Energy Department funds lithium battery job training pilot programs

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

The U.S. Department of Energy will spend $5 million to fund pilot training programs for jobs in lithium battery manufacturing, the agency announced Friday. 

The funding can go to up to five pilot programs in "energy and automotive communities," the agency said in a release, with the goal of developing national credentials and training programs for careers in battery manufacturing. 

“American leadership in the global battery supply chain will be based not only on our innovative edge, but also on our skilled workforce of engineers, designers, scientists, and production workers,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

Energy Secretary and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, center, during a tour of General Motors Co's Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant in August 2021.

“President Biden has a vision for achieving net zero emissions while creating millions of good paying, union jobs — and DOE’s battery partnerships with labor and industry are key to making that vision a reality.”

The initiative is is part of the administration's Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, which aims to support communities that are economically centered on fossil fuel production in a national transition to low- and zero-emissions energy. 

The global auto industry is investing billions in transitioning their gas- and diesel-powered fleets to electric ones.

Meanwhile, labor leaders in the United Auto Workers have cautiously embraced the change while warning that, if not accompanied by robust jobs-protecting policy, the switch to EVs could cost around 35,000 jobs because battery-powered autos require fewer parts and fewer employees to assemble. 

Organized labor has a close relationship with the Biden White House, which has repeatedly said the transition to a greener economy will create new jobs even if it eliminates jobs in older fuel industries. But it remains a fundamental tension in the administration's push as industry groups keep a wary eye on the change. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat from West Virginia, has been a consistent obstacle for Biden administration clean energy priorities in Congress as he pushes a national energy strategy that includes continued support for the coal industry that remains a powerful interest in West Virginia. 

“While I remain concerned about our dependence on China and other foreign countries for key parts of the lithium-ion battery supply chain, engaging our strong and capable workforce to manufacture batteries domestically is a critical step toward reducing our reliance on other countries and ensuring we are able to maintain our energy security," Manchin said in a statement Friday. "I look forward to seeing this initiative grow, and we will continue to work closely together to ensure we can onshore the rest of the battery supply chain.”

Twitter: @rbeggin