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What the Microvast denial means

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May 23, 2023
Illustration of a briefcase lined with the Chinese flag

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Energy Department has rejected Microvast's bid to get federal infrastructure funding for a battery tech plant.

Why it matters: We're reached a point where doing substantial business in China is now a potential liability for companies seeking U.S. backing.

Driving the news: The Energy Department confirmed in a statement sent to Axios that it "elected to cancel negotiations" with Microvast around using fresh infrastructure law funds for a Tennessee battery part plant.

  • The talks ended after Sen. Joe Manchin joined a chorus of GOP lawmakers to criticize the Biden team for initially selecting Microvast.
  • They pointed to its presence in China, statements in financial disclosures about being subject to Chinese laws and regulations, and national security concerns about companies doing business there generally.
  • DOE "maintains a rigorous review process prior to the release of any awarded funds, and it is not uncommon for entities selected to participate in award negotiations under a DOE competitive funding opportunity to not ultimately receive an award," said department spokeswoman Charisma Troiano.

Between the lines: The Microvast story is a win for the "decoupling" crowd but reveals that almost anyone can kill a U.S. climate investment with anti-China politics.

  • Microvast is headquartered in Texas, calls itself an American company and said it was pivoting to the U.S. market.
  • It's possible DOE saw something it didn't like after the initial Microvast announcement, or it became too politically toxic to give the firm money. It could've been a mix of both.

Reality check: Many firms key to the energy transition have ties to China today, partially because the U.S. lagged on investments in the energy transition.

The bottom line: There may be a NatSec upside to this denial. But we're wondering whether this is a precedent that'll undermine other would-be grantees.

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