Rochester Institute of Technology is expanding its Battery Prototyping Center, with the goal of helping more companies bring their products to market and train more workers in the growing battery manufacturing sector.
The university is one of the collaborative partners selected for funding through the American Rescue Plan’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
The group of 13 partners — led by SUNY Binghamton — secured more than $63.7 million to establish upstate New York as a national hub for battery research and manufacturing. The state has committed another $50 million toward the project.
RIT is slated to receive roughly $2.3 million for the Battery Prototyping Center expansion, which calls for doubling the size of the 2,000-square-foot facility.
Ryne Raffaelle, RIT vice president for research and associate provost, said the center is a critical resource in the growing sector in the state.
“We’ve tapped into a big need here,” he said.
The RIT Battery Prototyping Center is a key resource to support early-stage development of next generation lithium-ion cells and materials, which are essential for industries ranging from automotive and medical devices to defense and national security.
The center provides battery technology training to companies of all sizes and serves as a resource for workforce development and new product testing for companies.
The center’s team has worked with more than 100 customers from academia, government, a variety of industry manufacturers and technology hubs since its inception in 2015, said Matthew Ganter, director of the center and assistant research professor of chemical engineering.
He said the expansion is needed, adding that companies have the facility booked through 2023.
In addition to increasing the size and capabilities of the lab, the center will also have more space for hands-on training as a result of the project, Ganter said.
The battery center has been offering two-day training sessions since 2018 – which quickly reach capacity – and will now be able to add more of those sessions. There will also be new opportunities for a certificate program in battery manufacturing and entry level technician training.
Future efforts could include a master’s degree program in chemical engineering, with a focus on battery design.
Ganter said there is a demand for workers from companies in the lithium-ion battery space.
These new and enhanced offerings at the center can help meet that need, he added.
Like most manufacturers, those in the sector experienced the supply chain challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That, as well as the increased demand for such batteries – especially in the electric vehicle market – prompted federal and state leaders to provide resources domestically to reduce our dependency on companies overseas.
The Rochester/Finger Lakes region and the Southern Tier are well positioned to be leaders in the sector, Ganter said.
He noted there are already battery technology companies in the Rochester area, including Li-Cycle, a Canadian-based lithium-ion battery recycler with operations at the Eastman Business Park.
The company’s Rochester Hub is expected to be the first commercial hydrometallurgical battery resource recovery facility as well as the first new significant source of battery-grade lithium carbonate production in North America.
The facility is expected to process battery material that is equivalent to some 225,000 electric vehicles each year.
Company leaders expect to create roughly 220 jobs at the Rochester Hub which it expects to begin commissioning in 2023.
Li-Cycle also has an existing Spoke facility in Rochester that supports more than 35 jobs.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) visited Li-Cycle earlier this week where he announced his push to help the company tap into some of the new grants and loans provided by the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
With companies like Li-Cycle growing, Schumer said the Finger Lakes is set to be a national hub for the rapidly growing American battery industry, bringing good-paying jobs back from overseas and setting the region to be a leader in an industry that will define the next century.
Eastman Kodak Co. is another local company looking to capitalize on the battery industry.
Kodak leaders have committed to expanding its Advanced Materials & Chemicals group as the company looks to capitalize on its expertise in coating technology, developed over decades of film manufacturing, to pursue opportunities in the growing battery market.
Additionally, the BEST Test and Commercialization Center, also located at the Eastman Business Park, helps bring emerging technologies to the commercial market and offer companies essential product testing and qualification at a reasonable cost.
Such activity bodes well for the region, Ganter said.
“There’s so much activity in this space and companies are seeing that it makes sense to look at the Rochester region as a place to settle in, given the resources here,” he said.
“A lot of companies in this sector are migrating to New York because it’s where the action is and where the workforce is,” he said.
[email protected] / (585) 653-4021