The Battery Update

April 17, 2009 | 4 Comments

One might think that batteries are a slow uninteresting business and all is set for electric storage – nothing could be further from the facts. This past week has seen several announcements that have serious implications for storage, world economics and consumer benefits.

What has happened is Japan’s Toshiba is shipping, shipping mind you this fall, Li-ion batteries for automotive use using lithium titanate at the negative electrode rated at 100 Wh/kg for peak models. At the positive-electrode lithium cobalt oxide was adopted. Samples are already being shipped to potential customer’s engineering departments around the world. This compares to current shipping models that have energy density ratings of 67 Wh/kg. Another model with a high power of 3Ah with an output density of 4,000W/kg is shipping samples as well. The new battery technology is a 150% improvement.

In the U.S. A123Systems has raised $69 million in a new round of private financing that gives General Electric ownership to over 10%. A123Systems raised the capital to accelerate the expansion of its US lithium-ion battery manufacturing and smart grid capabilities. In addition to the private capital, A123 is seeking funds under federal and state stimulus and other programs to ramp up its production capabilities in Michigan. The company’s planned production facilities would be capable of supplying battery systems for five million hybrid electric vehicles or a half-million plug-in electric vehicles per year by 2013.

Chrysler recently awarded battery development and supply contracts to A123 for its own model lineup and the Chinese automaker SAIC Motor Corp.’s new hybrid vehicle models, both scheduled to come out in 2010.

A123 also expects to produce batteries for smart grid applications and grid stabilization.

Axion Power International, an advanced lead-acid battery company formerly of Canada and now of Pennsylvania has signed a memorandum of understanding with huge Georgia-based Exide Technologies, a major battery manufacturer and recycler. Exide will become Axion’s principle OEM customer as part of a multi-year global partnership. No small news as Exide is adopting Axion’s hybridized lead-acid chemistry where the negative electrodes normally found in lead-acid batteries have been replaced with nanoporous carbon electrodes found in many advanced supercapacitors.

Axion claims its enhanced battery system can survive at least three times longer than conventional lead-acid batteries designed for deep discharge cycling. It also claims higher power delivery, faster recharge time, less weight and lower maintenance. Exide is a believer now, and that will bring much better products to market. Lead acid might be overlooked due to the weight and lead toxicity issues, but keep in mind 99 per cent of lead-acid batteries get recycled through a mature recycling network, unlike the newer battery chemistries.

Don’t count lead acid out, there will be a need for low cost batteries that do a good enough job for an array of targeted applications, from electric/hybrid vehicles, to renewable-energy storage, and a wide range of grid-management situations. Tom Granville, Axion’s CEO, said in a statement, “We believe our batteries can compete with the more expensive and exotic battery chemistries. In the end, our relatively low cost, when compared to the battery chemistries that appear to dominate today’s headlines, along with our ease of integration into existing manufacturing lines, will be telling advantages when novelty wears thin and cost-consciousness and practicality move center stage.”

There will always be a big market for cheap high performance batteries.

The heat of competition is beginning to show. These announcements could and should be measured with the ultracapacitor and supercapacitor storage potential. Ian Clifford of Canada’s Zenn Motors is being seen wearing an EEStor “post permittivity” shirt. The sharpest observers noted the garment as an insider’s celebratory token. A few days back Lockheed Martin’s employee’s newsletter quoted the often-repeated EEStor claim of 100X lead acid storage. That followed a prior hiring notice Lockheed is looking for a leader in disruptive technologies with a title of program manager. While none of these point to certainty of product or performance, the burden of disproof looks to be getting more and more confounding by the week. If EEStor blows up, that would the surprise.

Bolivia's Evo Morales

Bolivia's Evo Morales

Meanwhile, a note of some sadness for the people of Bolivia. The leftist, populist Evo Morales is busy trying to extract what some say are extravagant terms for the mining of lithium in Bolivia. The grief that being a leftist brings should start to set in soon. Leftists seem to be utterly daft when it comes to the known history of market behaviors. Morales might believe that there is a “Saudi like petroleum potential” in Bolivia’s lithium, which might prove to be the case, but as noted above, lithium has competition from such abundant raw materials as lead, carbon, zinc and nickel. The poor folks in Bolivia look to be missing a shot at leading and large market share from the silly thought that lithium will be in such demand that the price will be forever very high making exorbitant terms possible. We might point out that as with oil and everything else, peak highs crush demand driving to painfully low priced periods. Sometimes those periods last a very very long time.

It looks like the Bolivia chance is slipping away. But it has sure set off a hunt for lithium supplies elsewhere that are bound to pay off in one way or another. But it’s a sad moment for the innocent folks, who after all elected the leftist.

It’s been a busy few days for the electron storage crowd. While no particular story stands out as worthy of a post all alone, the sum of the past few days is pretty interesting. What strike the outside observer are the competitive aspects. There are already good choices with impressive improvements coming and breakthroughs promising for the future. The potential in the products and the combinations of products to suit specific needs is getting stronger – a good thing for the world’s consumers.


4 Comments so far

  1. Matt on April 17, 2009 6:55 AM

    When it comes to new battery technology – there will be multiple winners. Mass producers will make money with Lithium. Lead Acid will make money – particularly in non transport applications like backup power – and super capacitors will at the very least provide the power boost that electric vehicles need to accelerate quickly.

  2. Al Fin on April 17, 2009 8:34 AM

    Very interesting, Brian. How long before enterprising smugglers begin smuggling lithium out of Bolivia, using cocaine smuggling routes?

    Not likely to happen unless Morales gets too greedy. But it would be just for Morales and his leftist clown friends to be bitten by their own snake.

  3. Matt on April 17, 2009 11:55 AM

    Then again, there are plenty of lithium deposits here in NC – 20 miles from Charlotte. I have dug through tailings while rockhounding the area.

  4. Jinny on April 18, 2009 12:45 PM

    Hi, Not sure that this is true:), but thanks for a post.
    Have a nice day.

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