Why Start-Ups Are Charging Into Lithium

With the electric-car market set to expand rapidly, the Obama Administration has funded new battery ventures to create green, high-tech jobs. The technology is difficult; so is the competition

Photograph by Roy Ritchie for TIME

Sakti3's lithium-ion battery cells, the first of their kind, will enable cars to travel twice as fast as batteries do now

In February, President Barack Obama told the crowd at a Henderson, Nev., high school that not so long ago, the U.S. made barely 2% of the advanced batteries used in the world's electric vehicles. Now, thanks to a multibillion-dollar federal investment, American companies are positioned to increase production tenfold — and potentially control 40% of the global lithium-ion-battery market by 2015. "We've created an entire new industry," Obama said.

Not quite, but certainly the beginnings of one. Demand for lithium-ion batteries is increasing dramatically as electric-car technology improves and prices drop. Nissan has introduced the all-electric Leaf, and this year Chevy...

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