Today I had the opportunity to catch up with Alan Gotcher, CEO of Altair Nanotechnologies. This Nevada-based company has even begun to excite their competitors. For example, last month at a GM-hosted battery technology briefing for journalists, I asked some of the battery engineers from other manufacturers of lithium ion batteries about Altair Nano, and their design got favorable comments.
|Scanning electron microscope image
of Altair-Nano’s nano-titanate material
Photo: Altair Nanotechnologies
According to Gotcher, Altair Nano’s particular lithium ion battery chemistry “has a nice balance between surge power and high energy storage.” This is the problem that has, apparently, kept the nickel metal hydride batteries from getting the nod for next generation electric cars.
Some of Gotcher’s claims are really extraordinary to those of us who have had our eyes on the rapidly evolving market for high-capacity, practical batteries for automobiles. Here are a few: “The battery can operate in temperatures ranging from a low of -50 (farenheit) to a high of +165.” “The product appears to have a 15 year life.” “The battery has a rapid recharge, less than 10 minutes.”
Regarding this high recharge rate, Gotcher stated such a speed would not happen via any old residential wall socket – it would take a 480 volt circuit at around 2-300 amps. Nonetheless, this is not an unthinkable amount of juice to offer at a commercial filling station, and home rechargers could simply work more slowly during overnight garage storage.
Gotcher noted his company is working with a number of automakers, including major automakers who are planning all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. He was not at liberty to disclose the names of most of them. The company everyone’s watching that uses Altair Nano’s batteries is Phoenix Motorcars, based in Ontario, California.
Phoenix already has six or seven prototype electric cars on the road, according to Gotcher, “not including the ones they’ve crash tested.” He stated the typical battery pack unit they are shipping for automotive use is rated at 35 kilowatt-hours, which translates to a 135 mile range for a full sized, all electric car.
“From our perspective the Phoenix guys are doing a very good job of staying on their plan,” said Gotcher. On the all-important issue of price, Gotcher summed it up as follows:
“Once we get all-electric car manufacturing occuring in volumes of over 10,000 cars per year, the total drivetrain cost for an all-electric car, including batteries, should be within 20-50% more expensive than the drivetrain cost for a conventional gasoline-powered car.” This would actually, depending on which percentage you choose, make these cars cheaper than today’s hybrids.
Clearly the lithium ion folks are worth keeping an eye on.