US battery maker claims electric car breakthrough

June 12, 2012

A US manufacturer said Tuesday it had developed a new automotive battery which can perform in extreme temperatures, offering the potential to cut the cost of making electric cars.

Massachusetts-based A123 Systems said its Nanophosphate EXT would "reduce or eliminate the need for heating or cooling systems, which is expected to create sizeable new opportunities" for automotive and other types of batteries.

"We believe Nanophosphate EXT is a game-changing breakthrough that overcomes one of the key limitations of lead acid, standard lithium ion and other advanced batteries," chief executive David Vieau said.

He said the new "can reduce or even eliminate the need for costly thermal management systems, which we expect will dramatically enhance the business case for deploying A123's solutions for a significant number of applications."

Testing showed the battery can retain more than 90 percent of its initial capacity at 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). It also can deliver starting power at minus 30 degrees Celsius (22 below Fahrenheit).

Yann Guezennec, professor of mechanical engineering at the Ohio State University who participated in testing, said the new technology "could be a game-changing battery breakthrough for the electrification of transportation, including the emerging micro segment."

The announcement comes amid sputtering sales in the United States of electric cars, and doubts about whether the high purchase costs will be justified by lower operating costs.

John Voelcker, analyst with Reports, said the technology could help cut costs of "thermal conditioning."

He said most have some system of pumping coolant to remove excess heat from their battery packs.

"Pumping coolant through this system eats up energy and reduces on-road range," he said.

If it works as promised, Voelcker said, "that would reduce the weight, complexity, and cost of future plug-in vehicles, bringing down their cost and moving them closer to mass-market competitiveness."

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5 / 5 (4) Jun 12, 2012
Nothing about power density or recharge time or # of charge-discharge cycles it is capable of.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 12, 2012
Nothing about power density or recharge time or # of charge-discharge cycles it is capable of.

It's probably the same LiFePO4 they've been peddling all along, with slight variations, so it's going to be something close to 2000 cycles and 115 Wh/kg.
not rated yet Jun 12, 2012
Isn't Li one of those hard-to-get elements?
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 12, 2012
Sonhouse, I've seen other writeups on this and they are claiming 2,000 cycles.

Eikka, I assume you're right as they've not mentioned anything about the outright energy density. However, they did say that the new temperature ranges allow them to forego cooling systems in many cases which would increase the "effective energy density" of the entire battery pack.

Hemitite, No, Lithium isn't even remotely rare or hard to get. Just that nobody was mining it in most places where it already exist because there simply wasn't a big demand for it. There is plenty here in the US for us to mine our own and we're just starting to do it. Those were just overblown stories spread by people who had interest in slowing down EVs or Li batteries in particular. They've all faded away now and are looking for other things to make into an issue.
4 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2012
It may be A123's last gasp, as they're already running on fumes due to a contracting EV market and costly manufacturing gaffes.
not rated yet Jun 13, 2012
Isn't Li one of those hard-to-get elements?

Nope it is definately not a rare earth metal and is more abundant than Lead
2 / 5 (4) Jun 13, 2012
Fantastic!!! Now to be able to store enough energy to heat the vehicle in those cold days...
1 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2012
However, they did say that the new temperature ranges allow them to forego cooling systems in many cases which would increase the "effective energy density" of the entire battery pack.

Their bare cells are somewhere around 115 Wh/kg if I remember correctly, so the entire battery system will be about a third worse with all the protective casings etc. That's why they're struggling to sell them to anybody. It weighs barely less than NiMH, which doesn't need such extensive guards because it isn't as volatile as lithium.

There's basically nothing new in the article. It's been well known that their battery chemistry actually performs slightly better at elevated temperatures, and people who have put them in things like drag bikes actually heat them up to get more peak power out. It's just that the energy density is relatively poor for the price.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2012
Eliminating battery cooling systems cuts both EV price and weight.

Not mentioned in the article is that these batteries can apparently be cycled deeper which means either more range for the same size battery pack or a smaller, lighter, cheaper pack while holding range constant.

Put these factors together with a new pack design that allows the cells to be dropped into a rack rather than soldered together and EV prices should come down a bit.

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