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Worldwide race to make better batteries

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“We cannot allow ourselves to become dependent on foreign sources of lithium-ion battery cells as we have become dependent on petroleum from the Middle East,” says James Greenberger, the National Alliance’s director.Now add the Obama administration’s plan to spend $25 billion for new energy programs. All of which is good news to battery researchers like Sadoway, who have long toiled with slender funding as research dollars sluiced to fuel cells, nuclear power, and others with more buzz and backers.

“I applaud the new money going into battery research,” Sadoway says. “We’ve been underspending on something that’s vital to our national security and economic well-being.”

In the near term, however, the US is playing catch-up. For more than a year, General Motors has said it hopes to launch the world’s first mass-produced PHEV, the Chevrolet Volt, in 2010. But until recently, GM executives had been damping expectations, saying a battery with the right performance and cost still didn’t exist.

That changed last week when GM named LG Chem, a Korean company, as the lithium-ion battery cell supplier for the Volt. It is also working with A123Systems, officials say. Not to be outdone, Toyota announced it would sell some PHEVs with lithium batteries late this year.

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