Boston-Power CEO Sees “Immense” Pressure to Curb Carbon Emissions at Copenhagen Summit

12/7/09Follow @wroush

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reverse global warming. “There is some thought going into the meeting about spraying sulfur in outer space to deflect sun rays, or dumping chemicals into the sea [to accelerate algae growth], and I will fight that really hard,” she says. “We should not experiment when we’re living inside the test tube—I will not expose my children to that.”

As a participant in the Road to Copenhagen Technology Working Group, which is chaired by European Commission vice president Margot Wahlström, Lampe-Onnerud says she will also push the group to recommend that governments pass laws to require rapid installation of existing alternative-energy technologies, rather than funding endless research and development. In particular, she wants to see more spending on electric vehicles and solar, wind, and geothermal facilities. “Let’s deploy technologies that exist today,” she says. “If legislators are brave enough to look 30 to 50 years out, I can guarantee that business leaders will lock right in behind that. So politicians should be feeling immense pressure from me and my colleages coming into the meeting.”

While government cleantech investments have an obvious environmental benefit, there might also an upside Boston-Power, whose advanced lithium-ion batteries store energy longer than traditional batteries and can be manufactured with less toxic waste. “There are many wind farms and solar plants that lack energy storage,” Lampe-Onnerud points out. Electric cars are also far closer to being a reality today than they were a decade ago. While Boston-Power’s current products are tailored for small devices like laptops, the company is working on larger batteries that could be installed in electric vehicles, and perhaps someday at energy-generating facilities.

Boston-Power won recognition for its battery innovations last week when it was named a 2010 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum. (It was among six Boston companies so honored.) Lampe-Onnerud says that award came as a total surprise—the company didn’t even know it had been nominated. “It’s an amazing endorsement,” she says. “At the beginning of a new technology there are a lot of people not believing you, so everybody who agrees that this could be the start of something big is always fun for us to hear.”

But there’s one organization that may not yet believe in Boston-Power’s promise: the U.S. Department of Energy. In August, the DOE passed over Boston-Power’s application for a $100 million stimulus grant that the company said it needed to build a proposed 600-employee battery manufacturing facility in Auburn, MA.

Lampe-Onnerud said at the time that she was “incredibly disappointed” by the DOE’s decision. But within 60 days of the DOE’s rejection, she says, Boston-Power had secured economic stimulus funding from a different source—the Chinese government, which will help the company to build essentially the same factory planned for Auburn in the Chongqing municipality of western China.

“That was, as you know, our strategy before, but we had put it on hold because I really wanted to help the U.S. economy,” Lampe-Onnerud says. “We felt we had a fabulous proposition to be able to bring some jobs back home. But the company is in pretty awesome shape now to continue its growth.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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