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Former Tesla executive considering Commerce City for new sodium-ion battery foundary

Posted on April 18, 2024 by

Adams County may soon land its third large-scale battery manufacturing plant, one producing more affordable and environmentally safer batteries.

The Colorado Economic Development Commission approved $1,053,000 in state Strategic Fund incentives on Thursday morning to Project Eleven, the code name for a startup developing sodium-ion battery technologies.

“The main drivers for the location decision are incentives, a business-friendly tax environment, access to talent and renewable energy policies,” Michelle Hadwiger, director of global business development at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade told commissioners.

State support, which will come in the form of cash rather than the usual tax credit, is tied to the creation of 162 jobs over five years at a research and development campus and a battery foundry in Commerce City. Project Eleven is also considering locations in Michigan, Kentucky and California.

The jobs, which include engineering, manufacturing and management positions, are expected to pay an average annual wage of $120,000, which is 172% of the average annual wage in Adams County.

Local governments must match Strategic Fund awards and Commerce City is doing that. The combined incentives work out to $13,000 per job. The state incentive is linked to the company raising $26 million from investors, Hadwiger said. Late last year it raised about $10 million.

Although the request was presented under a code name, Landon Mossburg, a co-founder and CEO of Peak Energy, spoke on behalf of Project Eleven without hiding his identity.

“This will be very capital intensive, with lots of ramp up,” said Mossburg, who expects battery cell manufacturing could start in 2026. Given that the company will likely report losses for the foreseeable future, it sought cash incentives rather than the tax credits, he told commissioners.

Mossburg helped Tesla scale up its battery manufacturing capacity as the company’s former engineering director. He also helped Northvolt, a Swedish battery maker, establish a manufacturing base in North America.

Sodium is about 500 times more abundant than lithium, and widely available in the U.S., reducing the country’s dependence on foreign sources. Mining sodium is easier on the environment than lithium extraction and sodium-ion batteries are much cheaper to mass produce.

Beyond that, sodium-ion batteries are less prone to overheating and catching fire, making them safer. And when they wear out, they are easier to recycle.

The big knock against them, however, is that they are less dense, meaning they can’t store as much energy. Peak Energy said it has found a way to improve storage capacity and will continue to research advances at its new campus.

Utilities and renewable energy producers are expected to be the company’s biggest customers. Renewable sources typically produce energy intermittently when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Storage is key to holding that energy so it can be provided to customers when needed.

If Peak Energy chooses Commerce City, it will represent a growing streak of battery providers, each with a different technology, setting up in Adams County. Federal incentives designed to bring more green energy and semiconductor manufacturing back to the U.S. have spurred a surge in investments.

Solid Power, based in Louisville, started producing materials for solid-state batteries at a new factory in Thornton last year. That company is a spin-off using technology developed at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Amprius Technologies, based in Freemont, Calif., is converting an abandoned Kmart distribution hub on East Bromley Lane in Brighton into a 775,000-square-foot facility employing 330 workers making lithium-ion batteries. Amprius uses a newer silicon anode technology to boost battery density and speed up recharging times, a plus for electric vehicle makers.

The plant has faced community opposition, mostly from surrounding homeowners worried about lithium and fire dangers, but it is moving forward.

Commerce City now appears close to landing a sodium-ion battery plant adding a third type of technology and helping the state develop a new industry.

The nation has seen 77 battery projects representing $80 billion in investment and 49,000 new jobs announced since the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act in August of 2022, according to a Cushman & Wakefield study.

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Adams County – The Denver Post

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