Awesome news: battery technology is about to get a US$2.4 billion-dollar kick in the pants. US President Barack Obama has announced the single largest funds injection into battery development and electric/hybrid vehicle technology the world has ever seen. Obama's hope is that this huge chunk of stimulus funds will be enough to knock down the biggest wall standing between electric vehicles and the mainstream: the fact that current batteries are still too expensive, take too long to charge, and don't hold enough energy. If the move succeeds, it could put America right at the front of the electric car revolution - but at the least, it could help the next generation of iPhones last more than a day between charges.

Barack Obama is putting his money where his mouth is on alternative engine technologies, and using a big chunk of the US$1 trillion economic recovery package to re-imagine the American automotive industry as a world leader in battery-electric vehicles.

Electric drive technology is already out there and reaching a point of reasonable maturity. It's not hard to build electric cars, trucks and motorcycles - the main thing holding the whole industry back is battery technology. Mainstream consumers aren't too keen on ditching their trusty petrol cars for electrics that run out of juice in less than a couple hundred miles, and take all night to charge up again. Sure, there's electrics with better range and quicker charging times available, but they tend to carry truly fearsome pricetags.

Obama's massive cash injection is an attempt to leapfrog the battery technology hurdle and give America a chance to become a world leader in the field.

The plan breaks down into the following (taken from the press release:

  • $1.5 billion in grants to U.S. based manufacturers to produce batteries and their components and to expand battery recycling capacity;
  • $500 million in grants to U.S. based manufacturers to produce electric drive components for vehicles, including electric motors, power electronics, and other drive train components; and
  • $400 million in grants to purchase thousands of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles for test demonstrations in several dozen locations; to deploy them and evaluate their performance; to install electric charging infrastructure; and to provide education and workforce training to support the transition to advanced electric transportation systems.

Specific companies set to benefit from the grants include A123, Johnson Controls, Compact Power, Dow Kokam, GM, Chrysler, Ford, Celgard, Saft America, East Penn Manufacturing Co., Smith Electric, and several universities around the USA. Significantly, several small companies have received big funding boosts, a move calculated to spur the kinds of quick, agile development that larger companies seem to struggle with.

The grants have a very real chance of kickstarting a serious battery-electric and plug-in hybrid movement in the United States over the next decade or so. But beyond that, any battery cell advances inspired by this huge slab of investment will eventually filter through to other industries - notably portable computers and mobile phones, two device categories that are also struggling to deal with battery capacity issues.

Either way, it's a forward-thinking and revolutionary step, an attempt to start a new type of auto industry out of the ashes of Detroit. Obama has stamped his name on a program that embodies the kind of change he was elected to bring to America, and we can only hope that out of the 50-odd projects that will receive funds from the government, a few of them will take off and deliver some game-changing innovations.

Check out the full announcement from President Obama in the video below: