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GE To Build Advanced Battery Plant In NY State

Sodium battery business is expected to bring 350 "green collar," clean technology jobs to upstate New York.

GE chemical engineer Charles Iacovangelo, advanced battery project leader, holds a sodium battery cell
(click for image gallery)

New York state's manufacturing sector got a boost Tuesday from news that General Electric will build $100 million battery manufacturing facility in the Albany region.

The new business will create 350 "high-wage green-collar" jobs in the capitol region. It's to be partially funded by a $15 million New York state grant, and the company hopes, federal money. Next week, GE, with backing from U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, will apply for federal stimulus funds.

The high-energy-density sodium-metal-halide cell batteries are "very good for storing lots of energy in a small space," said Mark Little, senior VP and director of GE Global Research. He added that while the technology yields "great performance using common materials," it requires "a sophisticated manufacturing process," which has "over 30 patents on it."

The first application will be GE's hybrid locomotive. Heavy vehicles such as locomotives, buses, and off-highway trucks make up 10% of all vehicles in the United States but account for half of all fuel consumption.

Sodium battery technology will allow GE to introduce a hybrid, heavy-haul freight locomotive that reduces emissions while improving fuel efficiency. The company also has lined up mining, telecommunications, and utility customers. Key applications are heavy service vehicles, backup storage, and load leveling for the smart grid.

The most technologically interesting aspect of Tuesday's announcement may be the potential it holds for automotive batteries. If the power of lithium-ion batteries and the storage capability of sodium batteries were to be combined, they might yield a superior battery for hybrid cars.

GE has invested $70 million in A123 Systems, a leading supplier of lithium-ion batteries, with which it has partnered to finesse battery management, battery safety, and fusing systems. Researchers from GE are working on a dual-battery system with the Department of Energy.

A site for the battery plant has not been identified yet, but Little told reporters he expects the project to progress with or without stimulus funds. Federal money would "allow us to do things faster," he said.

GE has already invested $150 million in advanced battery technologies and sees the potential for $1 billion in business over the next decade. Battery production is expected to begin in 2011.

New York Gov. David Paterson and other state officials made the short trip from Albany to GE's Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y., on Tuesday for the announcement. Schumer and Gillibrand were not in attendance.

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