By Kevin Kilough, State Energy Reporter
The Department of Energy under the Biden administration provided $200 million in grant funding to a lithium battery company to improve domestic sources of green energy infrastructure.
Though the administration described the company as American-owned, its ties to China raise questions about how much the nation may be seeking a foothold on renewable energy manufacturing in the U.S.
Texas-based Microvast was mentioned in a Department of Energy factsheet on funding opportunities through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for battery material processing and battery manufacturing. According to the document, Microvast is “a majority U.S.-owned company” with headquarters in Stafford, Texas.
The Washington Free Beacon, however, reported that the company’s financial records show it operates primarily out of China and the Chinese government has “substantial influence” over its business activities.
The company also landed on a Security and Exchange Commission watchlist of companies that run the risk of being delisted from NASDAQ for not complying with U.S. auditing requirements.
Fox News reported the company has ties to China going back to 2006.
A DOE spokesperson told the Fox News that the company was an American battery company and thanks to the funding it was no longer dependent on China to establish a separate production facility in the U.S.
The report on Microvast follows shortly after other reports found that a company trying to permit a lithium mine in Nevada – which would become one of two lithium mines operating in the U.S. if approved — also has strong ties to China.
China currently controls 60% of the world’s lithium resources and more than 80% of all manufacturing key to the production of solar panels.
The federal government has provided funding for various programs to develop domestic supplies of minerals and manufacturing needed to satisfy renewable energy targets in the U.S. However, with Chinese companies investing in American operations related to the renewable energy push, the nation could be exploiting a backdoor to maintain its dominance of domestic markets.
With federal dollars flowing to Microvast, Sen. John Barrasso is asking the Department of Energy to explain what controls it has in place to ensure companies with ties to China aren’t receiving taxpayer dollars.
In a letter to DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Barrasso said that awarding the company money threatens national security and undermines the U.S. position in its competition with the country for technological supremacy.
Barrasso, who serves as ranking member on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, included a list of questions about the DOE’s review process and procedures for distribution of taxpayer funds. He asked the department to respond no later than Dec. 21.
Dereliction of Duty
This was not the first time Barrasso wanted the DOE to answer questions related to funds possibly going to China.
Last September, Barrasso, along with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, wrote a letter to the DOE requesting a response to an NPR report showing that the DOE provided $15 million for taxpayer-funded advanced battery technology development to a Chinese company.
Eventually, the license for the technology was transferred to the company, and the company began producing the batteries in China after shuttering its Washington facility.
“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 said in the letter.