U.S. Rules Tighten as Battery Tech Ends Up in China

by Carolyn Mathas

Sponsors of the “Invent Here, Make Here Act” plan to expand it to the Department of Energy (D.O.E.) and other agencies on the heels of an investigation by NPR into how breakthrough battery technology from a U.S. government lab was found at a company in China. The D.O.E. wants to tighten restrictions on sending government discoveries abroad.

NPR and Northwest News Network discovered that the Department of Energy allowed cutting-edge technology to transfer overseas from its Pacific Northwest National Laboratory without oversight. The lab spent six years and more than $15 million developing the new battery recipe using vanadium.

While scientists expected the technology would be used to power American homes, China unveiled the world’s largest battery farm using the American technology. The Department of Energy and the lab granted the license to a company that moved manufacturing overseas twice, even though the contract required the company to “substantially manufacture” the batteries in the U.S.

After NPR’s report, the D.O.E. revoked the battery company’s license and opened an internal investigation.

Investigators found the department and the lab failed to monitor the license adequately, there was frequent staff turnover, and inadequate record-keeping prevented the lab from tracking the battery license despite years of non-compliance.

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