Fear And Loathing In Rural Michigan Puts Gotion Battery Factory At Risk

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Gotion is a battery manufacturer with a primary emphasis on lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. Unlike traditional nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) batteries, LFP batteries can withstand abuses such as being smashed with an ax or pierced with a nail without experiencing a thermal runaway event — which is just a pretty name for a battery fire.

However, LFP batteries tend to have a lower energy density than NMC batteries. They are great for powering heavy duty trucks, but not so great for powering high performance sports cars. In May, Gotion announced its L600 Astroinno battery, which adds manganese to the traditional LFP recipe.

Dr. Cheng Qian, executive president for international business at Gotion High Tech, told the press, “Our Astroinno L600 LMFP battery cell, which has passed all safety tests, has a weight energy density of 240 Wh/kg, a volume energy density of 525 Wh/L, a cycle life of 4000 times at room temperature, and a cycle life of 1800 times at high temperatures. The volumetric cell to pack ratio has reached 76% after adopting the L600 cell, and the system energy density has reached 190Wh/kg, surpassing the pack energy density of current mass produced NCM cells. It is due to the high energy density of Astroinno battery that we can enable a range of 1000 km without relying on NCM materials.”

Building Gotion Batteries In Michigan

Gotion

Gotion is planning to manufacture batteries in the US, spurred no doubt by the generous production credits provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. After an extensive search, it settled on a 270 acre parcel of land in Green Charter Township in Michigan. The factory, when completed, would produce 150,000 tons of cathode material and 50,000 tons of anode material a year. It would employ more than 2300 workers and cost about $2.3 billion. Gotion is anxious to get going. In 2021 it said it has a deal with an unnamed “major publicly traded US automaker” for 200 GWh a year of batteries.

Green Charter Township is just north of Big Rapids, which in turn is about an hour north of Grand Rapids. The state of Michigan has blessed the project with nearly $800 million in grants and tax exemptions from its strategic fund, whose officials said the investment would bring jobs, customers, and economic vitality to the region. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer hailed the factory as a win for the state.

But for many residents of the area, the idea of a Chinese company building a factory in their town has ignited a firestorm of criticism. Some describe the land where the factory is to be built as pristine farmland that will be desecrated by industrial use. Yet the land has not been used to grow crops in almost 20 years and is described by some as “scrub.”

Lori Brock owns a 150-acre horse farm near where the factory would be being built. “It’s the Communist influences that I’m bothered by, because they have shown repeatedly that they don’t care about our rules, our laws or anything. They shouldn’t be able to buy here,” she told the New York Times.

Not So Peaceful Protest

The anti-Chinese hysteria has led to a backlash against the local government, which needed to approve the proposed factory before it could qualify for state incentives. Jim Chapman is not anyone’s idea of a wild-eyed radical. A lifelong Republican and former police officer, he is the head of the board of trustees that governs the township.

Ever since the word got out that the Chinese were invading Michigan, board meetings that used to be sleep-inducing affairs have become incendiary, with hundreds of angry residents threatening to call up the Michigan militia or “exercise their Second Amendment rights” if the project is not stopped.

In case you missed the point, “exercising one’s Second Amendment rights” is MAGA code for executing people you dislike with a volley of armor-piercing bullets fired from an assault rifle. That’s not an idle threat in Michigan, where a group of brain-addled young men recently planned to kidnap the governor and execute her.

Economic Development Meets Xenophobia

Chapman tells the New York Times the motivation for the board of trustees’ decision was to bring much needed economic growth to the area. They believe 2,000 new jobs would create a housing boom and bring other new businesses to the area.

After researching the company and the actions of other Chinese businesses that operate in the United States, he concluded that Gotion was not a threat and that the opportunity to invigorate a relatively poor part of the state was worthwhile. “What are they going to spy on us for in Big Rapids? Are they going to steal Carlleen Rose’s fudge recipe?” he asked, referring to the owner of a popular confectionery in Big Rapids.

But now there is a recall election scheduled for next month designed to throw out the old board and install a new one that will put the kibosh on all this commie pinko Chinese nonsense. “I’m worried about environmental catastrophes — there’s going to be 200 to 300 truckloads of chemicals coming in every day,” said Kelly Cushway, who is running for a seat on the Green Charter Township board. “We know China has not worried too much about their environment.” How “we” know that was not immediately clear.

Many of Chapman’s constituents are now speaking in tongues as they warn their neighbors that the plant is a “Trojan Horse” and that it will be used to spy on Americans. Some in town believe that the factory will employ cheap Chinese labor instead of local workers and will erect cooling towers to conceal ballistic missiles.

Political Football On The National Stage

Republicans in Congress have been quick to jump on the “yellow peril” bandwagon. (Where is William Randolph Hearst when you need him?) Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has introduced legislation that would block subsidies to Chinese battery companies.

House Republicans have urged Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to withhold any federal subsidies for the Gotion facility and questioned why the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States did not block its investment. Gotion response is that it did voluntarily submit documents to CFIUS and the committee decided not to block the transaction.

Another House committee has demanded answers about a licensing agreement between Ford and CATL, the world’s largest battery manufacturer. Ford is planning a battery factory in southern Michigan that will be owned and operated by Ford using technology licensed from CATL. That factory was originally scheduled for Virginia before governor Glenn Youngkin put on his MAGA hat, wrapped himself in the American flag, and thundered there would be no godless communists allowed in his state.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we are now able to bring you footage of the citizens of Green Charter Township on their way to a recent town meeting to express their opinion about Gotion or any other Chinese company bringing new economic opportunities to their town.


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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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