I came to Detroit and its environs, the seat of America’s glorious industrial past, to see if I could get a glimpse of the future. Is the economic, social and physical deterioration that has caused so much misery in the Motor City a sign of what’s in store for larger and larger segments of the United States?
Or are there new industries waiting in the wings – some of them right here in the Detroit metropolitan area – with new jobs and bright new prospects for whole new generations of American dreamers?
I found real reason to hope when a gentleman named Stan Ovshinsky took me on a tour of a remarkably quiet and pristine manufacturing plant in Auburn Hills, which is about 30 miles north of Detroit and is home to Chrysler’s headquarters. What is being produced in the plant is potentially revolutionary. A machine about the length of a football field runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, turning out mile after mile after mile of thin, flexible solar energy material, from which solar panels can be sliced and shaped.
You want new industry in the United States, with astonishing technological advances, new mass production techniques and jobs, jobs, jobs? Try energy.
Mr. Ovshinsky knows as much or more about the development and production of alternative energy as anyone on the planet. He developed the technology and designed the production method that made it possible to produce solar material “by the mile.” When he proposed the idea years ago, based on the science of amorphous materials, which he invented, he was ridiculed.
But the thin-film photovoltaic solar panel was just one of his revolutionary ideas. He invented the nickel metal hydride battery that is in virtually all hybrid vehicles on the road today. And when I pulled into the parking lot outside his office in Bloomfield Hills, he promptly installed me in the driver’s seat of a hydrogen hybrid prototype – a car in which the gasoline tank had been replaced with a safe solid-state hydrogen storage system invented by Mr. Ovshinsky.