BASF Plans Electric-Car Battery Plant

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Ohio, where auto-industry layoffs have helped push unemployment to 10.2 percent, would get a boost in the electric-car business with government-backed lithium-ion battery materials production at a proposed plant in Elyria.

About half the project's cost would be covered with money from the $787 billion federal stimulus package, backers said Thursday.

"Hopefully it will put Ohio on the global lithium-ion battery industry map," said Prashant Chintawar, who is directing the project for chemical company BASF, which has landed a U.S. Department of Energy license to produce materials for lithium-ion batteries.

The Energy Department will decide by late summer whether to award an economic-stimulus package grant to help pay for the Elyria plant, Chintawar said.

The company hasn't said what it will cost to build the plant and couldn't estimate the number of jobs that might be created. BASF currently has about 200 employees at its Elyria operations.

BASF selected Elyria because of BASF's 100-year history of producing in the northeast Ohio city and its proximity to BASF research facilities in the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood and battery producers in the Midwest, Chintawar said. The plan is for the plant to produce materials used as components in batteries made by other companies.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the licensing agreement was an indication of Ohio's growing share of the alternative-fuel industry, including proposed wind mills on Lake Erie off Cleveland and an expanding solar-energy work force in Toledo.

Brown said the selection of Elyria demonstrated Ohio's ability to compete for good-paying jobs that require a well-trained work force.

He said the Energy Department's role in developing materials for longer-lasting lithium-ion batteries and the agency's desire to back production with a stimulus grant was similar to spinoff commercial developments by NASA and the military.

"For decades, the government has assisted in helping entrepreneurs get off the ground," said Brown, who predicted the licensing agreement and development of electric cars would assure a return on the investment of tax money.

President Barack Obama has pledged to put 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015.

Plug-in hybrids allow motorists to drive a limited number of miles on battery power before the engine switches over to run on gasoline or other fuels. A driver can plug the car into a conventional wall outlet at night and be ready to go electric again in the morning.

The cars could sharply reduce gasoline use because many commuters drive fewer than 40 miles a day.

Some auto makers have set a goal of a 2010 or 2011 commercial launch of such hybrids, Chintawar said.

The national laboratory said its patented materials would extend the operating time between battery charges, increase overall battery life and improve safety.

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