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Argonne National Laboratory

Leading U.S. battery researchers say a proposed 75% cut in federal funding could set back U.S. hopes to dominate the future of batteries and electric cars, and lead to a raid of U.S. talent by China and others in the technological race.

The mood is somber this week at an annual conference in Washington, DC, where hundreds of battery researchers from universities and U.S. federal labs are presenting their latest findings, and justifying millions of dollars in U.S. government funding toward the creation of super-batteries for electric cars and the grid.

In interviews, researchers said Congress will probably largely ignore President Donald Trump's proposal, and restore much of the 2018 funding. But, given the intensity of competition for industries expected to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in future sales, they said the best ideas could be wooed away by China, Japan, South Korea or others.

In the Trump administration's proposed Energy Department budget for next year, the funding for advanced battery research falls to about $36 million, from $140 million last year. The budget provides no funding for two showcase research programs _ a $20-million-a-year research hub at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, and ARPA-E, an incubator for high-risk, high-reward battery and other energy projects. "Cutting research budgets for technologies of the future puts us at a competitive disadvantage with countries around the world who are investing in their scientists and entrepreneurs," David Sandalow, a former undersecretary of energy, told Axios.

What's behind this: Trump's rationale is that the federal government is effectively subsidizing research that, if it's justified, companies should pay for and carry out. But energy and technology experts — noting that the federal government funded the early development of today's leading technologies, including cell phones, Siri, GPS and the Internet itself — say federal support is justified given the strategic economic nature of the industries, and the competition from rivals abroad.

A level deeper: Look for a fight in Congress. Claire Curry, a researcher at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, tells Axios that Asian companies are likely to continue dominating the manufacture of batteries. But government research has deep support in Congress, based on its merits and the hard politics that many of the government labs are spread across the country, and thus provide thousands of jobs. Oak Ridge National Lab, for example, is a core part of the Tennessee economy.

Go deeper

Neera Tanden withdraws nomination for Office of Management and Budget director

Neera Tanden testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in Washington, D.C., in February 2021. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Neera Tanden withdrew her name from nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget after several senators voiced opposition and concern about her qualifications and past combative tweets, President Biden announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: Tanden’s decision to pull her nomination marks Biden's first setback in filling out his Cabinet with a thin Democratic majority in the Senate.

What's ahead for the newest female CEOs

Jane Fraser (L) and Rosalind Brewer. Photos: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images; Rodrigo Capote/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The number of women at the helm of America’s biggest companies pales in comparison to men, but is newly growing — and their tasks are huge.

What's going on: Jane Fraser took over at Citigroup this week, the first woman to ever lead a major U.S. bank. Rosalind Brewer will take the reins at Walgreens in the coming weeks (March 15) — a company that's been run by white men for more than a century.

2 hours ago - Health

Biden says U.S. will have enough vaccines for 300 million adults by end of May

President Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden on Tuesday said that ramped-up coronavirus vaccine production will provide enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end May.

Why it matters: That's two months sooner than Biden's previous promise of enough vaccines for all American adults by the end of July.