Posts Tagged ‘Batteries’

A Battery of Questions

November 24th, 2009 Comments off

cell photoI often think I know more about things than I really do. And one thing I think I know a lot about is batteries – the kind that goes in your Prius, and the kind that will go in your Volt.  As most car-folks know, the battery industry is currently transitioning from nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries (i.e., what’s in your Prius) to lithium-ion (Li-ion; i.e., what’s in your Volt.  Or Leaf.  Or Tesla.).  And, it turns out, a battery isn’t just a battery – different types of batteries require significantly different control mechanisms to manage how much and how quickly they are charged and discharged, and how they behave while in operation, so that lifetime, safety, and performance are maximized.

But it’s even more complicated than that.  There are dozens of different Li-ion battery chemistries.  Every battery manufacturer has their own idea of the right combination of chemistry and manufacturing process that will result in the winning formula.  But each of these batteries has very unique characteristics that require very specific controls once it’s embedded in an automobile.  Auto manufacturers, on the other hand, would like to be chemistry-agnostic.  (They just want a battery that meets their requirements.)  But, given that the battery dictates the control software, it’s not so easy for a car maker to just pick a battery off the shelf.  Substantial development effort must take place between the auto maker and the battery maker, so that the car and the battery work together as a system.  (Just look at all the effort that has gone into the Volt’s development, in conjunction with Compact Power / LG Chem.)  Once a vehicle has been developed with a particular battery in place, changing battery suppliers would be a major hurdle.  As a result, there have been a lot of joint-ventures formed between auto manufacturers and battery companies, effectively tying their efforts together.

In the end, we’ll likely see each electrified automobile maker tied to one particular type of battery.  But there’s also the issue of standardization in the industry.  I wonder, if each auto/battery manufacturer takes a different path, will this complicate standardization?  How will this effect business models like Better Place – will their entire infrastructure be wedded to one type of battery and one manufacturer?

It’s Electric

June 27th, 2009 Comments off

Ford LogoAs reported by autobloggreen, Ford intends to once again become profitable in part through vehicle electrification.  This, of course, isn’t exactly earth-shattering news: the major (and many not-so-major) automakers have been making a lot of announcements regarding powertrain electrification (i.e., hybrids, PHEVs, and EVs) in the past year or two.  And, given that they’re a business, we can sort of assume that they intend to be profitable (though, not many automakers have done such a good job of that lately).  Still, this caught my eye since it is the first time I’ve noticed “electrification” and “profitability” being mentioned together.  Hopefully, it’s not merely lip-service being paid to the DOE as a result of Ford’s recent award of nearly $6B in loans through the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program.

I for one think vehicle electrification is inevitable, and that it’s a good thing.  The hard part is energy storage: batteries have come a long way, but in most scenarios, they’re still too expensive to make electrified vehicles economically competitive with traditional internal combustion alternatives.  (Disclaimer / Advertisement:  I recently wrote an academic paper evaluating costs for automotive Li-ion batteries.)  I’m hopeful that this won’t always be the case.  Others are more skeptical.  (One such skeptic, at least with regards to Li-ion batteries, once criticized a presentation I did at Rocky Mountain Institute.  He did, at least, confess to being an “unrepentant critic of Li-ion batteries,” as well as a former executive and current shareholder in several major lead-acid battery companies…)

In any case, it will be interesting to see how well the electrified vehicles that we’re currently being promised fare as they start appearing on showroom floors.

Categories: Electrification Tags: ,