Batteries Are Ready to Replace Gas Tanks

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We asked industry experts if battery breakthroughs are necessary for electric cars to be viable. The CEO of battery maker A123 Systems argues that batteries are already good enough to allow electric vehicles to compete with automobiles powered by internal combustion engines.

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Attempts to make electric cars date back to the early twentieth century, but only today are we seeing these vehicles coming to market. Why now? Without question, the most significant contributor to the success of modern-day electric vehicles has been breakthroughs in battery technology.

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Cutting-edge lithium ion battery systems are powerful and safe enough to supplement and even replace the stalwart internal combustion engine, enabling automakers to design and manufacture new vehicles that offer the full performance that drivers demand as well as novel advantages that consumers will truly value.

Early consumer reaction to the launch of both the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf has been positive, and consumers will have a greater selection of electric vehicles to choose from as the Fisker Karma and dozens of others electric and hybrid cars come to market over the next several years. There is strong evidence that developments in battery technology will increase vehicle performance and range while reducing costs, facilitating even greater global adoption.

But the batteries that enable vehicle electrification represent much more than the latest in automotive engineering--they offer a mechanism for America to finally break free from its addiction to foreign oil.

My first palpable experience with this addiction was during the oil embargo of 1973. My company and many others had layoffs for the first time in their history, and America became burdened with massive unemployment and economic chaos. At the time, we made an earnest pledges to change our ways, but when the embargo lifted and prices began to stabilize, we relapsed back to the addictive clutches of foreign oil. Since 1973 this pattern has persisted, and we have yet to muster an effective program to break this cycle.

Today, "energy independence" has become the topic-du-jour for politicians and business leaders looking to latch on to a seemingly virtuous cause through rousing oratories and campaign promises. But what starts as passionate resolve quickly fizzles to nothing more than empty rhetoric when unaccompanied by decisive action.

We have allowed foreign oil to become our lifeblood, and despite ongoing discord in the Middle East, we continue to ravenously consume it with a seemingly insatiable appetite. America is in desperate need of an intervention to address this self-destructive behavior.

This addiction is a disease, and battery technology is the cure. Enabling cars to run on electricity instead of gasoline sets us on the path to rapid recovery and enables us to sustain true long-term energy independence.

Eliminating our dependence on foreign oil is not a goal confined to the left or right of the national political agenda; it is an American goal shared but everyone wishing to end the recurring devastation this addiction wreaks on our economy. We are well on our way to establishing a robust domestic battery manufacturing industry.

These efforts will pay significant dividends--battery technology is not only the key to widespread adoption of electric vehicles, but it is also the much-needed, elusive remedy for our addiction to foreign oil that will allow America to finally realize the long-lasting benefits of energy independence.

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David Vieau is the CEO of A123 Systems, a battery manufacturer headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts.

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