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Battery consortium develops world’s seventh ‘gigafactory’ in upstate New York

Lithium-ion battery demand continues to surge year over year, with industry watchers predicting a global market value of $93.1 billion by 2025. The industry expects to see a compound annual growth rate of 17 percent, according to Grand View Research, Inc., a market research and consulting company based in San Francisco.

And now an international battery consortium intends to build the world’s seventh “gigafactory” in upstate New York, creating up to 1,600 jobs and cementing the region’s status as a high-tech manufacturing hub. Imperium3, based in Sydney, Australia, plans to build the New York facility to serve the North American market.

CELL 600x424“Green manufacturing initiatives are needed and are the backbone of the next generation of sustainable manufacturing and a greener supply chain,” Shailesh Upreti, PhD, a member of ỉM3’s board of directors, said in a 2017 news release announcing the factory’s development. Upreti founded C4V, a lithium-ion battery material IP company based in Binghamton, New York, and part of the Imperium3 consortium. He also is a former member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Frontier Research Center at Binghamton University in New York.

“Low toxic footprint in combination with the best utilization of an existing infrastructure in a distributed fashion would create an unmatched example internationally and make New York a global leader in product and component manufacturing for energy storage. C4V is very excited to be part of this scale up initiative and is fully committed to make this happen right here in New York,” he added.

New York State has set an ambitious mandate to meet 50 percent of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2030. That mandate, combined with the high-tech ecosystem in upstate New York, prompted iM3 to acquire a facility in North Carolina and move its components up north.

Endicott itself is a part of technology history, earning the nickname “birth place of IBM.” The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, a punch-card firm later incorporated into what would become IBM, was founded there in 1911. That legacy still remains visible today in the region’s high-skill workforce and advanced manufacturing base.

“The area has the right set of ingredients that you need for high-tech manufacturing,” Upreti told “Advisors Magazine” in a recent interview. “We wanted to marry that with our technology, so we decided to move [the factory components] to New York. It took us about eight months … We’re closing our funding now, which gives us the funds to move to the next phase.”

The Endicott gigafactory plan includes three phrases. The first phase will see approximately 200 high-skilled workers employed; by 2025 that number is expected to rise to 1,600 and the factory will be producing 15 gigawatt hours per year in batteries.

C4V 700x400

The regional supply of skilled workers made Endicott an appealing site, said Chaitanya Sharma, a C4V advisory board member and former manager at electric vehicle company Tesla. Sharma assisted with the construction of Tesla’s first gigafactory in Nevada and saved the firm millions while the facility was being developed, according to his official bio.

The consortium also has engaged local universities to develop training programs, Sharma said.

“We are also trying to embrace technology ... There are new ways through which you can adopt a training program using augmented reality tools,” Sharma said, adding that the high-tech skills needed will require complex, technology driven training.

The Endicott gigafactory will be New York’s second. Tesla Gigafactory 2, leased by a Tesla subsidiary called SolarCity, is located in Buffalo. That factory began operations in 2017 and employed 800 people by November 2018. The iM3 consortium plans to build three gigafactories – massive facilities used to build state-of-the-art batteries – around the world by 2020 with the other two intended to serve Australasia and the Middle East.

Imperium3 intends to build a lithium-ion battery supply chain that produces stronger, safer, and cleaner batteries than competitors. The consortium also plans to produce batteries with fewer toxic byproducts and a smaller environmental impact, Upreti said.

“It’s a technology that’s spreading very fast. The landscape is going through several disruptions and we want to make sure that those disruptions happen smoothly,” Upreti said. “In order to deliver that [our products have] been seven to eight years in the making … They have looked into the whole supply chain holistically all the way from mining to recycling. We’re not trying to solve all of those problems, but we’ve identified people who have, so it’s basically bringing all the right supply chain partners who have looked at solving their toxic footprint without changing the price.”

C4VB 700x370Already C4V batteries are being tested for use with a major public utility company – Upreti declined to say which one as the tests have not finished – and in underwater drones. The firm also is testing a portable system for homes to store collected solar energy, Upreti said.

The cells C4V produces may eventually be used in mass-market cars, but a number of technical issues remain to be solved.

“A lot of development has happened in the past 10 years, primarily looking into the transportation market because human lives are directly involved,” Upreti said, citing the need to get things right before releasing a product in a market where safety is a top priority. “Recalls are the most expensive affair in that industry, so we want to make sure it’s fully vetted for that segment.”

Industry experts believe the lithium-ion battery will remain the dominant portable power source in the coming decades. Competing technologies – from solid state batteries to hydrogen fuel cells – pop up in the headlines time and again, but the decades of investment give lithium-ion an incomparable edge. The lithium-ion supply chain combines mining, shipping, scientific research, high-skilled labor, and advanced manufacturing in a package that would be difficult to replicate quickly with a younger, competing technology. The technology also required billions of dollars in startup investment and research before it became commercially viable, and a competing technology would likely need a similar infusion of resources to get off the ground.

“I don’t see anything evolving that would replace lithium-ion batteries, we’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars in investment,” Upreti said. “It actually goes beyond technology.”

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