Among the host of lithium-ion battery makers seeking Department of Energy stimulus grants to help build batteries to move cars down the road, Quallion may stand out in asking for money to make batteries for trucks when they're standing still.

The Sylmar, Calif.-based lithium-ion battery maker is seeking up to $200 million to help build a $220 million factory in Palmdale, Calif.. to make batteries to help keep big rigs powered when they're parked.

That's a different approach than that of other companies seeking grants from DOE's Electric Drive Vehicle Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative, part of the stimulus package signed into law in February.

Competitors for those grants include Valence Technology, Boston Power, Planar Energy Devices, General Electric and Chrysler (see Boston Power Angles for $100M Federal Grant and Valence Seeks DOE Stimulus Grant For Battery Factory).

But Paul Beach, Quallion's president, sees the "anti-idling" market as a good place to start in the electric transportation field.

Truckers tend to spend nights sleeping in their trucks, using power for heating, cooling, lights and other needs, Beach explained. Most keep their diesel engines run at idle to keep their truck batteries from being drained.

That engine idling uses about 960 million gallons of diesel per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency – and it's the target of legal prohibitions in about half the states in the country, Beach said.

And while Toyota and General Motors have yet to put a lithium-ion battery-powered car on the market (though both are promising them in the next year or so), there are about a million big rigs that could use a retrofit, as well as about 200,000 a year being built, he said.

"It's our Trojan horse" approach, he said – "get into the game with anti-idling... and then, as the plug-in hybrid market comes online – if it comes online – we're prepared and engaged to produce."

Firefly Energy, which makes advanced lead-acid batteries, is also targeting the truck idling market. A similar but slightly different tack being taken by lead carbon battery maker Axion is to supply batteries for the so-called "micro-hybrid" vehicles, which use their batteries to allow their engines to shut down at standstill (see Axion's Lead Carbon Batteries: Sweet Spot for Micro-Hybrid Vehicles?).

Quallion isn't a startup – it's been making lithium-ion batteries for medical device, aerospace and military applications for years. Beach said it brings a lot of proprietary technology to the table, including the ability to completely discharge batteries without overly negative effects on cycle life, as well as safety designs to forestall the potential for the volatile materials within to burst into flame.

Some of the battery products Quallion makes for military vehicles are already suited for the truck anti-idling purpose, he said. Quallion is talking with major truck manufacturers about the anti-idling battery as a concept, though he wouldn't disclose which ones.

Quallion still intends to build the factory even if the DOE doesn't help out with a grant, he said. But the proposed 2012 opening date for the factory – aimed at an annual production of 20,000 batteries or so – would likely have to be pushed back if the grants don't come through, he said.

Tags: a123, axion, boston power, firefly, lg chem, quallion, valence