Lithium Battery Delays and Advancements

By John Addison (8/13/07). Toyota Prius enthusiasts may now be forced to wait until 2011 to order a Prius with lithium batteries. It was hoped that the shift to these batteries would give hybrids better miles per gallon and accelerate the availability of a plug-in hybrid sold and warrantied by a major auto maker.

There could be several reasons for the delay. One is that lithium batteries continue to be more expensive than the nickel metal hydride batteries that Toyota now uses. Another is concern about bad press from even a single incident of a thermal runaway. Apparently Toyota in its JV with Panasonic is developing lithium cobalt oxide battery chemistry. A similar chemistry caused some Sony laptops to catch fire.

Warranty requirements of 150,000 miles are a big hurdle, especially in a plug-in hybrid which makes far greater demands on the battery stack than a conventional hybrid.

Toyota (TM) did provide significant encouragement with the announcement that it is demonstrating ten plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and plans to follow with commercial sales. The new Toyota with its NiMH battery pack and has an all-electric range of only 13 kilometers (8 miles) and a maximum speed of only 100 km/h (62 mph) in electric-only mode. Green Car Congress

Eight of the new Toyota PHEV will be demonstrated in Japan. Two will be demonstrated in California, which may currently be the world’s biggest market for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and freeway speed electric vehicles. California ZEV Program

Toyota’s delays with lithium batteries give General Motors the opportunity to be first. GM plans to sell a 2010 model year Saturn VUE Green Line plug-in hybrid. GM is evaluating using the A123Systems’ nanophosphate batteries.

General Motors and A123Systems will co-develop cells with A123Systems’ nanophosphate battery chemistry for use in GM’s electric drive E-Flex system. The first car likely to use the E-Flex drive system is the Chevy Volt.

A123Systems has received venture capital investment exceeding $100 million. It has demonstrated volume manufacturing success in making over 10 million lithium nanophosphate batteries annually for Black and Decker power tools and other customer applications.

A123 has developed two Automotive Class Lithium Ion cells, the ultra high power AHR32113M1Ultra and the more energy dense AHR32157M1HD. These two cells, designed for HEV and PHEV applications offer extremely low cost per Watt and Watt-hour, respectively.

The AHR32113 uses the new Ultra electrode design, offering yet higher power over that seen in the traditional 26650M1. Alternatively, the 32157 uses a more energy dense electrode, geared for the higher energy requirements of the PHEV marketplace, while not sacrificing the power capability needed for charge-sustaining operation. A123 Battery Details

Altair Nanotechnologies (ALTI) claims double the power density of A123. At the start of the year, Altair issued the following: “On January 9, 2007, we entered into a multi-year purchase and supply agreement with Phoenix for lithium nanoTitanate battery packs to be used in electric vehicles produced by Phoenix. Contemporaneously, Phoenix placed firm purchase orders for 35KWh battery pack systems valued at $1,040,000 to be delivered in March and April of 2007 and placed an indicative blanket purchase order for up to 500 battery pack systems to be delivered during 2007 (projected value between $16 and $42 million).”

Phoenix Motorcars, a private company, announced an order for 200 electric trucks from PG&E, with the first two to be delivered by June. In my recent August meetings at PG&E, I was informed that they had not received the two trucks from Phoenix. Delivery is now expected in January 2008. PG&E stated that there is no order for 200.

During its August 9 investor conference call, Altair announced that Phoenix’s fund raising was not progressing as expected, and that projected 2007 shipments from Altair would not be reached. For Altair, one challenge will be progressing from impressive lab results to low-cost volume manufacturing. Altair lost over $5 million last quarter and only has $20 million in cash left.

The State of New York continues to evaluate converting at least 500 of its hybrids to plug-in hybrids. Electrovaya (TSX: EFL) has delivered a converted Ford Escape SUV Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Electrovaya uses its MN Series Lithium Ion SuperPolymer cells—a lithiated manganese oxide-based system. Electrovaya’s testing indicates 130 mpg for the converted PHEV. Green Car Congress

Recognizing that a 150,000 mile warranty is an obstacle to putting clean PHEV on the road, South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) ordered 30 more plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that are likely to achieve over 100 mpg with 50,000 mile warranties. Ten will be Toyota (TM) Priuses converted to PHEV by A123 Hymotion using A123 lithium batteries. 20 will be Ford (F) Escapes converted to PHEV by Quantum (QTWW) using Advanced Lithium Power batteries. AQMD Award

Tesla gives people the opportunity to drive battery electric vehicles (EV). Unlike the PHEV, the Tesla Roadster does not use a gasoline engine, it is pure electric. The Roadster is hot and pricy, starting at $92,000. In the future, Tesla plans to offer a more affordable 4-door sedan EV named WhiteStar. A secret to making a five-seat sedan electric vehicle for $50,000 will be lowering the cost of the battery stack. While major auto OEMs are betting on new lithium chemistry in larger form factors, Tesla integrates 6,831 commodity 18650-sized lithium-ion cells into the 56 kWh Energy Storage System (ESS) pack. The 18650 size is somewhat larger than an AA battery. The size is popular in a range of consumer electronics. Millions are made in high-volume, low cost manufacturing. Tesla Article

Although the road to clean transportation can be bumpy, in the future, we will have increasingly affordable PHEV and EV choices that allow us to use home and work electric power, saving fuel cost and lowering emissions.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Permission is granted to reproduce this article.

9 replies
  1. Shaun
    Shaun says:

    I don't mean to be rude but am confused. Yesterday Toyota denied any delays of the next generation Prius, due to an incorrect article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Is your story agreeing with the WSJ, or has Toyota denied yesterday's denial of delays, or is this a completely different delay? Thanks. Sean

  2. liveoilfree
    liveoilfree says:

    We already drive a plug-in EV with over 150,000 miles of projected battery life.This is the Toyota RAV4-EV, using Toyota-Panasonic NiMH batteries.Why is everyone ignoring proven lead-acid or NiMH??

  3. Nicholas
    Nicholas says:

    Speaking of batteries, has anyone seen a carbon emissions analysis of manufacturing batteries, especially li-ion's? It seems that we are rapidly heading down this path but I wouldn't be surprised if the manufacturing of 7k li-ion cells releases a comparable amount of CO2 to burning the 2,500 gallons of gasoline that the pack replaces.

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