GE is adding a new business unit that will develop and produce sodium battery technology. Sodium-based batteries offer higher energy density and more storage, GE said.
In addition to hybrid vehicles, the batteries will be useful as backup power supplies for cell phone towers and data centers, and there will be applications in the rail, mining and marine industries.
GE has invested more than $150 million in the technology. A production plant will be based near GE’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y.
GE expects that sodium batteries will generate $500 million in company sales by 2015.
“We think the markets for this will be huge,” said Jeff Immelt, Chief Executive Officer of GE. “It eventually will be a billion-dollar business. We don’t think small.”
The new business unit adds to GE’s battery portfolio after it bought A123, a lithium battery company.
GE and New York are applying for Department of Energy grants to develop batteries. Immelt said he hopes to have a response on the grant by August, but that the project will go forward with or without the grant.
“The grant is just a stimulator. It helps us make advances on a quicker timetable,” he said.
The sodium battery facility will add to New York’s “green collar” workforce. The state has invested in nanotechnology, semiconducters, superconductive cables and a wind institute, in which GE is involved.
“The future is about innovation. We have to start making bets in innovation and leadership,” Immelt said.
Recently, GE has made headlines with its development of smart grid technologies, which it predicts to be a $4 billion business.