Thursday, August 16, 2007

A123 signs direct co-development deal with GM for Volt Plug-In

A123 Systems, a Watertown, MA MIT battery start-up spun out of Materials Science Prof. Yet-Ming Chiang's lab, has signed a direct co-development deal with GM to develop batteries for the GM Chevy Volt. Previously, A123's interaction with GM on the project was through Germany's Continental Automotive Systems as a sub-contractor. (See great Tech Review article by Kevin Bullis on this here.)

The new direct relationship appears to indicate a greater belief of GM in A123's technology.

However, A123 has not yet wrapped up the GM Volt battery deal, as there is still one other battery supplier in the hunt alongside it. The other player is Compact Power (Troy, Michigan), a subsidiary of South Korean conglomerate LG Chem.

Interestingly, it appears to be a contest between LiFePO4 cathodes (A123) and LiCoO2 cathodes (Compact Power). LiFePO4 offers much higher safety in that it does not undergo thermal runaway (i.e. heat it up and it won't break down into more reactive components making more heat....) but has a lower energy density than LiCoO2.

Who will win and why?? Weigh in!!


Bradwell said...

Safety is a huge concern for the automotive industry, so I think A123 has a real advantage on this front. In either case, Li-ion batteries appear to have excellent lifespans, so they may be a marked improvement over previous electric vehicle batteries (NiMH or lead acid).

I wonder which batteries A123 will be using - their ultra-high power DeWalt batteries (for which they are most famous) are very expensive and have great power density, but only (I believe) marginal energy density.

I'm curious of why GM is jumping straight to a fully electric car - my understanding is that the plug-in hybrid vehicle is the next logical progression because you wouldn't need as many batteries are in a fully electric vehicle.

In any case, I hope someone is able to overcome safety and economic hurdles to make electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles a reality.

Daniel Enderton said...

The Volt is to be a PHEV, not a fully electric car. There is a chance that the Energy Club will be hosting the GM VP of Energy, Environment, and Safety for a lecture in late November. If so, it would be fun to ask her about the Volt!

Also, does anyone know anything about the proposed Toyota PHEV that is supposedly a Prius with an ~8 mile range?

David Danielson said...

Another interesting question is when and how we will first see Li-ion batteries introduced into the mass manufactured auto market.

Will it be in an advanced hybrid? Or will Li-ion first be deployed in a plug-in hybrid, where the energy density really matters the most.

My prediction: the likely conservative approach the automakers will take is to introduce Li-ion into just one of their standard hybrid models first to mitigate risk. Then, if they prove to work well over a few years, they will move forward with plug-ins. Li-ion, then plug-in. Not both at the same time.

A sleeper here may be Nissan. They have worked on Li-ion batteries for some time and even sold a hybrid (at a very small demonstration type of scale domestically in Japan) that used Li-ion batteries in 2000, the Nissan Tino Hybrid. They now have a new JV with NEC called "Advanced Energy Supply Corporation" that is developing Li-ion batteries based upon a LiMn2O4 cathode material. Li-ion may first come to the market through a new Nissan "Tino II" Hybrid.

Toyota is obviously the leader in hybrid autos, but their recent announcement that they will build and road test a small number of plug-in Prius's is somewhat misleading. These hybrids will be based on existing NiMH technology (which is in all hybrids currently) that has a very low energy density, ergo the 8 mi range Daniel mentions.

Will Toyota be able to make the shift first and get it into one of the next generation's of their hybrid cars, or will they go all out and make the plug-in AND the Li-ion switch simultaneously? I bet on the first.

GM is banking on Li-ion for its halo concept plug-in, the Chevy Volt, all the way. But are they serious enough to hit the plug-in market first and to hit it hard....? I sure hope so for A123's sake!

Donny said...

I think they will go with the high density batteries