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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Cobasys and A123Systems Partner to Bring Lithium Ion Batteries Into the Automotive World

[From Green Car Congress:]

Cobasys and A123Systems have signed a memorandum of understanding to enter into a partnership to develop, manufacture, sell, and service lithium-ion energy storage systems for hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) applications.

The scope of the agreement will include joint development, marketing and supply of A123Systems nanophosphate lithium batteries and Cobasys systems integration and manufacturing of battery systems for HEV markets. Cobasys manufactures NiMH batteries, and is currently the battery supplier for the GM Saturn VUE and Aura Green Line hybrids. (see earlier GCC post.)

To support customer programs in transportation markets, Cobasys will act as the tier one supplier providing the technical assistance and expertise for the design and development of battery system products including: packaging, thermal management, wiring, electronics and control algorithms.

Cobasys will help develop the requirements and specifications to meet the integration needs of customers and partners and will provide the validation testing of fully integrated lithium battery systems. A123Systems will manufacture and supply its automotive-class nanophosphate lithium ion cells and technology.

Thomas S. Neslage, Cobasys President & CEO:

"The agreement to unite Cobasys system expertise with A123Systems lithium technology further exemplifies our vision to be recognized as the world’s most admired energy storage integration solutions company."
David Vieau, A123Systems President and CEO:
"We look forward to working with Cobasys to introduce lithium ion into the automotive market. This partnership will provide the market with game changing performance to further accelerate the adoption of hybrid electric vehicles."
Cobasys designs, manufactures and integrates advanced battery system solutions for transportation markets, including Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV), Electric Vehicles (EV) and 36/42 Volt applications and to stationary markets, including Back-Up power supply systems for Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), Telecom and Distributed Generation markets. Cobasys is a joint venture between Chevron Technology Ventures LLC, a subsidiary of Chevron Corporation and Energy Conversion Devices, Inc.

In December, the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), an organization composed of DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation, awarded a $15-million battery technology development contract to A123Systems. (see earlier GCC post.) The company, which supplies li-ion packs to Black & Decker for power tools, is also working with GE Global Research, Ballard Power Systems, and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to develop a lightweight, battery-dominant zero-emissions hybrid fuel-cell bus. (see earlier GCC post.)

Two plug-in hybrid conversions companies—HyMotion (see earlier GCC post.) and Hybrids Plus (see earlier GCC post.)—also use A123Systems li-ion cells in their PHEV battery systems.

While the conspiracy theorists have run amok over at Green Car Congress (citing Cobasys's domination of the NiMH battery market and it's big oil owners), I see this as a positive development. This parternship should lead to the establishment of a more robust supply and marketing chain, help lead to the mass production of Li-ion batteries (which will in turn mean reduced costs) and begin what many see as an inevitable transition from NiMH to Li-ion batteries for automotive applications (HEVs, PHEVs and EVs).

I would bet that 2007 will see many major automakers begin to put Li-ion batteries into their hybrid vehicle designs for release in the next few model years. Other Li-ion battery manufacturers are beginning to ink deals with major auto manufacturers, and I imagine 2007 will see even more, as this trend builds. As I reported back in September, Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions (JCS) joint venture signed a letter of intent with a major vehicle manufacturer to supply lithium-ion hybrid vehicle batteries, for example.

Lithium ion batteries have had problems with safety, with cold starts and with charge times that have made them a second-choice to Nickel-Metal-Hydride (NiMH) batteries for hybrid applications, up to this point. However, A123, JCS and other Li-ion manufacturers have made significant progress in these areas and Li-ion batteries offer these inherit advantages:

  • superior power and energy densities to NiMH, and thus lighter weight;

  • lower volume-production costs (although slightly higher low volume production costs);

  • low self-discharge rate and significantly higher coulombic efficiency than NiMH (~100% for Li Ion and <66% for NiMH) - coulombic efficiency refers to the portion of energy recovered from the battery that is initially used to charge the battery (i.e., energy out divided by energy in).

  • does not suffer from the 'memory effect' (NiMH suffer from minor memory effect, although not as bad as Ni Cadmium batteries)

  • These characteristics make Li Ion batteries the presumed long-term replacement for NiMH (although carbon-nanotube ultracapacitors could give Li Ion a run for its money eventually) and it looks like the time is nearing when Li Ion batteries begin to replace NiMH for use in automotive applications.

    It's also worth noting that it seems like the large majority of hybrid and electric concept cars unveiled in the past year have featured lithium ion battery packs (see for example: the Ford Reflex hybrid, Subaru's B5-TPH hybrid and R1e urban electric car, and Mitsubishi's Concept-CT hybrid all shown at the Detroit Auto Show plus Mitsu's Concept-EZ electric vehicle, Volvo's 3CC hybrid, Nissan's planned light-weight EV, and of course the smokin' Tesla Roadster to name a few (dozen)).

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