Lithium-ion power for commercial trucks

  • 23-Jan-2009 12:20 EST
hybrid chassis - 2.JPG
Azure Dynamics' Balance Hybrid Drive System is integrated on a Ford E450 stripped chassis.

Delivery vehicles and shuttle buses will use hybrid-electric powertrains that rely on lithium-ion batteries assembled at a U.S. facility.

Johnson Controls-Saft (a joint-venture company) and Azure Dynamics Corp. recently signed a five-year agreement that has Johnson Controls-Saft providing an advanced 345-V battery system to Azure's North American commercial truck fleet.

The deal signals a major shift toward establishing an infrastructure for batteries in the U.S. "Today, nearly all batteries for hybrid-electric vehicles are manufactured offshore. The domestic supply base for most components of the electrified powertrain—the battery, electronics, electric motor, and regenerative braking—is challenged with a majority of the components being developed and supplied from Asia and Europe," said Alex Molinaroli, President of Johnson Controls Power Solutions business.

A full-parallel hybrid-electric powertrain, installed on a Ford Motor Co. E-Series chassis by Utilimaster at an Indiana facility, is the crux of every hybrid-electric Azure commercial truck. Since 2008, Azure's commercial truck fleets have used a nickel metal-hydride battery system.

"When we launch the second generation of the hybrid system, there will be hybrid-electric upgrades—including new technology on the front-end accessory drive that will allow the control of auxiliary systems at engine off—as well as a switch to lithium-ion batteries. Development vehicles with a lithium-ion battery system will be on the road sometime in 2009. Full production of the next-generation Azure hybrid-electric commercial truck fleet starts in 2010," said Ron Iacobelli, Chief Technology Officer for Azure Dynamics.

Several companies are involved in supplying the hybrid powertrain, including the energy storage system. "Because the system is in production right now, we do have sources. As the system develops and changes and it requires new suppliers, we will go out and find those suppliers," said Rick Rhoades, Director of Purchasing and Supply Chain for Azure.

Although Johnson Controls-Saft is currently ramping up production of lithium-ion batteries for passenger vehicles (the current hybrid version of the Mercedes S-Class and the future hybrid BMW 7 Series) in Nersac, France, America will be the sourcing point for the Azure commercial vehicles contract.

"The complete battery systems, including electronics, electrical, and mechanical components, will be assembled at the Johnson Controls-Saft facility in Milwaukee, WI," said Mary Ann Wright, Vice President and General Manager of Hybrid Systems for Johnson Controls and the CEO of the Johnson Controls-Saft joint venture.

The operational activities at the 57,600-ft2 (5350-m2) Johnson Controls-Saft battery research and development center will move beyond cell design, system engineering, and testing once tooling and equipment is installed to support the production needs associated with assembling possibly thousands of the lithium-ion battery systems. "This is a significant project for us," said Wright.

Azure's commercial hybrid-electric-vehicle customers include AT&T, Con Edison, FedEx, and Purolator Couriers. "We think there's an opportunity to get a much more significant percentage of adoption in the commercial-vehicle ranks since the return on investment is much quicker because of higher annual mileage tallies than what is presently the case for passenger cars," said Iacobelli.

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