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Revitalizing American Manufacturing

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu visits A123 Systems in Michigan as they open largest lithium-ion automotive battery production facility in North America thanks to the Recovery Act.

Ed. Note: Cross posted from the Energy Blog.

Some people think our economy can run on white collar and service jobs alone, but they are wrong.  We can and must make high quality products in America.  We are on the verge of a new Industrial Revolution and I believe it will revolve around the greatest untapped opportunity of our time, clean energy. China and Europe see this opportunity and they are already moving aggressively to be at the forefront of it. It is time for America to get into the clean energy race and play to win -- and that is exactly what A123 Systems is doing in Michigan.

At a difficult time for America’s workers and businesses, A123 Systems is leading the way to a brighter future. It is building factories in Livonia, Romulus, and Brownstown. It has already has hired 200 local workers since last August and it expects to hire more than 3,000 people by 2012. Today marks an important milestone for A123 Systems, as they open largest lithium-ion automotive battery production facility in North America. This will help make sure the cars of the future are built right here in America.

This particular project is important because it has managed to link innovation in America to manufacturing in America, an essential connection that has been neglected in recent years.

We are – and have long been – the world leader in innovation. To give just a few examples from the last century: we created the laser, the solar cell, the transistor, and GPS technology. Historically, we’ve also been a powerhouse in manufacturing. But where are high tech products made today? They are largely manufactured in Asia.

With A123 Systems, the private sector, government and academia have all worked together to reverse that trend.

President Obama recognized that earlier today in a call he placed to the employees of A123 systems, lauding them for being the “first American factory to start high-volume production of advanced vehicle batteries.”

This is noteworthy because as he stated “just a few years ago American businesses could only make 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries for hybrids and electric vehicles.” But thanks to the work being done at companies like A123 Systems and funding from the Recovery Act we’re poised “to get up to 40 percent of the world’s capacity” by 2015.

Instead of watching a technology be discovered here and then shipped overseas, we fought to keep it here. And we are winning.

In the weeks ahead, more American battery manufacturing plants will be coming online thanks in large part to the Recovery Act, which funded a healthy competition among 9 battery makers, 11 battery suppliers, and 10 component makers. These new factories are already driving down battery costs faster than anyone thought – which means more car sales, more jobs, and less dependence on foreign oil.

The Department of Energy has long been charged with accelerating energy innovation in America. But in this Administration, we are taking things one step further – we are making that critical link between innovation and manufacturing.

A123 Systems is a perfect example of what’s possible when the private sector, government, and academia work together.

Steven Chu is the Secretary of Energy