Today, January 27, 2012, we learn that Ener1, the owner of a company that received $118.5 million from the Department of Energy (DOE), filed for bankruptcy protection after defaulting on bond debt. EnerDel, the company that Ener1 owns, makes electric-car batteries. Ener1, based in New York, makes lithium-ion batteries for plug-in electric cars. Under President Barack Hussein Obama’s stimulus program, DOE awarded grants to Ener1, trying to create a US electric-car industry. Ener1’s EnerDel unit, based in Indianapolis, IN, was the DOE grant recipient. “DOE’s grant to EnerDel is supporting a cutting edge battery manufacturing plant that is producing batteries in America that are being sold across the country and around the world,” said Jen Stutsman, spokesperson for DOE.
Vice President Joe Biden toured the Ener1 plant, located in Greenfield, IN, in January, 2011. Biden believed the loan still seemed like a good idea at the time, since Obama was pushing to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and needed electric batteries to do so. “We know what’s coming – you don’t have to be a fortune-teller to see where the automobile industry has to go,” Biden told Ener1 employees last year. “So why not? Why not have it made in America? That’s why we went out there and came up with $2.4 billion for battery technology.” Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, recalled Biden’s visits to and the failures of Solyndra and Beacon Power in 2011. “One bankruptcy may be a fluke, two could be coincidence, but three is a trend,” said Stearns.
In June, 2011, Think Global, an Oslo, Norway, electric car manufacturer, and Ener1’s largest customer, filed for bankruptcy. It has since been a uphill battle for Ener1, which was delisted from NASDAQ in December, 2011. For Think Global, it was the fourth financial economic collapse in its 20-year history. Think North American, a subsidiary of Think Global, has an electric vehicle (EV) production plant in Elkhart, Indiana. But Obama and Biden, despite Think Global’s economic history, still had DOE give Ener1 taxpayer money.
Obama said in his State of the Union address that he would not “cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.” Well, he may have to make the cessation because we taxpayers are really tired of his cronies and favorite ideas getting DOE grants, loans, and loan guarantees.
Further, there is a “Catch 22” with EVs. If EVs ever achieve a meaningful percentage of the vehicles on the road, how will they be powered? Not, without large subsidies, from windmills or solar panels. Coal, which still accounts for most of our electrical capacity, has the same CO2 and greater particulate emissions as gasoline. Because of inefficiencies in generating and transporting electricity, far more energy has to be consumed to power a car electrically than to produce the same amount of power with an internal combustion engine. Batteries are an intractable problem. Despite predictions of progress in battery technology, all known battery technologies are very limited in the amount of energy that can be stored, compared to the amount of energy a tank of gasoline can provide. There is no reason to foresee a breakthrough new technology, and engineering
Electric cars have been around for over a century (does anyone remember the 1909 Baker Electric?). There is good reason that they have never taken over more than minor niches. Squandering government money on this technology is negligent at best, and is fast becoming criminal.
But that’s just my opinion.