Year of the lithium-ion battery

  • 12-Feb-2010 02:43 EST

Toyota' first-generation lithium-ion battery has had more than three years of field testing in Japan, North America, and Europe. The battery is now being tested in 600 Toyota Prius plug-in hybrids in a more severe charge-depleting mode.

The expiration date for nickel metal-hydride batteries may be getting closer as lithium-ion gains favor for full and partial electric vehicles.

"There is still a lot of nickel metal-hydride production capacity, and there are a lot of vehicles that use metal hydride, so it is going to be around for a while," said Dr. Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Sakti3. "But the automotive industry is going to see an inexorable march to the lower-density material."

With funding from Khosla Ventures and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Ann Arbor, MI-based Sakti3 is developing advanced solid-state rechargeable Li-ion battery technology. Sakti3, which formed two years ago, could have prototypes for others to test later this year, according to Dr. Sastry.

Last year, Dow Kokam formed as a joint venture between the Dow Chemical Co. and TK Advanced Battery LLC. During press days of January's 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the President and CEO of Dow Kokam announced the acquisition of Société de Véhicles Electriques (SVE), a company that designed, developed, and marketed Li-ion batteries and energy-management systems for electric vehicles under the Cleanova brand.

In 2012, Dow Kokam expects to begin production of Li-ion battery cells and packs from a plant being constructed in Midland, MI. According to Ravi Shanker, the company's President and CEO, Dow Kokam will have the capacity to supply as many as 40,000 electric vehicles with battery cells and packs on a yearly basis. The company has a plan for "improving not just the materials in the cell but also the production technology. We want to have a competitive advantage in all areas, and that's what we're working on," said Shanker.

Compact Power Inc. (CPI), a subsidiary of South Korea's LG Chem, has a manufacturing facility and engineering center in Troy, MI. Plans call for an additional facility—for high-volume Li-ion pack assembly—to be operational possibly in 2011 and for a battery-cell facility to be operational possibly in 2012, said Nilesh Soni, CPI Director of Manufacturing. CPI's yearly Li-ion battery production capacity in Michigan could be several million by the middle of 2013, depending on market consumption, according to Soni.

Jason Forcier, Vice President and General Manager of the Automotive Solutions Group for A123 Systems, said the Massachusetts-based battery maker is supplying Li-ion packs to BAE Systems, the hybrid system integrator for Daimler's Orion VII diesel-electric hybrid buses.

According to Forcier, more than 1500 Orion VII commuter buses have been fitted with Li-ion cylindrical battery packs, accumulating 2 million road miles a month in the U.S. and Canada. "For the last 18 months, we've been getting real-world experience with water intrusion and other events that occur during daily use," he said.

Officials at A123 recently inked a joint venture agreement with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. in China. "Our Nanophosphate Li-ion batteries will be on their first hybrid and PHEVs that they've announced for 2012," said Forcier. A123 has been manufacturing Li-ion iron-phosphate batteries in China the past four years. The first of three Michigan battery assembly facilities for A123 is scheduled to go online this year.

Dr. Christian Rosenkranz, Director of Global Business Development for Johnson Controls-Saft, said the 2010 model year Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid sedan and the 2011 model year BMW ActiveHybrid 7 sedan are the first production vehicles to use Li-ion batteries from Johnson Controls-Saft.

"The BMW ActiveHybrid 7 battery pack is a 19-kW acceleration boost system that is actively cooled with the air-conditioning system," said Dr. Rosenkranz. Composed of 35 Li-ion cylindrical cells, the 120-V battery pack is directly mounted to the A/C unit. "It's the first application of its kind," said Rosenkranz. "The benefit is a 50% weight reduction and a 40% packaging reduction in comparison to NiMH." The pack measures 14.6 x 8.7 x 9.1 in (371 x 221 x 231 mm) and weighs 59.5 lbs (27.0 kg).

Automakers are assuming a more hands-on product-development role with Li-ion batteries.

Ford Motor Co. will move assembly of Li-ion battery packs from Mexico to Michigan and is bringing the design and development of Li-ion battery system technology in-house for next-generation hybrid-electric vehicles. Nancy Gioia, Director of Global Electrification for Ford, considers battery system design and development to be a core competency for the company in the 21st century.

In January, General Motors Co. began assembling Li-ion battery packs from a plant in Brownstown Township, MI, to validate the 160,000-ft2 (15,000-m2) facility's equipment and processes. Initial battery packs will be shipped to GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant for assembly into Chevrolet Volt production-validation vehicles, as well as to GM's Global Battery Systems lab in Warren, MI, for testing.

Toyota established an advanced battery research department in 2008. According to Koei Saga, Managing Officer of Toyota Motor Corp., approximately 200 people, including engineers, work in the battery laboratory.

"We're quite confident about our Li-ion battery technology," Saga said through a translator during media days at the Detroit auto show.

Technical specialists with Toyota are currently testing approximately 600 Prius plug-in hybrid-electric cars in a global program. Jim Lentz, President of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said during media days at this year's Detroit auto show that 150 Prius vehicles are arriving in the U.S. and will be placed in regional clusters with select partners for market/consumer analysis and technical demonstration.

"The Prius PHV introduces Toyota's first-generation Li-ion drive battery," Lentz said.

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