Barrasso, Ernst Say Energy Watchdog to Probe Battery Technology Transfer to Chinese

Barrasso, Ernst Say Energy Watchdog to Probe Battery Technology Transfer to Chinese
A worker puts Vanadium in a kiln at Canadian based Strategic Mineral Company Largo Resources' Vanadium plant, near Maracas, in Bahia state, Brazil, on June 15, 2016. Vanadium is primarily used as an alloy to strengthen steel for construction, automobile and aerospace industries. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials may soon have to explain the government's "illicit transfer of a $15 million, taxpayer-funded advanced battery technology" developed by a U.S. laboratory to a Chinese firm.

Teri Donaldson, the DOE's inspector general, confirmed to Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in an Oct. 5 letter that "the apparent transfer of vanadium redox battery technology to China" authorized by DOE officials is being investigated.

Barrasso is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, while Ernst serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Vanadium redox batteries—originally developed in 2006 by the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory—are rechargeable, hold energy longer, and could soon replace lithium-ion devices, according to the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

“Taxpayers spent millions of dollars to develop cutting-edge technology that the DOE then gave to communist China. This was a major breach of national security by the federal government,” Ernst told The Epoch Times.

“I look forward to answers on how and why this unlawful transfer occurred. We have to ensure this never happens again.”

The senators had requested the investigation in a Sept. 14 letter to Donaldson that was prompted by an Aug. 3 NPR report titled "The U.S. made a breakthrough battery discovery—then gave the technology to China."

The Chinese received the technology via two separate transfers.

"The Department of Energy, in this case, twice handed over vanadium redox battery technology created by scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The first recipient of this technology, a Chinese company by the name of Dalian Rongke Power Co. Ltd., received a sublicense from DoE in 2017 to manufacture the batteries in China," Barrasso and Ernst wrote to Donaldson.

"The second recipient, Vanadis Power, a Dutch company, received a full license in 2021. However, Vanadis plainly stated on their official website that they planned to manufacture the batteries in China. These transfers occurred while several U.S. companies, according to the NPR report, simultaneously sought the same license from DoE.

"Furthermore, the original licensee failed to adhere to DoE stipulations associated with the license and strengthened China's technological standing as a result. These stipulations included a quota for domestic battery sales, as well as a requirement that the batteries be 'substantially manufactured' in the United States.

"As these stipulations were continuously violated, DoE never raised any concerns."

"We are concerned that this is an overt dereliction of duty by DoE, and that this case may be emblematic of a department that routinely and flippantly permits government-funded technology to be transferred to China," Barrasso and Ernst wrote.

As a result of DOE's illicit transfer, Dalian Rongke Power was enabled to become the global leader in the manufacture of vanadium redox flow batteries.

After NPR pressured DOE for answers to written questions on the transfer, the government withdrew the license it had previously and illicitly given to Dalian. An internal review also was launched by DOE.

But the Chinese are notorious for stealing U.S. technology and the DOE's actions enabled China to gain a valuable head start on adapting the new energy technology to powering residential homes and commercial businesses.

Dr. Gary Yang, who received the first DOE license and then sub-licensed it to Dalian, told NPR that the Chinese firm stepped up after no U.S. banks or investors were willing to fund the development of the technology.

The Chinese government in Beijing has since also funded additional demonstration projects that have further advanced the technology.

"Yang was born in China but is a U.S. citizen and got his Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut. He said he wanted to manufacture the entire battery in the United States, but that the United States does not have the supply chain he required. He said China is more advanced when it comes to manufacturing and engineering utility-scale batteries," NPR reported.

"'In this field—manufacturing, engineering—China is ahead of the United States,' Yang said. 'Many wouldn't believe [it],'" according to NPR.

Multiple U.S. firms have sought to obtain licenses to develop the technology, including Bellevue, Washington-based Forever Energy.

"This is technology made from taxpayer dollars," Forever Energy Chief Financial Officer Joanne Skievaski told NPR.

"It was invented in a national lab. [Now] it's deployed in China, and it's held in China. To say it is frustrating is an understatement."

A spokesman for the DOE inspector general couldn't be reached for comment.

Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.