February 15, 2023 at 6:37 AM EST
Updated February 15, 2023 at 11:32 AM EST
I have known Christina Lampe-Önnerud for 15 years, and she is irrepressible. She has an ebullient personality and a passion for opera singing, jazz dancing, and cello playing—among other things. But her true love is batteries. She founded the battery company Boston-Power in 2005, ran it until 2012, and then took the only route she saw available to achieving scale in her business: she sold it to Chinese investors. It was an all-too-common case of American innovation providing the base for a Chinese manufacturing industry.
Ten years later, Lampe-Önnerud is back. As CEO of Cadenza Innovation, she is part of Li-Bridge, a public-private partnership, convened by the U.S. Department of Energy and managed by Argonne National Laboratory, with the purpose of creating a robust manufacturing base and supply chain for lithium-ion batteries in the United States.
Is it too late? James Greenberger, executive director of NAATBatt International—one of three industry trade groups spearheading the initiative—says that in terms of battery manufacturing, the U.S. is “10 to 20 years behind Asia” and “five years behind Europe.” But it’s a testament to the power of the hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus in the Inflation Reduction Act that the group now thinks the U.S. has a chance to play. “Most of us had to exit our companies to Asia,” says Lampe-Önnerud. “I think it is pretty cool that the United States is saying now, we are going to be a part of this economy and take advantage of the knowledge that we have.”
The group is releasing a report this morning with 26 recommended actions to bolster the domestic lithium-ion battery industry, stretching across the supply chain—starting with a “buying consortium” to ensure a reliable supply of raw materials and ending with a national recycling plan for batteries. In short, it is a clearly-articulated industrial policy—designed to get the U.S. back into a business it started. Will it work? Who knows. But with the combination of a clear national strategy, a shipload of money, and talented American entrepreneurs like Lampe-Önnerud, it just might. “I never give up,” she says.
You can read the full report this morning here. Other news below.