battery literally flamed out late last year, sparking a congressional inquiry into its safety.

The 2013 Volt model’s battery-only range has been increased three miles to 38 miles, in part because Chevrolet boosted the storage capacity by .5 kilowatts hour. The DOE research would seek to improve on existing storage capacity.

“These innovations will help reduce costs and improve the performance of next generation storage technologies, which could be applied in both plug-in electric and hybrid-electric vehicles,” the department announced.

In a press release describing the projects, the Department of Energy admitted that the research and development done through its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is not market-driven because the projects are too risky for private-sector investment.

“This latest round of ARPA-E projects seek to address the remaining challenges in energy storage technologies, which could revolutionize the way Americans store and use energy in electric vehicles, the grid and beyond, while also potentially improving the access to energy for the U.S. military at forward operating bases in remote areas,” Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said in a statement.

Despite poor sales and a lack of demand leading to low production of electric vehicles, the Obama administration continues to demonstrate — with its words and the taxpayer checkbook — that it believes clean energy innovation will almost exclusively be achieved through government sponsorship.

Obama consistently says on the campaign trail that he is not willing to cede the clean energy race to another nation like China —  a country. Conservatives argue that such innovation should be driven by supply and demand in the private sector so that taxpayer funds are not risked. (RELATED: China slows solar, wind expansion undermining White House green PR strategy)

“These cutting-edge projects could transform our energy infrastructure, dramatically reduce our reliance on imported oil and increase American energy security,” Chu said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that the Energy Dept. was spending $43 billion on researching better electric batteries, not $43 million. TheDC regrets the error. Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

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