More Efficient Batteries = More Jobs


by Daniel Fielding

This story is about green jobs. But before I get into it, I must make a disclosure: I have an obsession with automobiles. We take cars and trucks for granted. Domestic car manufacturing practically defined the United States in Detroit during the 1970s. Just after World War II, for example, around 60 percent of Americans  owned their own vehicles. Today, a staggering 95 percent of adult U.S. citizens own a car, or you could also figure that to be about 2.28 vehicles per household.

Compare those figures to China, which has only recently been enjoying a manufacturing period like the U.S. did in the 70s. Put this in the perspective of the nefarious recession we’ve all been experiencing. In 2009, the United States, much like the rest of the world, had severe losses in car sales. Americans bought only 10.4 million vehicles in 2009, down 21.2 percent from 2008. China, however, saw 45 percent increase that year, which is still only about four cars for every 100 citizens.

Thankfully a large portion of these figures, for both the Chinese and Americans alike, consist of hybrid/electric vehicle sales. J.D. Power recently released a report forecasting global figures for these green vehicles to reach 7.3 percent within the next 10 years. This year, it is estimated that less than one million hybrid or electric vehicles will be sold worldwide. That number in 10 years is expected to reach over 5 million. A five-fold increase in just 10 years, is not bad when you consider everything involved.

Not only will there be a massive creation of jobs to manufacture the vehicles, but each one of these vehicles will require a battery. Tens of millions of batteries will need to be produced in the next ten years, and this is in the auto industry alone. Also try and keep in mind that military and non-passenger vehicle industries also have a large demand for Li-Ion batteries.

The earliest hybrid vehicles utilized nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. As advances are made, they are being replaced by more efficient (yet more expensive) lithium-ion batteries. The move to a newer and more efficient technology is especially important in vehicles, where every pound shaved off of a car’s curb weight will yield better gas mileage.

Last summer, the CEO of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris opened a large-scale battery manufacturing division in Michigan called Dow Kokam. At peak capacity more than 1.2 billion watt-hours of energy capacity will be produced annually. This is enough production to build 60,000 hybrid vehicles every year, as well as directly employing 800 people, in addition to the jobs involved in manufacturing the various car components, selling the cars, transporting the cars, etc.

The battery plant in Michigan is only a small fraction of the expected demand for these types of manufacturing jobs. President Obama estimates that within the next few years, over 800,000 green jobs will be created in the clean energy sector.

What we’re hoping for, is that the income that goes along with 800,000 new jobs will generate higher tax revenue, and more disposable income which will encourage spending again. These two factors will save the budgets of the states encouraging green tech, and will save our economy as well.

Daniel Fielding is the lead editor for Shades of Green a green technology blog.

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