Education and Green Technology Offer Southern Tier Renewal Opportunities
JUNE 2, 2022
Seventh Global Trade and Investment Forum - April 7, 2022
CIBA HOLDS SEVENTH ANNUAL GLOBAL TRADE AND INVESTMENT FORUM
By Lorin Miller
New battery technologies are energizing the Southern Tier.
The Center for International Business Advancement (CIBA) held their seventh global trade and investment forum on April 7, which hosted several distinguished experts in energy storage and green energy. Professor M. Stanley Whittingham, 2019 Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry, served as the event's keynote speaker.
The goal of the forum, titled “The Southern Tier and the World: Recharging Sustainable Economic Growth with New Battery Technologies,” was to connect science and business leaders on subjects such as energy storage, battery manufacturing, and climate change. There were more than 100 attendees, including faculty, staff and students from Binghamton and Cornell Universities, representatives from Charge CCCV (C4V) and Imperium 3 New York (iM3NY), The Raymond Corporation, IBM, Siemens, BAE Systems, New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology (NY-BEST), the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Empire State Development’s Innovation Venture Capital Fund, the New York Ventures, the Network for a Sustainable Tomorrow, the Alliance for Manufacturing and Technology, the Tier Energy Network, and more.
“Raise your hand if you do not have a lithium battery on you right now,” said 2019 Nobel Prize Laureate and keynote speaker M. Stanley Whittingham to the crowd. No hands went up.
What we call lithium-ion “batteries,” or cells, help power countless devices, ranging from cell phones and toys to electric vehicles — they are even used aboard the International Space Station.
“Storage is instrumental and unique and inseparable from our human experience with energy,” said Craig Connelly, the director of research and development at NYSERDA.
“When the first person went out and gathered some berries and said, ‘Okay, I’m not going to gather berries every morning for breakfast, I’m going to store some up—’ that is the reason storage is so important,” Connelly said. “There are very few systems in our entire built human environment that do not take advantage of a storage methodology.”
The dominant technology used for storing energy in our everyday lives comes in the form of batteries.
“There’s the cells, there’s the modules, and there’s the batteries themselves,” said Jennifer de Souza, vice president of energy storage solutions, procurement and leasing at The Raymond Corporation. “And they’re building blocks for each other. And there’s different pieces and opportunities available and on the table as we go through the implementation of energy storage in the United States.”
But it hasn’t been easy to keep up with demand for lithium-ion cells. The Raymond Corporation has had to source cells from large, automated Asian Gigafactories, according to de Souza.
And the demand for lithium-ion batteries will only continue to grow.
“One of the things we need to ask ourselves is ‘What do we actually need?’” said NY-BEST Executive Director William Acker. “Because when you get to a decarbonized grid, we’re going to need a lot more [energy] storage than most people think.”
According to Clifford Olin, chief business development officer at C4V, North America alone will need 1,700 GWh worth of lithium-ion battery cell production by 2030 — meaning an additional 68 Gigafactories like the one in Endicott will need to be constructed to meet demand.
Olin also detailed how an industry cluster centered on the Gigafactory will lead to local economic development, national security, and energy security.
“This Gigafactory is an unparalleled economic development engine that we haven’t seen in this century and probably not in the century before,” Olin said.
Branches of the lithium-ion battery industry cluster would include co-locating suppliers, recycling opportunities, and intermediate and raw materials suppliers, as well as avenues to work with higher education institutions and employ local talent.
De Souza said Raymond has already been able to utilize legacy supply chains in the U.S., including those in the local area, to take the cells and integrate them into modules, which then get built into battery packs.
“There’s a lot of complexity when you get to the final product,” de Souza said. “And that’s why we can repurpose these legacy supply chains that we have to be able to build this product here domestically, and do it very well. The piece that’s missing is the cell — what’s inside the cell, the cell technology. And that’s what we’re trying to bring here and grow organically so we can displace Asia.”
Cell manufacturing is expected to be a $500 billion industry by 2030, according to Olin.
But before large-scale manufacturing must come technology suitable for mass production. A panel on lab-scale to manufacturing-scale examined how the Southern Tier can build up a commercialization ecosystem for lithium-ion cells so companies don’t have to rely on offshore manufacturers.
“You see news articles that say, “We made this battery that’s five times better than what’s on the market today,’ Stromhaug said. “So you expect that next year [your] car is going to drive five times as far because that battery is going to come next year. And that never happens, because it turns out it can never be manufactured.”
Emmanuel Giannelis, the vice president for research and innovation at Cornell University, said a change in academic culture will be necessary to prepare students for the realities of applying storage technology to create a clean energy future. He suggested a student could write a chapter of their PhD thesis on the commercialization of technology instead of just the technology itself — something “unheard of” in the world of academia, but a connection that will be more practical moving forward.
Following a performance by Broadway legend Liz Callaway over lunch, Chaitanya Sharma, CEO of iM3NY and Shailesh Upreti, CEO of C4V and Chairman of iM3NY, hosted a tour of the Gigafactory site in Endicott, the first of its kind in North America. The factory will produce C4V’s cells.
Shailesh Upreti, CEO of C4V and chairman of iM3NY, confirmed that the Gigafactory, which is estimated to reach 38 gigawatt hours (GWh) by 2030, already has orders for the next three years. He said the key to creating profitable and green factories relies on the “backbone, heart and brain” of the operation — top-quality machinery, nickel and cobalt-free chemistry, and a strong factory system.
During the tour of the factory, attendees, including more than 20 students from schools like Cornell University, Binghamton University, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry got to see machinery that will be used in the later part of the cell production process.
The application of lithium-ion batteries are far-reaching and can aid in the fight against climate change.
The City of Ithaca has taken the lead on embracing clean energy with their nationally recognized Green New Deal. The plan’s multi-pronged approach includes four core areas: energy efficiency, electrification, decarbonization, and carbon capture and sequestration.
The city has already started electrifying their transit systems, but will need infrastructure to support its goal of being carbon-neutral by 2030.
Luis Aguirre-Torres, the director of sustainability for the City of Ithaca, said the city is already looking into building a hydrogen-powered charging station so their electric buses don’t drain the grid while charging overnight. He said the key to success for Green New Deal implementation in cities nationwide will rely on scientists being able to communicate and convince government officials to invest in clean energy.
“If we want the whole enchilada, we need to go one hundred percent,” Aguirre-Torres said. “And to do that we need $2 billion. And that’s when things get complicated.”
Investment in economic development comes in various ways, including foreign private investment. The CIBA Global Forum included a special panel on the Southern Tier Soft Landing Program which was launched earlier this year with a 1.6 million grant from the Economic Development Administration. The goal of the Program is to attract investment from international businesses to the Southern Tier and help them navigate American business practices and regulations to grow their markets in the U.S.
Michael Mahan, the president of Cleanwatts Americas, a startup company from Portugal, is convinced the Southern Tier is the place to be for energy storage and will begin working with the Soft Landing Program to expand Cleanwatts in the U.S.
“We’re a software company — we can go anywhere,” he said. “But this place with these people … you don’t find that in very many places.”
Mahan said that people like Michael Jagielski, the director of the clean energy incubator program at the Koffman Incubator and Cleanwatts’ mentor, help set the Southern Tier apart from other parts of the state.
“There’s lots of incubators in New York,” Mahan said. “We looked at some in Manhattan and downtown in the city, but it’s nothing like what’s happening here … I look forward to working with the faculty and the students to scale in this ecosystem so that they want to stay here, and they want to help us drive decarbonization [for] a better planet.”