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Johnson Controls SAFT Lithium Batteries

By John Addison (10/12/10)

AT&T (T), Xcel Energy (XEL), Johnson Controls (JCI), Southern California Edison (SCE), and New York Power Authority have all ordered Ford Transit Connect Electric. These pure battery-electric vans have an electric charge range of 80 miles and are a great fit for many fleet, small business, and delivery applications. Although Nissan and Chevrolet are the center of EV attention, fleets are the early adapters of new vehicles.

In the United States, fleets control some 14 million vehicles. Some fleets placed initial orders for 10 or 20 Transit Connect Electrics; bigger orders could follow in 2011. JCI has ordered 20 Transit Connect Electrics to be part of its global fleet of 19,000 vehicles.

At the heart of these compact Ford electric vans are 28 kWh lithium battery packs made by a joint venture of SAFT and Johnson Controls, #1 maker of automotive batteries, a tier 1 auto supplier, and leader in building efficiency. The other day, I interviewed Mary Ann Wright, Vice President of Global Technology and Innovation Accelerator for Johnson Controls, to better understand the future of electric vehicles and advanced batteries. Johnson Controls is one of the 100 largest corporations in the U.S., with over 60,000 employees.

Partnerships are critical to success in electric vehicles. As the world’s largest manufacturer of lead-acid batteries, Johnson Controls (JCI) works closely with its material suppliers. To accelerate development of lithium batteries, R&D and manufacturing is a joint venture of Johnson Controls – SAFT (JCS).

For speed to market, Ford has partnered with Azure Dynamics (AZD), who integrates their drive system and the Johnson Controls – SAFT (JCS) lithium batteries into the Transit Connect chassis, which is also available in gasoline and CNG versions. My test drive of the Ford Transit Connect Electric demonstrated that it is practical for many fleet applications. JCI owns over 3% of AZD.

Since 2007, Ford and Johnson Controls have worked with leading electric utilities and EPRI. In 2007, Ford announced a partnership with Southern California Edison, the electric utility with the nation’s largest and most advanced electric vehicle fleet. The partnership is designed to explore ways to make plug-in hybrids more accessible to consumers, reduce petroleum-related emissions and understand issues related to connectivity between vehicles and the electric grid. For the 3-year study, Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrids have been heavily used. It will not be until 2012, that consumers can order plug-in hybrids from Ford.

Vice President Wright told me that driving lithium battery packs down in price from industry numbers like today’s $700/kWh to a future of $200/kWh would price electric car on par with cars powered with internal combustion engines. Progress is being made at every level. Manufacturing volume will be a key driver.

The drive for cost reduction will greatly benefit consumers and fleets; cost reduction initiatives will be a mixed blessing for battery suppliers. Last year, Ford had announced that JCS would supply the lithium batteries for its 2012 Plug-in Hybrid which Clean Fleet Report forecasts will be a new Ford Focus PHEV. Now JCS will not be the supplier. Ford has decided to make its own battery packs, and have different manufacturers compete to supply the cells. JCS is the winner for the Transit Connect Electric; LG Chem’s Compact Power is the winner for the Ford Focus Electric; competition has been intense for the PHEV. It appears that Ford has selected the PHEV cell supplier, but has not yet made the announcement.

In this decade, Nancy Gioia, Director Ford Global Electrification, told me that she would like to see Ford reach $250/kWh and have hybrid and electric vehicles represent 10 to 25% of total Ford sales. Ford is making no guarantees for such an ambitious program. Ford lithium cell providers are dealing with a tough customer that could deliver high volumes and continuous improvement.

For $28 billion Johnson Controls, Ford is an important customer, but only one customer. BMW and Mercedes are already using JCS lithium batteries in hybrids. In this decade, JCI sees the biggest opportunity in advanced start-stop, mild, and full hybrid vehicles; with pure battery-electrics being a smaller opportunity. By 2025, Ms. Wright only forecasts 3% of cars being full hybrid and electric.

Look inside a hybrid car and you will see two types of batteries: advanced nickel metal or lithium batteries for the electric motor and a 12V lead-acid battery for the auxiliaries. Lead-acid batteries will continue to be used in hundreds of millions of vehicles including hybrid and those with only an ICE. Johnson Controls continues to advance lead-acid batteries with new VARTA Start-Stop technology. These new batteries are optimal for the micro hybrids now on the road in Europe in over a million cars and coming to the USA. Turning off an engine reduces fuel consumption up to 12% when a vehicle is stationary, such as red lights and rush-hour gridlock. BMW was first to use the micro hybrid approach, now Volkswagen, Audi and others are including start-stop in some models.

When I toured Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last year, advancements in both lead-acid and lithium batteries were conspicuous. JCI told me that 98% of the materials in both battery technologies are recycled. As a world leader in energy efficient buildings, Johnson Controls will have the opportunity to repurpose lithium batteries in stationary applications before materials recycling.

Improved battery technology will continue to enable vehicles to use less fuel per mile, show us bluer skies with less air pollution, and reduce our current 97% dependency on petroleum as the only way to fuel a car.

By John Addison, Publisher of the Clean Fleet Report and conference speaker. The author has no position in the stocks mentioned in this article.

USPS may buy 20,000 Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

By John Addison (2/15/10)

Most of the 220,000 U.S. Postal Service vehicles only travel 20 to 25 miles per day making them a good match with the range of an electric vehicle. Hundreds of stops make hybrids and electrics ideal for capturing braking energy and regenerating the batteries.

Instead most USPS vehicles run on gasoline, increasing our nation’s dependency on oil. The popular mid-sized delivery vans achieve about 10 mpg. The 40,000 that sometimes run on E85 ethanol do worse. The Postal Service generates over 5 million tons of CO2 per year, only 12 percent of that is from its 220,000 on-road vehicles.

A Winton electric automobile was first used by the Postal Service in 1899. It only took an hour-and-a-half to collect mail from 40 boxes, less than half the time it took the horse-powered wagon. Over the years, USPS has used a variety of hybrid and electric vehicles.

No one type of vehicle meets all delivery needs. Jets and long-haul trucks move mail across the nation and around the world. Many delivery routes demand larger delivery vans. Others are best served by smaller and lighter vehicles.

Mail is being delivered on a trial basis by three-wheel electric vehicles in Florida, California and Arizona. The T3 has a range of 40 miles, a maximum speed of 12 mph and a load capacity of 450 pounds. Powered by two rechargeable power modules, the T3 has zero gas emissions and costs 4 cents a mile to operate.

The Postal Service is testing a fourth generation fuel-cell Chevrolet Equinox. The crossover vehicle has an electric drive system, lithium batteries, and a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle to keep delivering electrons for extended range. When I visit my alma mater in Irvine, I see the Equinox used to deliver mail. The Irvine hydrogen station is used by the University, corporations, the USMC, and early personal drivers of the Honda FCX Clarity. A second fuel-cell vehicle is being tested in Washington, DC.

In New York City, the Postal Service has had 30 electric 2-ton vehicles on the street since 2001. They were recently joined in Long Island, NY, by two 2-ton hybrid electric vehicles.

The USPS uses medium-duty hybrid electric vans from Eaton Corporation (ETN) and Azure Dynamics (AZD.TO). They join the 10 existing Hybrid-Electric Ford Escape vehicles currently in the fleet.

USPS had ordered 185 Chrysler plug-in hybrid vans, but new Chrysler executives have cancelled the ENVI electric and plug-in vehicles. The electric vehicle manufacturing was cancelled even though that was part of Chrysler’s argument that it needed $20 billion of loans from the taxpayers.

Quantum (QTWW) announced on February 1 that it was selected by the US Postal Service (USPS) to produce an advanced electric postal delivery vehicle based on the widely used Long Life Vehicle (LLV) platform. Quantum is also making the hybrid-electric drive system for Fisker.

Quantum was competitively selected, along with 4 other companies, for participation in a 1 year demonstration and validation program to be conducted by the USPS for the use of electrification of the 178,000 LLV segment of the postal delivery fleet, the largest civilian fleet in the country.
The short range mail routes with numerous stops make postal delivery vehicles an ideal application for a battery electric vehicle with regenerative braking features. Under this program, Quantum will integrate its Quantum Quiet™ high efficiency battery electric drive system, into a Grumman LLV, and optimize for the 500 to 700 stops per day use of a postal delivery vehicle. UQM has received from Quantum an electric-motor and propulsion system order for the USPS electric drive system.

A bill is now being debated in Congress, HR 4399: American Electric Vehicle Manufacturing Act, that would enable the USPS to have 18,000 hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles as part of its fleet, plus at least 2,000 pure battery electric vehicles. The bill would reduce the need for dirty peaking power plants by accelerating the use of smart grid and vehicle-to-grid. The bill calls for 3,600 charging stations. The bill priorities buying of American made vehicles with American made advanced batteries. Recycling and reuse of the batteries is part of the proposed legislation. The bill calls for $2 billion of estimated spending, investment, and research.

The USPS has demonstrated zero-emission leadership for over 100 years. In sun and darkness, rain and snow, carriers walk billions of miles delivering mail and packages.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences.