ENTEK plans expansion in US to employ 600

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Electric vehicles are coming, and that’s a promise ENTEK Chief Technology Officer Rick Pekala stands behind.
“You may not think electric vehicles are going to happen,” he said. “They’re going to happen. They’re not going to happen as quickly as people think. There’s going to be a large transition, but eventually it will get there.”
But thanks to funding through President Joe Biden’s recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), ENTEK is positioned to be one of the first U.S.-based manufacturers of battery parts for the expected rise in electric vehicle production. As the recipient of a $200 million federal grant, the company will build a $1.24 billion plant (likely outside of Oregon) to produce separators for electric vehicle batteries.
Pekala, who’s been with ENTEK since 1999, spoke about the company’s position in the electric vehicle market industry during a Jan. 27 lunch forum hosted by the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce.

A slide in Pekala’s presentation shows the number of companies announcing plans to build plants in the US.

“It’s enormous, but in some ways a lot of things have really fallen in place for us,” he said. “There is really no lithium-ion battery manufacturing technology in this country, and if China and the U.S. aren’t going to be friends (as President Biden has indicated), then we’d better get our act together and be able to have some of this technology manufactured here in the United States.”
The BIL is structured so that a certain percentage of battery components must be manufactured in the U.S. until, eventually, every part is manufactured in the country.
“We could be very busy for the next decade or two decades putting in a lot more separator plants,” he said.
The funding will help support ENTEK’s push to build a 1.4 million-square-foot plant on 200 acres that will require 130 megawatts of power to produce 1.4 billion square meters of separator sheets for the expected rise in electric-vehicle production. That’s just a drop in the bucket for what’s needed, as Pekala figured there would be a need for as much as 10 billion square meters of separator based on the number of companies planning to build U.S.-based battery production plants in the coming years.
“It’s just mind-boggling, what we need to do this,” Pekala said. “It’s going to do five times what we do here in Lebanon.”
ENTEK’s local plant is about 1.6 million square feet and produces 200 million square meters of lead acid separators and 100 million square meters of lithium-ion separators. Locally, it employs 21 people for the lithium department and already needs another 29 on the payroll to roll out production over the next two years. More than 600 people will be employed at the new plant, which is expected to begin production in 2025.
Pekala said the new plant will likely be located somewhere east of Mississippi as it competes with other companies scrambling for the acreage, power and workforce to support the expected demand for electric car batteries.

Pekala shows a diagram of the planned 1.4 million square foot plant.

ENTEK was established in 1984, developing lead acid battery separators, which could be described in layman’s terms as a technologically advanced plastic sheet separating negative from positive plates in a car battery. In the late 1990s, the company engineered its own extruder, a machine used to make the sheets, and opened a division to sell the extruders to other companies. In 2001, it began producing separators for lithium batteries and has since acquired plants in Europe and Japan.
“The future is really about lithium,” Pekala said.
It should be noted that while electric vehicles use lithium batteries, they also employ lead acid batteries for lights, windshield wipers, ignition and other uses. That means separators for lead acid batteries will continue to be in demand.
“Going to electric vehicles means there’s a lot more separator that ENTEK has to manufacture to support the market,” Pekala said. “We are in this energy-storage market and it’s not going away. Renewal is not going away.”