German Battery Makers Link Up to Catch Up

basf_logoAsia is the region to beat when it comes to cutting-edge battery technology. But there are groups in both Europe and North America that are forming with an eye to stealing some of that Asian dominance in what could someday be a booming market for electric and hybrid vehicle batteries. The latest move comes from chemical giant BASF, which said this week that it’s heading up a newly formed battery consortium in Germany that’s scored €21 million ($27.9 million) in funding from the German federal government.

Called “HE-Lion,” the consortium is made up of 18 industry, research, and university partners, including Volkswagen, the Fraunhofer Institute, and the University of Berlin. BASF said the partners will collectively put up an additional €21 million for the consortium.

The group plans to work over the next 4-6 years to develop and bring to market efficient, high-performing, and safe lithium-ion batteries for use in plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles. Germany seems to be picking up the pace from where it was a couple of years ago, when Agence France-Presse noted that the Germans were said to be “plodding along behind” in battery technology. The HE-Lion consortium is part of a larger research effort in Germany, the Lithium-Ion Battery LIB 2015 alliance, that’s aiming to bring better batteries to market by 2015.

U.S. companies have adopted a similar strategy of joining together to combat the Asian dominance of the battery market. Late last year, more than a dozen U.S. technology companies formed their own battery consortium, and they hope to get $1 billion in government funding for a plan to build a next-gen battery plant in the U.S.

Of course, while pushing for home-grown technology may be a good way for companies to score federal funds both in Germany and the U.S., some of those same companies are still heading to Asia for battery deals. In February, Volkswagen signed a deal to work with Japan’s Toshiba on developing electric vehicles, including the development of high-energy density battery systems. And General Motors has hooked up with Korea’s LG Chem for its hybrid battery needs.

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