A123's Lithium Ion Batteries

If the Tesla Roadster is being powered with 6,831 laptop batteries, the Chevy “Volt” may end up running on Black & Decker power tool batteries. That’s not quite accurate, but in both cases, a lithium ion battery with a proven track record in other consumer applications is finding its way into the next generation of electric cars.

Ed Bednarcik
Ed Benarcik
VP Pack & Systems Business
A123 Systems

Only a couple of months ago, on January 5th, 2007, two days before General Motor’s historic announcement that they intend to produce a series hybrid (or “E-Flex”) electric car, GM announced their choices for suppliers for the advanced battery systems these cars would use. One of their choices was A123 Systems, who had already cornered the market in powertool batteries. For three years now A123 has been supplying market-leader Black & Decker with 36 volt, 3000 watt lithium ion batteries that provide more power than you can get from a standard wall socket.

When I asked Ed Bednarcik, A123′s general manager of battery systems, about the company’s current products, he provided an interesting example of just how much energy is packed into these new lithium ion batteries. “Black & Decker’s old batteries had been designed to act as a counterweight to the motor on most of their power tools, but when we built our batteries, even at much greater capacity than the ones they had been using, they had to redesign the tools because our batteries didn’t weigh enough.”

Underweight battery-packs isn’t likely to become a problem in battery-powered automobiles, no matter how advanced these batteries get. But the new lithium ion batteries being developed by A123 Systems hold over triple the energy per unit of weight than lead acid batteries, and nearly double the energy per weight of the newer nickel metal hydride batteries. With this leap forward, a battery powered car, or a car that can run exclusively on batteries for most of its duty cycles before relying on a conventional gasoline or diesel engine, is finally possible.

Lithium ion batteries also hold great promise because they are now being designed – unlike many of the older laptop versions – so they won’t overheat, won’t release toxic gas or fluids in a crash, are heat and cold tolerant, and can last up to 100,000 cycles of charge and discharge. Also very important, lithium ion batteries are able to discharge at a wide range of rates, allowing the battery to provide surge power for acceleration as well as a sustained discharge at lower levels for normal driving. Lithium ion batteries, once manufacturing is scaled up, also will cost significantly less than the nickel metal hydride batteries in use on hybrids today.

“Today there are many lithium ion chemistries,” said Bednarcik, “eventually the industry will downselect to a few core materials.” In the meantime, competing with A123 to supply the automotive industry are Johnson Controls, Altair Nanotechnologies, Valence Technologies, Sanyo, Sony, Hitachi, and many others.

Whether or not the auto industry selects A123′s specific chemistry as these pioneering lithium ion batteries eventually become a commodity is anybody’s guess, but with a well-established market already established in power tools and the recent partnership with General Motors, they are certainly in the running.

A123 Systems currently has revenue of about $35 million per year, mostly through sales of lithium ion batteries for power tools, and they expect to be profitable in the second half of 2007. They are privately held, based in Watertown, Massachusetts, and they have 250 employees in the US, China, Taiwan and South Korea. They have raised just over $102 million in investment funding to-date.

Categorized | Cars, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Other
11 Responses to “A123's Lithium Ion Batteries”
  1. Doug Korthof says:

    The only problem is that “cobasys”, or Chevron, is “teamed” with A123. Cobasys is supposed to do the “system integration”, but there’s no indication that Chevron knows anything whatever about batteries.

    This is a caution and a red flag, why involve Cobasys-Chevron, which already sequestered and removed NiMH batteries from plug-in cars.

    “…January 3, 2007 Cobasys and A123Systems announced today that they have signed a memorandum of understanding to enter into a partnership to develop, manufacture, sell, and service lithium-ion energy storage systems for hybrid…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 will act as the tier one supplier…Cobasys will help develop the requirements and specifications to meet the integration needs…and will provide the validation testing of fully integrated lithium battery systems….”

  2. kent beuchert says:

    I see that Doug Korthof has made his usual appearance, which is always to pump up NiMH batteries, considered by none except Doug as worthy of anything other than for use in mild hybrids. Now he’s attacking the developers of viable next generation batteries, implying
    that Chevron (an oil company!!) will somehow, thru its economic ties to Cobasys will do something sinister. He claims Chevron has sequestered and removed NiMH from plug-ins. Aside from the fact that no company involved in either plug-in or all-electric would ever consider NiMH batteries, which fail to meet GM and others requirements in terms of weight, power, cost and recharge times by more than 50%.
    Chevron can hardly be accused of sequestering a product that no one wants. This poster, Doug Korthof has been told by the VOLT development team to quit
    sending his perstering emails to them extoling the non-existent virtues of NiMH batteries. GM knows all about those batteries – they used them in their EV1 and proved that they cannot produce a viable electric car.

  3. ComeOn says:

    Kent, I don’t see in Dougs comment where he’s pushing NiMH. It seemed that Toyota thought the batteries were useful in the Rav vehicles until Chevron restricted the types of applications the NiMH patents could be used for.

    It doesn’t make any sense to me why an oil company would want battery patients and just sit on them, unless that’s the idea, to restrict their use from electric cars.

    GM says NiMH doesn’t meet requirements. Why should I believe GM? GM sold the patients to the oil company. Do some searches on the web about GM firestone and standard oil for some clues about GMs history. Toyota sold their Rav vehicles, GM leased the EV1s and demanded their return and ultimate destruction. Is GM tying to hide the evidence the car was pretty good with NiMH and would be a lot better today if someone would put Lithium batteries in it? We’ll never know because they destroyed the vehicles. How convenient. To get a general idea of what GM was doing with the EV1, watch the film “Who Killed the Electric Car”. Very mysterious how all development just stops.

    Why shouldn’t I be concerned with an oil company (Chevron) involved when the production of a plug-in electric car directly threatens the petroleum industry. Why wouldn’t I expect the oil companies to try and block that from ever happening.

    I would suspect that you, Kent have your own agenda and it isn’t in favor of plug-in electric cars.

  4. Dan Petit says:

    Having helped with the Austin EV Club when its members got together to help replace the nearly ONE TON (1900 lbs of lead) in lead-acid 8 volt (times 39 of them) sealed batteries from a 1998 (all) Electric Ford Ranger, (which is, for how it was designed and built), and extremely superb work of engineering.
    HOWEVER, the batteries lasted about 4 years before the final downward wear curve of range.
    It is extremely difficult to change out or replace with modifications, all those very heavy lead batteries, and it is not at all nor ever will be cost efficient to change out that many batteries from anything. Even if the batteries weighed only 700 pounds in Nickel metal hydride, it would not be cost effective as nickel metal hydride batteries would weigh. As an ASE Certified L-1 Advanced (ICE) educator, I would carefully estimate that to replace nickel metal hydride batteries equivalent to maintain Ford’s EV standards for that vehicle would be a cost prohibitive, parts and labor, of about $9,700. No one can afford those sorts of economics. If Nickel Metal Hydride was the way to go with anything, probably all manner of city, state, and federal agencies would have put out contracts for anyone to build EV’s.
    With all the bad news we have been getting about the environment, I see both the A123Systems Technology, as well as Wind Generation (for overnight recharges) as well as the apparent advancements in Solar, as the very brightest and optimistic spots for our environmental futures!
    Supply-chain companies will need to “earn the earnings which they will undoubtedly deserve” instead of our cash going overseas with each gallon of gas. We must not hold onto the battery impracticalities of the past, as we would be poisoning our own wells. The future really is very bright for us technologically, but we must be careful about the quality of first generation designs. OEM’s just could not in good conscience keep putting out something that would have a replacement bill of nearly ten thousand dollars in Nickel metal hydride, economy of scale included, that’s why the vehicles were leased and not sold. The vehicles were the experimental experience they all needed. But now, this time, it is most certainly different, and I’m really optimistic about it all.
    Dan Petit, ASE CERTIFIED L-1 Advanced Engine Educator.

  5. David S says:

    I understand Doug Korthof’s concerns although I don’t believe his concerns are warrented at this time. I doubt anyone can stand in the way of an EV anymore, this doesn’t mean people will not try regardless. I’m sure there will have to be tradeoffs to other inductries to ensure the Volt doesn’t start putting Jiffylube or Pepboys out of business.

    From what I have read; there are thousands of possible chemical recipes for lithium ion batteries that it would not be possible to be blocked. Perhaps I’m being optimistic, time will tell.

    Just so long as I won’t need to run Windows in the new Volt I won’t mind what it runs on.

  6. Dan Petit says:

    As less and less of both our discretionary as well as “fuel” money goes overseas to pay for petroleum, there will remain more and more of it here.
    (Good warnings for those whom need to stop their struggles with one another and heed the call to peacefully rebuild everything starting immediately).
    While the economics of plug-ins would be a very gradual trend as about a 7 percent change per year in reductions in petroleum use, (my estimate), there is plenty of time for investors in petroleum to gradually have their investments gradually-well-placed elsewhere, especially since there will be an explosion of high efficiency just-about-everything environmental.
    Therefore, I think that there ought not to be fear by and from any folks whom are heavily invested in the petroleum sectors, as sometimes I have seen signs of that. Wise investing will have plenty of time to move over to the ecological economy as recommended by all those highly trained investment consultants in all the well-reputed investment firms. I really doubt anyone is going to be “left-behind” unless it is someone who refuses to be open-minded to the great investment opportunities coming.
    While it is impossible for me to say which, never the less, they will come about.
    Dan Petit.

  7. Dan Petit says:

    In reading the various stories about the breakthrough, between a charge and discharge cycles, (including cycles describing a 100% depth of discharge) as I understand the proven figure is 1,000 at a 95% retention of capacity, and, the ultra-high end range of 100,000 charge-discharge cycles at whatever useful depth of discharge, here is my question:
    If, during a 30 year mortgage for a house, a battery system which is rated at, say, 30,000 cycles of 80 percent depth of discharge to store enough renewable power for 2 or 3 days of home energy usage (constructing a home which is ultra-efficient), then, if the breakthrough is good enough to power an auto, why would it not be good enough to store energy from Wind Generation overnight (for a properly-designed array), and let us forget the dependence on fossil?

  8. Glen says:

    I wouldn’t put it past Chevron to sit on EV battery patents. And I don’t think the American automakers are particularly interested in making an all electric vehicle. I find it concerning that the DOE has given the USABC 14 million dollars in research money when the USABC is made up of GM, Ford, and Chrystler. The electric car was killed once by the USABC, and there is something fishy here that none of the big three automakers seem to be interested in Altairnano’s battery that is already tested and in cars now! I hope small electric car companies kicks Detroit’s butt’s, cause Detroit has nobody to blame for their poor performance but themselves.

  9. Doug Korthof says:

    Revisting this in Jan., 2009: GM has chosen LG-CP Lithium, the same choice made by Tesla, that pioneered by http://ACPropulsion.com

    So, in effect, A123, promising as it is, was rejected in favor of standard Lithium, which have a shelf-life as well as a cycle-life issue.

    Ironically, the 16 kWh of Lithium needed for the VOLT, weighing 400 lbs., only yield 8 kWh of useable energy; whereas the 30 kWh on NiMH weighing 1000 lbs. in the Toyota RAV4-EV are all useable.

    Lithium battery SOC range has to be restricted because of BMS and other issues, while NiMh does not.

    That’s an energy density, in effect, of 50% more for NiMH than for Lithium!!

    Or, looking at it another way, 16 kWh of Lithium gets you only 40 miles, while 30 kWh of NiMH gets you 120 miles.

    The Toyota RAV4-EV, last sold in Nov., 2002, is still getting that range after 100K miles.

  10. Doug Korthof says:

    ecoworld, another crap-filled GM propaganda site.

  11. Doug: Vielleicht GM hat eine gut conzept mit der Volt, und das ist genug Grund fur eine Bericht. Und warum haben Sie nicht die anderen mehr als tausend Berichtungen von ecoworld gelesen? Im jeden fall, A123 ist nicht die einzige Strom fur GM mit die E-Flex platform.


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