There are a lot of startup lithium battery companies, and it’s always nice to know that a well known (and respected) company is also involved. Several months ago just such a company, IBM, announced the results of preliminary research that may lead to a car battery with a 500 mile range. Everybody knows IBM makes computers and software, but batteries? IBM’s announcement was about lithium air batteries. The concept of lithium air batteries is not new, but IBM researchers have had promising results in the lab. Lithium ion batteries have an energy density in the order of 100 Whr/kg. A lithium air batter would have energy densities ranging from 1500 Whr/kg to 2000 Whr/kg. The lithium air battery would allow an electric car to have a range of 500 miles or more. In a lithium air battery, air reacts with lithium to produce electricity. When the battery is recharged, the air is released and the lithium returns to the anode. There are many problems to overcome, but IBM researchers are encourage by the results achieved so far. IBM’s goal is to have a working prototype in 3 years. If the prototype battery is successful in the that time frame, IBM envisions that we could see production batteries in the 2020 to 2030 time frame. This is not just any company, it’s IBM, so we should all feel optimistic about the future of electric cars as the replacement for gasoline engines. If (should I say when) research is successful, IBM will probably not manufacture the batteries, but license the technology to others.
The last time IBM was in the popular news was when Watson beat former champs on the quiz show Jeopardy. It’s good to know that despite the demise of Bell Labs, there are still a few American companies doing basic research.
This past week BMW announced a partnership agreement with Toyota to conduct joint research and development on fuel cell vehicles. Late in 2011, Mercedes shipped a limited number of Mercedes-Benz B-class cars to consumers. In fact, Mercedes seems to be putting most of their eggs in the fuel cell basket ,as opposed to the lithium-ion battery basket. The thinking seems to be that only fuel cells will allow them to continue to produce a car with the traditional characteristics of a Mercedes. Again, this brings up the debate of fuel cell vs. lithium-ion battery. It seems to me that there is room for both as power sources for future electric cars. This is not either/or , this is a both situation. Lithium-ion batteries or some derivative will prove to be ideal as power sources in cars used for short and medium distances, while fuel cells will hold the upper hand in cars used for long distance travel. The use of hydrogen fuel cells solves another problem too – how to store the excess electricity produced by a solar or wind power plant. Why not use any excess electricity generated by these renewable power sources to produce hydrogen?
Whether fuel cells or lithium-ion batteries are used, the driving power of future cars and trucks will be an electric motor.
Lithium Ion battery manufacturer A123 Systems has been in the news the past several months for the wrong reason. Several months ago a Fisker Karma EVER (Extended Range Electric Vehicle) being tested by Consumer Reports, stopped dead in its tracks. Talking about bad timing – it couldn’t get much worst! The cause of this sudden demise was the lithium ion battery in the Karma. It turned out that the battery was manufactured by A123 Systems. Even worst, the fault in the battery was traced to a faulty calibration on a machine in A123’s newly opened manufacturing plant in Michigan. The end result was that A123 has to replaced all batteries shipped to Fisker at A123’s expense. The cost totals some $50 million dollars. This really hurts because A123 is a startup company struggling to make a profit.
Well, this past week there was good news. A123 Systems announced the introduction of Nanophospate EXT, a new lithium ion battery technology capable of operating at extreme temperatures without requiring heating or cooling. This will allow electric vehicle manufacturers to greatly reduce or eliminate temperature control systems for their electric vehicles. You can read the details here – http://www.a123systems.com/ .
In addition to the Fisker Karma, A123 will supply the batteries for the Chevy Spark EV to be introduced in 2013, the Cadillac ELR EVER in late 2013, and the Fisker Atlantic EVER in 2014. As a share holder in A123 Systems, and an advocate of American technology, I believe that it is a company with great technology, and, with time, it will be a great American success story.