Dupont to Open New Factory in Chesterfield
Dupont has announced it will spend 20 million dollars to build a pilot plant in Chesterfield, to produce materials to make better batteries for tomorrow’s electric cars. Charles Fishburne has more in this WCVE Science Matters report.
Without government subsidies or stimulus money or research grants, and without tipping their hand, incidentally, DuPont is betting 20 million dollars that it can build a better battery using its flair for spinning fibers that has already made its products indispensable in everything from house wrap to car tires to bulletproof vests, and they chose Chesterfield because they have a great track record here.
Powell: Absolutely. We've got a long history, you know, we've been in Chesterfield County for 81 years; we've had a good-quality work force, strong support from the local officials, local government and our employees have built their homes here, so it's been a great base for our business and we look forward to growing here in the future.
Tom Powell is President of DuPont Protection Technologies, and he says his company will spend the 20 million to establish what amounts to a pilot project, an experimental plant at a leased building in Chesterfield to begin operations early next year, to refine and develop “Energain,” a nanofiber-based material that will allow batteries to run hotter, safer and with up to 30% more power.
Powell: There are laboratories and automobile companies and battery companies all over the world who are extremely active in this area because, you know, the time is right.
Kevin Corby is Technology Director for DuPont Protection Technology, and the man overseeing the project that could make the electric car actually viable.
Corby: We really want to look at the payback on an electric vehicle today without subsidies, right, and those investments, they would not, right, they would not offer a good investment payback without the government subsidies, that's for sure.
So would your battery fix that?
Powell: Well, not necessarily. What our separator is, I'd call it an enabling, a material that enables the success of these batteries.
DuPont doesn’t make the batteries, but believes this fiber separator could be a key component in the manufacture of the battery of tomorrow. Basically, it keeps electrons where they belong, but still allows them to rush in and out of the battery without blowing anything up or breaking anything down.
Powell: That's right. This is a sheet that's produced using a proprietary spinning technology, so it makes a nanofiber, a very fine fiber sheet, that can handle very high temperatures.
Powell: It forms a sheet that is placed inside of the battery between the anode and the cathode in a battery, so it provides the separation you need between the anode and the cathode, but it also is permeable, so that it allows the lithium salts and lithium ion batteries to flow back and forth as the battery is charged and discharged.
Last year’s stimulus package committed the government to spend billions for factories designed to produce advanced batteries for cars, and these factories will be looking for just the kind of technology DuPont has to offer. But it's still risky.
Powell: Yes, it is. Yeah, we have anticipated that and, you know, people would say, well why wouldn't you build a huge plant, right? So part of it is because it is a gamble and the market is right now not that big, but the way we're building this plant, we think we'll be able to replicate this plant with higher scale and build plants in a reasonably fast period of time.
And while the Chesterfield plant represents 20 million dollars and only a dozen employees to start, the upside is enormous.
Powell: Yeah, we didn't talk about that in any press releases, but I think we have the opportunity to add scale and capacity fast enough to meet the market need. You know, we're pretty bullish, you know, I never say we've figured everything out because you never know, because every, every battery maker, every automobile is going to have its unique, you know, needs and requirements and designs.
President Tom Powell and Technology Director Kevin Corby, talking about DuPont's plans to build a pilot plant in Chesterfield, to manufacture what could be a key component in tomorrow’s electric automobiles.
So DuPont conceivably could find itself in everybody's garage in 20 years?
Powell: We would like to think so.
Charles Fishburne, WCVE News