Energy startup to bring electric battery factory to W.Va.

Energy startup SPARKZ said Thursday it plans to build an electric battery factory in West Virginia in 2022 that will employ at least 350 people.

The company will partner with United Mine Workers of America to recruit and train displaced miners to become the factory’s first production workers.

“We need good, union jobs in the coal fields, no matter what industry they are in,” said Brian Sanson, UMWA’s international secretary-treasurer. “It’s a start toward putting thousands of previously displaced coal miners to work in good jobs in the communities where they live.”

Sparkz founder and CEO Sanjeev Malhotra said the batteries produced at the factory will be 100% cobalt-free batteries, an effort to reduce the cost of US lithium-ion battery production. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has historically been the top producer of cobalt worldwide, with most of the mines controlled by Chinese companies.

Malhotra said the operation would be a boon to the US efforts to counter China’s dominance in the electric battery market. He said the factory is also a big step forward for West Virginia as the state transitions from its roots in coal production to a “new energy economy.”

“America’s clean energy future will reach its potential when we manufacture and manufacture new generation energy storage domestically,” Malhotra, a former US Department of Energy executive, said in a news release.

The site in West Virginia for the Sparkz factory is in the final stages of selection, but the exact location of the plant has not been determined. The company, founded in 2019, said it would announce customer partnerships in the coming months. Its first markets will be in material handling vehicles such as forklifts, agricultural equipment and energy storage.

Malhotra said he plans to make an official announcement about the factory on Friday during a visit to Charleston with US Energy Secretary Jennifer Mulhern Granholm and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. US Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sanson of the United Mine Workers of America also planned to participate.

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