DOE Close to Awarding Stimulus Bucks for Batteries, Possibly This Week

doe-logoOne of the hottest cleantech funding programs created as part of the stimulus package is close to producing some of its first winners. When we spoke with the Department of Energy back in May about the $2.4 billion in grants for advanced battery manufacturing for plug-in vehicles, we learned that the agency planned to notify awardees sometime in July — as in by the end of this week — and dole out the grants by September. While DOE Deputy Secretary Jen Stutsman told us at the time that delays were a possibility, depending on the number and completeness of applications, she confirmed with us this week that the agency “will be making all of the announcements soon.”
More than 100 companies have lined up for the so-called Electric Drive Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative’s $2.4 billion, which is set to be divided into just 32 to 35 or so grants in seven different categories. The bulk of the money — $1.2 billion — will go toward manufacturing facilities for battery cells and packs, with grants of $100 million to $150 million supporting seven to eight projects.

According to Scott Faris, CEO of battery startup Planar Energy Devices, the criteria for the program gives an edge to bigger, more established companies that already have experience with commercial-scale manufacturing and ready access to matching funds. But as we’ve written before, behemoths and young startups alike will need to have killer technology and a reasonable assessment of costs, siting issues and other challenges in order to snag these funds. As President Obama put it in March, during a visit to Southern California Edison’s Electric Vehicle Technical Center in Pomona, Calif.:

Show us that your idea or your company is best-suited to meet America‚Äôs challenges, and we will give you a chance to prove it…Every company that wants a shot at these tax dollars has to prove their worth.

So who’s taking a shot? In the behemoth category are companies like General Motors (s GM), and General Electric (s GE). Competing startups, which could vault from small-scale operations and grand visions to commercial-scale production with help from these grants, include A123Systems, Boston-Power, Sakti3, International Battery (profiled in The New York Times today), and many of the ventures on our list of 13 battery startups hitting the road with lithium-ion.
But as Massachusetts-based A123Systems noted in its latest filing with the SEC (an update of its year-old registration for a public offering), winning an Energy Department grant is not a golden ticket to commercial success, and unless DOE chief Steven Chu decides to make exceptions, every dollar from the feds will mean another dollar startups have to spend from private sources.