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Batteries Are the Next Target in China's Clean-Energy Conquest

Batteries Are the Next Target in China's Clean-Energy Conquest
From TIME - October 7, 2017

Clean-energy promoters hailed Tesla's announcement of plans for a Nevada "gigafactory"--a reference to the unit for measuring energy storage--back in 2014 as the dawn of a new American industry. The $5 billion facility would eventually produce millions of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles as well as energy storage on the grid.

But behind the headlines, leading battery researchers and entrepreneurs say the gigafactory represents an exception to the rule in the fast-growing global industry for lithium-ion batteries. No matter what Tesla has planned, the U.S. is set to lag China in the battery race if current trends continue.

Instead of manufacturing in America, entrepreneurs are increasingly looking to China to turn cutting-edge battery research into reality. The country is expected to capture 65% of the battery market by 2021, with much of what remains left for Europe, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

"In 10 years China owns lithium-ion batteries," says Matthew Nordan, managing director of MNL Partners, an energy project development firm. "The vast majority of volume--and the vast majority of profitmaking--is likely to be in China."

The anticipated Chinese dominance of the industry comes as the government sees an opportunity to become a clean-energy leader providing solutions to the rest of the world--and reaping the profits. China already manufactures more than half of the world's solar panels, and doing the same with batteries would leave China controlling an industry worth $40 billion a year by 2025, according to a Goldman Sachs analysis.

To capture that business, China has told battery manufacturers to double their capacity by 2020, created hurdles for foreign competitors and introduced subsides for both electric cars and batteries. The country's 13th five-year plan, which guides policy through 2020, guarantees a payout if manufacturers meet targets. Its battery industry also benefits from domestic lithium mining and mass electric-vehicle manufacturing.

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