My friend Lou Ann Hammond sat down with Don Hillebrand of the Argonne National Lab following last week's unveiling of the Chevy Volt
. Argonne has developed some very promising lithium ion battery chemistry. The work done at Argonne is funded in large part by the U.S. Department of Energy, which can be translated as taxpayer dollars. It's nothing unusual for governments to fund basic research or for the results of that research to be licensed to private companies for commercialization. However, in other countries, that technology is usually targeted at domestic companies for commercialization. Here in the U.S. however, there is no preference given. In fact, it turns out technology developed here is often licensed to companies from elsewhere. In the case of the electrodes developed at Argonne, a license went to Toda Kogyo, a Japanese battery manufacturer. Toda is planning to manufacture batteries in Canada, using technology our tax dollars paid to develop. Is this a wise use of our money? If no U.S. company is willing to step up and use the products of our research, it should at least be used by someone. The fundamental problem is not that foreign companies are licensing our technology, but that Americans apparently don't have the foresight to do so. Apparently, they feel it's wiser to focus on services than actually producing tangible products. That strategy seems to be working so well in today's economy, so why not continue?