Jump Starting Electric Car Production With Lithium Ion Batteries  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

As electric vehicles and battery technology are one of the keys to establishing the smart grid / V2G infrastructure that will enable us to move to a completely clean energy based economy, I try to keep an eye on what is happening in the area (though it doesn't often show up in the day to day posts here). There have been a lot of encouraging reports in this area lately, so I thought I'd do a roundup of articles on lithium ion batteries and their applications.

PhysOrg has a report on developments in Lithium Ion batteries - "German battery could jump-start electric car production".

For years, battery-powered cars have been hampered by technological hurdles, with researchers seeking to resolve problems of weight, autonomy and ways of recharging vehicles quickly and easily. Recent progress towards lighter and more powerful batteries has been made however, in particular by groups like the Japanese car maker Toyota with its hybrid vehicles, and high-tech firms in France.

Germans were said to be plodding along behind, but batteries made by the a firm called Li-Tec "take up 30 percent less volume than those from Toyota" and "allow you to go three times further for the same weight than French models," said Tim Schaefer, a director of the company in eastern Kamenz. "The foundations have now been laid" for the building of electric cars that also deliver performance, he added. A spokesman for the German tool and auto parts company Bosch said: "It's a step towards totally electric cars."

Housed in a stylish rectangular silver pouch, the "Separion" consists of two lithium electrodes in an electrolyte, or liquid conductor. What differentiates it from similar batteries is that the electrodes are separated by a flexible ceramic membrane that provides greater thermal stability, according to the German group.

Engadget has a report on new "Super Li-ion" batteries from Toshiba - "Toshiba launching SCiB batteries in March: 5 min charge, 10 year lifespan".
How does this sound: a battery capable of recharging to 90% in under 5 minutes while remaining useful (i.e., 5,000+ recharges) for 10 years or more? Sounds like the stuff of jetpacks and food replicators right? Nope... March, 2008. It was a long, long time ago when we first brought you news of these so-called "Super Li-ion" batteries. In March of 2005 to be exact. Now they're here, courtesy of Toshiba who just announced their Super Charge ion Batteries, or SCiBs. The wee 2.4V version measures 62 x 95 x 13-mm / 150-grams while the big, bad 24V version measures in at 100 x 300 x 45-mm and 2000-grams. Oh, and they won't short-circuit and explode. The problem? The first production run is for industrial-use (non-CE) class devices like hybrid cars and the like. Oh pretty please Toshiba, with sugar, won't you make a laptop version?

Actually it might be a good thing if we get the electric car / V2G world (which requires batteries that can be recharged again and again over a period of years) working before we worry too much about improving our laptop batteries - but it is nice to have some synergies between the two market segments.

Jim at The Energy Blog also has some comments on the Toshiba SCiB battery.
Toshiba Corporation has announced the commercial launch of the SCiB the Super Charge ion Battery a breakthrough rechargeable battery primarily targeting the industrial systems market that can recharge to 90% of full capacity in less than five minutes. The battery offers excellent safety and a long-life cycle of over 10 years, even under conditions of constant rapid charging. Toshiba aims to make this high potential battery a mainstay of its industrial systems and automotive products businesses, with global sales of 100 billion yen targeted for fiscal year 2015. The first SCiB will be shipped from March 2008.

With the SCiB Toshiba has progressed beyond the breakthrough in fast recharging lithium-ion technology that it announced in March 2005. In order to realize the outstanding characteristics of the SCiB, Toshiba adopted a new negative electrode material, new separators, a new electrolyte, and new manufacturing technology. The result is a highly reliable rechargeable battery with well-balanced performance, offering excellent safety, a long-life cycle and a rapid charge-discharge capability.

The Energy Blog has a post on Ener-1's Lithium ion batteries - "Lithium-ion Batteries in Think Vehicles by End of '08".
From a Dec. 12 press release: Enerdel_battery
"We have already announced a commercial contract with Think Electric Vehicle in Norway," Charles Gassenheimer, chairman of Ener1, Inc. (OTCBB: ENEI) added, referring to a $70 million development and supply agreement signed in October. "It's the largest electric vehicle company in Europe. You will see our batteries in their cars by the end of 2008." the Ener1 chairman told interviewer Alexis Glick.

A previous post reported that EnerDel says it will come out with a lithium-ion battery for plug-in hybrids that will cost $1,500. Also in that post is a description of their technology. This presentation (a lot of rhetoric) indicates that one $1,500 battery is equivalent to the $4000 NiMH battery currently used in hybrid vehicles, at half the size and 35% of the weight.

And one more from The Energy Blog (lithium ion batteries seem to be hot this week) on another Japanese intiative in this area - "Lithium Energy Japan Established to Produce Lithium-ion Batteries".
GS Yuasa Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation, and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation announced that, effective December 12, they have formed the joint venture company "Lithium Energy Japan" to produce large capacity and high performance lithium-ion batteries. The companies have been in collaboration since last May to set up this joint venture company.

GS Yuasa possesses advanced technologies in large lithium-ion batteries and is striving to broaden their applications. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Corporation intends to enter the battery manufacturing business and aims to create other related businesses as well. Finally, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation is working to promote greater use of electric vehicles, which is the ultimate in environmentally-friendly automobiles. Through their mutual interests, the three companies have come together to invest in this new joint venture. Their intent is to apply their comprehensive strengths in vertical value chains and take advantage of their powerful synergy to advance this business.

Commercialization of these batteries began in the mid-to-late 1990s by GS Yuasa. The batteries that will be produced by the new company are based on the "LIM series" of Large Lithium-ion batteries manufactured by GS Yuasa with improved cell-structure and electrode materials to improve the energy density and power density of the new batteries.

Through the development, production, and sales of these batteries, the new company will demonstrate how environmental technologies can be incorporated into society and accelerate the use of these technologies as well, including electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, and energy recycling systems.

BusinessWeek has an article on a "Zero Emission Car From VW"
VW's "space up!" blue fuel cell concept combines an electric motor, lithium-ion batteries and a solar panel to get a range of 65 miles.

The zero emissions space up! blue is the third in Volkswagen's up! concept range currently being showcased in a global tour of major auto industry events. Like the space up!, the "blue" is a micro-van designed to provide the carrying capacity of a larger vehicle, but what separates the new variant is the powerplant -- a rear-mounted, all-electric 45 kW (61 PS) motor utilizes the world's first high temperature fuel cell and twelve lithium-ion batteries plus there's a large solar panel on the roof that feeds up to 150 Watts of extra energy into the battery.

When charged via an electrical outlet the space up! blue has a range of 65 miles -- more than adequate for most urban commuters -- but the use of the high-temperature fuel cell (HT-FC) boosts the range by a further 155 miles. According to Volkswagen the new HT-FC system represents offers important advantages compared to all other fuel cell systems: including lower weight, greater everyday utility and lower cost.

The space up! blue has a length of 144.9 inches and weighs 1,090 kilograms including the fuel cell and batteries. The high temperature fuel cell is located at the front of the car with the bank of lithium-ion batteries positioned under the rear seat near the motor.

EarthTimes has a look at a number of these trends in "Progress in battery research fuels hopes of clean-drive revolution".
Researchers have recently made rapid progress in battery drive systems fuelling hopes that clean-drive, electric vehicles will soon be an everyday reality. Several car makers have presented electrically-driven concept cars at this year's big car shows, offering a range thought impossible only a few years ago.

Conventional combustion engines produce mainly heat and use only a small part of their energy to actually move the vehicle, emitting pollutants such as carbon dioxide which has led eco-activists to lambast the motor car as a "climate killer".

Electric drive as used in trains with overhead cables has an energy efficiency of almost 100 per cent, transferring energy directly. But all attempts in the past at using electric-drive technology in cars failed because of poor battery capacity and weight which produced a range of hardly 50 kilometres.

Volkswagen has now claimed "a clean drive revolution" by presenting the four-seater Space Up! blue concept car at the Los Angeles Motor Show fitted with the world's first, new high- temperature fuel cell (HT-FC) together with an array of 12 lithium- ion batteries. When driven exclusively by battery the vehicle has a range of 100 kilometres. The range is extended by another 350 kilometres when energy is "refuelled" via an electric outlet or by the high temperature cell.

Honda also unveiled in Los Angeles its zero-emission FCX Clarity which is to be delivered to a limited number of people in southern California in 2008. Hydrogen in a tank combines with atmospheric oxygen in the fuel cell stack where energy is converted into electric power to propel the vehicle. Honda puts the top speed at 160 km/h with a range of 430 kilometres with the lithium-ion battery pack some 40 per cent lighter and 50 per cent smaller than the current generation available. Each car costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and will be leased only to individual clients.

The high cost remains one of the big obstacles to the lithium-ion battery technology, currently estimated at around 1,500 dollars per kilowatt hour. Toyota also postponed the market launch of the lithium-ion battery driven Prius hybrid to a period after 2010 because of overheating and safety concerns. But lithium-ion batteries are already widely used in laptops and cell phones. However, using them in vehicles requires more power and the elimination of all safety concerns such as overheating.

Volkswagen's Dr Juergen Leohold, head of the company's research department, however believes that the high performance lithium-ion battery "is a key technology" to clean energy drive of the future. Volkswagen is part of an alliance of German companies that is racing against their Japanese competitors to perfect lithium-ion batteries. The companies including BASF, Bosch, Li-Tec and the Federal Ministry of Education and Development are investing 360 million euros (529 million dollars) in the project aimed at accelerating the lithium-ion for mass production.

Mass production would lower costs substantially. At current electricity prices, a distance of 100 kilometres would only cost a fraction of a comparable petrol or diesel-driven car.

Researchers are also confident of solving the overheating problem. The eastern German battery manufacturer Li-Tec says it is working on flexible ceramic "separator" membranes that can withstand heat of 450 degrees Celsius, replacing the aluminium foils currently used that are prone to melting at temperatures of around 140 degrees Celsius.

Green Chip Stocks has an interesting article on "The World's First All Electric Delivery Truck" which outlines the case for delivery trucks being a the first wave for widespread electric vehicle adoption.
After having taken a week off to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family back in Tallahassee, I couldn't muster the strength to make it out to Anaheim for the annual Electric Vehicle Symposium. And I'm sorry I didn't . . . not because Baltimore right now is a frigid ice box with all the charm of a meat locker, but because a very promising company called Smith Electric Vehicles laid out its proposal for cornering the delivery truck market in the U.S.

Echoing Roger Slotkins , ex-CEO of Odyne Corporation, Kevin Harkin, Sales Director for Smith Electric Vehicles, said, "Automotive manufacturers are telling us that the technology for mass-produced electric cars is some years away. But the larger sized commercial vehicle--and the truck in particular--is perfectly suited to electric technology that is available today."

While I think the automotive manufacturers are full of it on that one--as I'm sure my regular readers know--Mr. Harkin is right about electric vehicle technology being a perfect match for delivery fleets.

The greatest problem with electric vehicles is the issue of range. The average driver only clocks about 30 to 40 miles per day and most electric cars can do double or triple that distance. It's difficult, though, to convince most drivers that their life won't turn into some Steven Spielberg production where they have to cross the Rockies to combat invading Russkies.

But delivery fleets, with planned routes and depot-based facilities that allow easy recharging, are a perfect fit, because, quite frankly, they have no grand illusions of a greater purpose. They need to deliver packages, and cut costs.

Seeing this opportunity, Smith Electric Vehicles has announced that it plans on opening a major U.S. production facility that should churn out 10,000 vehicles a year by 2010. And that's just the beginning, because according to initial research done by the company, there is an addressable market of around 200,000 units a year, and that's in the U.S.A. alone.

The truck Smith Electric Vehicles was showing at EVS 23 was the Newton, the world's largest all-electric truck. It is already a household name in Europe, providing mobility for companies like Starbucks, DHL, TK Maxx, Marks & Spencer and government fleets like Britain's Royal Mail. Weighing in at a bit over 24,000 lbs., the Newton has a max speed of 50 mph but can get to 30 faster than an equivalent diesel-powered model.

With a full load of juice in an ISE Corporation Zebra battery pack (marketed by a Swiss company called MES-DEA), the Newton can travel routes up to 150 miles with a payload of 15,800 lbs. before needing to be hooked back to the grid.

Links:
* MSNBC - Breakthrough battery from Toshiba could boost electric cars
* Chemical Online - Exxonmobil Chemical Introduces Tailored Battery Separator Films To Improve Performance Of Lithium-Ion Batteries In Next Generation Hybrid And Electric Vehicles
* EV World - GM Stands By Viability of Plug-In Hybrids in Europe
* NZ Herald - Big boys give green light to eco-motors
* Boston.com - eGO Vehicles: Born to be mild
* Financial Times - Lithium-ion battery production rises on demand

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