New York State has the juice to become the nation’s — if not the world’s — premier hub for lithium-ion battery production, according to experts in the Southern Tier, where researchers have made huge strides in rechargeable technology.
With an economy-powering Gigafactory set to open in Greater Binghamton in 2022, nearly all the elements are in place to capture a significant chunk of the manufacturing share from overseas.
“The U.S. has been very good at basic science, inventing things, getting the patents. We then drop the ball when it comes to getting those ideas commercialized,” said S3IP researcher and Binghamton University professor Stan Whittingham, who invented the first rechargeable lithium-ion battery more than four decades ago and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in 2019. “If we can make that bridge, it will help American industry.”
And he sees that work happening in the Empire State.
“We have a critical mass of interest at all sides. We have great folks doing this work in Binghamton, Cornell, Stony Brook and Brookhaven. We have a lot of the battery skills and the fundamental ideas. And we also have companies with the pull — General Electric is getting big into grid storage, for example,” Whittingham said. “What better than to invent the technology and make the batteries right here in New York State.”
In Endicott, N.Y., Imperium3 (iM3NY) expects to create around 125 jobs in Phase 1 of its new lithium-ion battery production facility, and more than 2,500 jobs once the operation is running at full scale, churning out a “massive” 32 gigawatts of capacity.
Imperium3 and its research-and-development arm, Charge CCCV, have grown with support from Binghamton University’s S3IP Center of Excellence, which is one of 70-plus innovation assets within the NYSTAR network. S3IP brings together teams of experts from industry and the university to address pressing real-world problems in the systems integration and manufacturing of electronics.
Shailesh Upreti, iM3NY’s founder and chair, believes the Southern Tier has an opportunity to plant its flag in the global battery market with continued investment. Upreti — whose companies have offices and labs at the Start-Up Suite Pre-Incubator co-located with S3IP — pointed to his organization as an example of what’s possible. Both companies are members of the Binghamton Incubator Program (BiP), which is a New York State Certified Incubator Program and a NYSTAR asset, as well as members of the NYSERDA-funded Southern Tier Clean Energy Incubator (SCI).
Once its Endicott facility is up and running, iM3NY will be the only company to have brought lithium-ion technology through research to manufacturing solely in the United States. “The success of the iM3NY facility shows how multiple NYSTAR assets work together to support companies and local economic development,” said Per Stromhaug, associate vice president for innovation and economic development at Binghamton University.
Upreti also noted that no other company in the world has a 100 percent U.S.¬-sourced supply chain. “We could not have done it alone,” he said.
Most recently, Whittingham and colleagues have been involved with a Binghamton University proposal to build a research and commercialization center — named Battery-NY — to accelerate and transform the region into a battery-making powerhouse. Because of the existing knowledge capital and nascent production capabilities, they believe the Southern Tier is positioned to support all facets of the battery sector, from research to supply chain to manufacturing.
“The plan is to make commercial-size cells using totally new manufacturing methods,” Whittingham said.
The proposed center would use S3IP’s advanced characterization facilities, such as its Analytical and Diagnostics Lab. It provides electron microscopy, optical, acoustic and infrared microscopy, 3D X-ray imaging, thermal analyses and multiple methods for determining the surface and bulk chemistry of samples. These enable manufacturers to perform failure analyses of parts and verify performance of their manufacturing methods.
Upreti said the proposed Battery-NY Center will bridge the gap between small-scale research and large-scale manufacturing, supporting product development and helping companies bring their innovations to market. He said iM3NY’s path to commercialization, which has taken around 11 years, could have been fast-tracked to around five years under this kind of an effort.
“These ideas, the intellectual property and patents, are coming out of the United States. We are exporting the knowledge and importing the product. It’s a double loss — it has to change,” Upreti said. “If we don’t act now and build our infrastructure, we will be at the mercy of foreign nations. It’s a national security, self-reliance, energy security issue, not just business.”
Whittingham said other states are in play to become the country’s nerve center for battery production. But he thinks New York is in pole position thanks to the work of S3IP, iM3NY and other organizations that are part of the NYSTAR innovation network, or receive services from NYSTAR-backed centers.
“The race is really building up now,” he said. “New York has one of the strongest mandates for clean energy in the nation. To meet those mandates, we have to have clean storage, both in vehicles and on the grid. We should manufacture the technology here, where we are going to use it.”
For years, New York State has been investing in and building out its innovation infrastructure through NYSTAR, Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation. NYSTAR oversees a robust, statewide network that provides innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders with access to the support they need to solve challenges and keep growing. S3IP is one of the NYSTAR-backed centers across the state that are actively working to generate technology-driven economic growth.