A cobalt-free lithium-ion battery manufacturing startup wants to hire displaced coal miners to staff a gigafactory it plans to build in West Virginia.
Sparkz will partner with the United Mine Workers to recruit and train 350 workers, the company announced. Groundbreaking for the facility is expected sometime this year.
“America’s clean energy future will reach its potential when we innovate and manufacture the next generation of energy storage domestically," Sparkz CEO Sanjiv Malhotra said. "We will invest significant resources in workforce development and training for West Virginians, partnering with the United Mine Workers of America to train those West Virginians transitioning into the new energy economy.”
At a meeting with Biden administration officials at the White House last year, Sanjiv committed to manufacturing electric vehicle components in Appalachia. The startup aims to reduce demand for battery components produced in China, which controls much of the world's mine production for lithium-ion batteries.
The U.S. energy storage supply chain, specifically for lithium-ion batteries, is at a "significant disadvantage" when compared to China, and the rest of Asia and Europe, in some cases, according to a U.S. Dept. of Energy report on the state of clean energy supply chains.
DOE recommended that the U.S. focus on the development of sustainable upstream, midstream, and recycling facilities to support grid storage, as well as the development of an industry for end-of-life batteries to be used for grid storage.Public clash
Last year, the United Coal Workers of America union clashed with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) for his opposition of the Biden administration's Build Back Better agenda, which included $550 billion for clean energy.
The since-stalled Build Back Better Act would have provided extra incentives for EVs manufactured using components made in America and would have incentivized manufacturers to build facilities in displaced coal communities.
“For those and other reasons, we are disappointed that the bill will not pass. We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities," the union wrote in Dec. 2021.National strategySen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) hosts Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and members of the Biden administration's Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization (Courtesy: Sen. Joe Manchin's Office)
While the provisions for clean energy in the Build Back Better package remain on hold, the DOE is moving forward with investments in the domestic battery supply chain and workforce development.
DOE announced the launch of a national strategy in partnership with AFL-CIO to train battery manufacturing workers. The agency will invest $5 million in five pilot training programs in energy and automotive communities to support the domestic lithium battery supply chain.
Manchin cheered the announcement, adding that he remains "concerned about our dependence on China and other foreign countries for key parts of the lithium-ion battery supply chain," and stating that he will continue working to bolster domestic manufacturing.
The strategy emerged from the Biden administration's Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization.