American Lithium Energy (ALE) is powering up production and manufacturing capabilities, thanks to a round of grant funding from the California Energy Commission (CEC).
The Carlsbad-based company announced March 2 it will receive $10.2 million in funding from the Zero-Emissions Transportation Manufacturing program and $3 million from the CEC Realizing Accelerated Manufacturing and Production (RAMP) program in April of this year. ALE will use the $13.2 million, along with matching funding from unnamed private equity sources, to expand its U.S.-based manufacturing production capabilities in Carlsbad; significantly grow its team; and increase use of U.S.- and California-based raw materials and equipment supplies in its battery production.
“We are grateful to the California Energy Commission for these significant and generous grants, which will enable us to increase our production capabilities in the U.S. and continue to drive innovation and adoption across the lithium battery industry,” said ALE CEO Jiang Fan.
In addition to expanding its workforce and footprint to ramp up production, ALE will also invest in fully automating its manufacturing process using a low-rate initial production pilot line.
“This grant is going to allow us to move from manufacturing tens of thousands of cells per year to the target of 1.5 million cells per year over the course of the next 18 months. And we’re going to be able to ramp up from there,” said ALE Business Director William Hadala, adding that the automated production line will speed up production to 20 cells per minute, and has a capability to go to 60 per minute.
Reshoring Important Supply Chain
ALE was founded in 2006 and was initially focused on developing high-performance batteries for the military, including the company’s proprietary Si 18650 cell that was developed with funding from the U.S. Army.
Through funding from the U.S. Air Force, the high power 18650 cell capacity improved to 4 Ah – the world’s highest capacity – and added the capability to discharge across a wide temperature range, even as low as -40 C.
This new funding from CEC will allow ALE to scale production of Si 18650 cells and create a secure supply chain less reliant on international partners.
“If anything should happen in the Pacific, lithium ion supplies and suppliers could vanish, and the U.S. government recognized that and funded companies like American Lithium Energy to be secondary suppliers to the government to really bring back America’s cell manufacturing,” Hadala said.
The reshoring of battery manufacturing comes while mining operations in California’s ‘Lithium Valley’ around the Salton Sea are starting to come online with the potential of producing up to 600,000 tons per year of lithium carbonate.
“Right now, we get our major raw material from Asia – South Korea or Japan,” Fan said. “If there’s a conflict in the Pacific, … it makes good sense to have a local cell manufacturer and local raw material manufacturer and have a completed supply chain for EV commercial applications and also for the defense and national security applications.”
Developing an ecosystem capable of producing a robust, local supply of lithium batteries is a goal our region is prepared to deliver on, according to Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.
“As oil shaped the last century, lithium will help shape the next,” he said. “And as leaders in technology, science, and manufacturing, our bi-national mega-region is uniquely positioned to lead in the clean energy future. To support more innovation, jobs, and companies like ALE, we will need the talent, infrastructure, and backing of our policymakers to do this right.”
Although its most high-profile partners are in the defense industry, ALE has a diverse portfolio of patents for batteries to power everything from satellites to pacemakers – including electric vehicles.
ALE was one of four companies to receive a awards from the CEC RAMP and Zero-Emissions Transportation Manufacturing programs, which are designed to support the growth of lithium battery production and zero-emissions transportation manufacturing throughout California. In total, the CEC awarded $46 million to the four companies, marking the single largest state award in history.
Fan said the goal for the funds will be to deliver an EV battery module for EV company to evaluate. “It’s purely for electric vehicles,” he said, adding that dual applications can still be used in the military and space markets.
Beyond defense and EVs, ALE is also aiming to expand its R&D teams to explore new markets, such as energy storage.
American Lithium Energy
CEO: John Fan
Business: Developer and manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries for a variety of defense and civilian applications
Notable: To date, ALE has received over $30 million in funding to research and develop its high-density batteries.