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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

Updated 7 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

8 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.