U.S. Takes Action to Protect Technology After Battery Leak to China

A new federal law has been passed in response to the Department of Energy’s export of taxpayer-funded battery technology to China. This law aims to enforce tighter restrictions on sending government discoveries abroad.

Scope of the Law

The “Invent Here, Make Here Act” will initially only be applied to programs within the Department of Homeland Security. However, its sponsors in Congress have expressed their intention to extend its reach to the DOE and other agencies in the future.

Inspiration Behind the Law

Senators Tammy Baldwin and Rob Portman sponsored the measure after an investigation by NPR revealed that breakthrough battery technology funded by the U.S. government was transferred to a Chinese company. The law was passed with widespread support in December as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Purpose of the Law

Senator Baldwin stated that the “Invent Here, Make Here Act” is focused on ensuring that when American taxpayer dollars are invested, the breakthroughs are manufactured within the country.

Investigation by NPR

NPR, in collaboration with public radio’s Northwest News Network, discovered that the Department of Energy allowed cutting-edge technology to be transferred overseas from its Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with minimal supervision. The lab invested six years and over $15 million in developing a new battery recipe using vanadium.

China’s Largest Battery Farm

However, China has recently unveiled the largest battery farm in the world, using American technology.

American Technology License Granted to Company with Overseas Manufacturing An investigation conducted by NPR and N3 uncovered that the Department of Energy and the lab had granted a license to a company that had relocated its manufacturing to another country, despite the contract’s requirement to “substantially manufacture” the batteries in the U.S.

Senator’s Criticism and Request for Information

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, wrote a letter to the Energy Department Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, expressing his criticism of the department’s actions and requesting information. In the letter, he stated that “China has captured vital U.S. technology through illicit means and the carelessness of government agencies.”

Legislation Targeting DOE and Additional Agencies

Senator Baldwin and her colleagues initially targeted the Department of Homeland Security with their new law to gauge the response, and now that there is broad support, they plan to introduce legislation aimed at the DOE and other federal agencies. Baldwin stated that “there’s a lot of additional action we can take” since “so many of our legacy laws have huge loopholes.”

DOE’s Revocation of License and Internal Investigation

Following NPR’s reporting, the DOE revoked the license it had previously granted to the battery company and launched an internal investigation. The department has not disclosed its findings to the public, and in response to NPR’s request for public records, it sent 233 completely redacted pages, which included a few public documents and NPR’s own emails.

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