Chattanooga is paving the way for a new electric vehicle supply chain in America as battery materials maker Novonix opens a factory in the city, the nation's energy secretary said here Monday.
Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at the inauguration of the $160 million Novonix plant on Riverfront Parkway that the factory is helping create "a whole ecosystem" related to the production of EVs and the batteries that power them.
"This is exactly what every state and community should be doing," she told a couple hundred people who turned out at the former Alstom manufacturing site now rebranded as The Bend.
Granholm said President Joe Biden is "bringing back the supply chain" from overseas for battery-powered vehicles, along with good-paying jobs.
"The supply chain for batteries and electric vehicles has historically been abroad," the former Democratic Michigan governor said, adding that reshoring it to America will help "make the future of our energy system secure."
Using a hockey analogy, Granholm said companies such as Nova Scotia-based Novonix and its chief executive, Chris Burns, are seeing ahead and "the puck has landed in Chattanooga."
The Novonix facility on Riverfront Parkway is to make up to 10,000 tons per year of synthetic graphite and employ nearly 300 workers. That product is used in ultra-long-life, high-performance anode material for lithium-ion batteries for EVs and power grid storage.
Burns, who formerly worked for electric carmaker Tesla, said the EV supply chain in North America is lacking and Novonix is helping usher in "a new era of electrification."
"We want to be a part of that," he said about the company that first opened a small facility in Lookout Valley in 2017.
Andrew Liveris, a Novonix board member who also is chairman of upstart electric vehicle maker Lucid Motors, said the battery materials company is "game-changing."
He said America is seeing "a tipping point" when it comes to the electrification of mobility in the country as battery-powered vehicles become a mass-market mode of transportation.
Zhanna Golodryga, a senior vice president for energy giant Phillips 66 and also on the Novonix board, said it's key to grow energy independence and lower carbon emissions.
"Growing the supply chain is critically important," said Golodryga, whose company recently made a $150 million investment in Novonix.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Novonix is strategically placing Chattanooga at the center of the growth of the lithium-ion battery industry.
Novonix is "making Chattanooga the center of its North American operations," the city's former mayor said, adding that "lives will be enhanced by great-paying jobs."
Current Mayor Tim Kelly said the Novonix plant is "the tip of the spear," and the nation is watching Chattanooga.
"It makes Chattanooga a hub for our sustainable future," he said.
Bob Rolfe, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said the evolution of EVs is "one of our great reshoring opportunities."
"Tennessee is playing a big part in that transformation," he said, citing investments by car companies Volkswagen, Ford, General Motors and Nissan in the state.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said no company is more excited to see Novonix come to the city than Volkswagen.
The German automaker is readying to build an electric SUV at its Enterprise South industrial park plant in the third quarter of 2022 and is on track to hire 1,000 more workers.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., cited the growing partnership between Chattanooga and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which Granholm also visited on Monday.
In Oak Ridge, Granholm said the new $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending package signed into law last week should help propel broadband infrastructure across America, helping more communities to realize the high-speed internet connections and smarter electric grid now available in Chattanooga.
Granholm said the extra $65 billion allocated to improve broadband internet access in rural areas should make broadband more accessible and affordable for lower-income households across the U.S., including the 13% of Tennessee households that now lack any broadband connections to the internet.
"Chattanooga's experience as 'Gig City' may mean that Tennessee becomes 'Gig State' because there will be funding for high-speed internet service in every single pocket of the state," she said during a visit to the Grid Research and Integration and Deployment Center. "So every home will have access to high-speed internet."
Granholm said the infrastructure package will also provide added funding for more research at the laboratory, the largest of the 17 Department of Energy facilities where scientists and engineers are studying Chattanooga's EPB fiber-based grid network to create more microgrids and energy deployment systems to improve electricity reliability and cost.
Biden has a goal of getting to 100% clean energy generation by 2035 and 100% zero carbon emissions by 2050.
"In order to do that, part of the legislation that was passed last week was a big step forward, but there is another piece coming," Granholm said. "The solutions that are being worked on here at the lab are the solutions that we need to deploy. We want to make sure that our research infrastructure keeps us at the front of global research and development."
The bipartisan infrastructure law also will fund additional charging infrastructure across the nation and ongoing research at Oak Ridge to allow rapid wireless recharging within 10 to 15 minutes, as well as new technologies that someday may allow vehicles to automatically be recharged as they go down recharging highways.
"This lab is thinking into the future even as it is working on the challenges of the present," Granholm said.
Fleischmann voted against the infrastructure bill, saying, "Democrats' multi-trillion bill goes far beyond rebuilding roads and bridges and does nothing to lessen the burdensome federal regulations that suffocate infrastructure projects in Tennessee."
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