Eager to compete with such Japanese rivals such as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. and Sony Corp., French electronics giant Alcatel SA is setting up a U.S. plant to make a new generation of ultra-thin rechargeable batteries for use in new versions of ever-smaller mobile telephones and computers. The facility in Valdese, N.C., will be operated by Alcatel's Saft subsidiary and is scheduled to move into volume production in June. The target is to produce batteries worth $50 million a year beginning in the year 2000. The technology derives from lithium-based techniques on which Alcatel has spent $200 million since the early 1990s. And the lithium-polymer batteries pack more energy into a limited space than other rechargeable batteries.