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Battery Expert Lists Needs As McLean County Seeks Samsung Plant

South Korea InterBattery
Ahn Young-joon
McLean County is one of three finalists for a $1 billion Samsung battery manufacturing plant that would be built next to the Rivian electric vehicle plant in Normal.

A battery expert says if Samsung decides to build a electric-vehicle battery plant in Bloomington-Normal, the community would need to generate enough water and possibly more electricity to sustain it.

McLean County is one of three finalists for a $1 billion battery manufacturing plant that would be built next to the Rivian electric vehicle plant in Normal.

Yang Shao-Horn
Yang Shao-Horn

Yang Shao-Horn is an engineering professor at MIT and serves as co-chair of MIT’s Energy Storage Center. Shao-Horn said water needs will depend on how much of the battery production would be done at the proposed site.

“It depends on how upstream this battery manufacturing plant would be,” Shao-Horn explained, adding if the plant includes production of positive electrodes used in battery-making, for example, the water needs would be greater.

Water also may be needed for cooling in the facility, but Shao-Horn added water is generally considered detrimental inside lithium-ion batteries that are generally used to power electric vehicles.

Shao-Horn said a battery production facility would not likely need more electricity than any other type of manufacturing plant, noting communities that have land capacity to expand wind and solar energy could gain an advantage. McLean County recently approved production of the county’s fifth wind farm.

Shao-Horn said the community and facility also would have to monitor the use of organic solvents that could reduce air quality.

“The climate and the air quality, the pressure on the water resources and also the demand on electricity resources so that this community can prosper and also grow in a sustainable way in the coming decades,” she said, adding the EV battery industry is still in its infancy as it looks for ways to recycle or re-purpose them after they are no longer used to power a vehicle.

Location, location, location

Shao-Horn said Bloomington-Normal is well situated to help the supply chain for a proposed electric vehicle battery plant. She said interstate access would be important for Samsung to deliver materials to the plant in Normal and to distribute its batteries to Rivian and other car makers. The batteries are one-third the size of the vehicle and can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

“I think the location of this plant is nicely situated,” she said. “Not only is it close to Rivian, but it’s close to many other car manufacturers.”

Shao-Horn said in addition to supplying water and electricity for battery production, the area would need to help supply a robust and skilled workforce. The battery plant would generate an estimated 3,200 jobs in central Illinois.

“There are needs for highly-qualified engineers to ensure a quality operation of such facilities, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, materials scientists and engineers as well as electrical engineering and computer science,” said Shao-Horn, adding many battery manufacturing plants are highly automated and can train the workforce as they go.

Town of Normal officials have said the town is working on incentives, such as a property tax break and infrastructure improvements in the area near the proposed plant. But the town hasn't confirmed that Samsung has had discussions with the town.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) has been involved in talks, suggesting state incentives could be in play.

Patrick Hoban, CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said Monday there is nothing new to report on the proposed project.

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