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How the United States Brought Breakthrough Battery Technology to China

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via NPR: When a group of engineers and researchers gathered in a warehouse in Mukilteo, Washington 10 years ago, they knew they were onto something big. They salvaged tables and chairs, cleared space in the parking lot for experiments, and got to work. They were building a battery – a vanadium redox flow battery – based on a design created by two dozen American scientists in a government laboratory. The batteries were about the size of a refrigerator, contained enough energy to power a home, and could be used for decades. The engineers envisioned people placing them next to their air conditioners, attaching solar panels to them, and everyone living happily ever after off the grid. “It was beyond promise,” said Chris Howard, one of the engineers working on it for an American company called UniEnergy. “We were seeing it working as intended, as intended.” But that’s not what happened. Instead of batteries becoming America’s next big thing, the warehouse is now closed and empty. All the employees who worked there were fired. And over 5,200 miles away, a Chinese company is hard at work manufacturing the batteries in Dalian, China.

The Chinese company did not steal this technology. It was given to them – by the US Department of Energy. First in 2017, under a sublicense, then, in 2021, under a license transfer. An investigation by NPR and the Northwest News Network found the federal agency allowed technology and jobs to move overseas, violating its own licensing rules while failing to intervene on behalf of American workers on several occasions. Now China has forged ahead, investing millions in cutting-edge green technology that was supposed to help keep the United States and its economy ahead. Department of Energy officials declined NPR’s request for an interview to explain how the technology that cost US taxpayers millions of dollars ended up in China. After NPR sent written questions to department officials outlining the timeline of events, the federal agency terminated the license with Chinese company Dalian Rongke Power Co. Ltd. statement. “If the DOE determines that a contractor who holds a DOE-funded patent or a downstream licensee is violating its US manufacturing obligations, the DOE will explore all legal remedies.” The department is currently conducting an internal review of the vanadium battery technology license and whether that license — and others — violated U.S. manufacturing requirements, the statement said.

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