New Issues with Battery Power


The main power source of the electric car, the lithium ion battery, may face bigger issues, though not with its performance in cars but in misinformation, especially in the latest news on the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, a string of fires in the Boeing 787 was said to have started from the lithium ion battery pack of the aircraft.

Despite being in another vehicle platform altogether, many commentators are now saying that the Boeing issue has also the same incidents “that have shown up in electric cars.” Unfortunately this conclusion is at best misleading and the two battery types are very different from one another.

The said conclusion was made by Paul Czysz, Professor Emeritus of Aeronautical Engineering at St. Louis University, when he said, “Unfortunately, what Boeing did to save weight is use the same batteries that are in the electric cars and they are running into the same problems with the 787 as the same problems that have shown up in electric cars.”

This quote had appeared in the Boston Herald, which than went into a narration of a 2011 Chevy Volt fire during crash testing done at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By 2012, the same investigation concluded that ‘there is no discernible defect trend exists’. It further said that ‘modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.’

Unfortunately, the conclusion is at best misleading, because while the Boeing battery and the electric car battery are both lithium ion batteries, they have very different chemistries. While both are batteries, there are major differences that clearly make the Boeing battery very different from the electric car battery. One such example is the composition of the Boeing battery, built by GS Yuasa, and utilizes a cobalt oxide chemistry very similar to what consumer electronics such as mobile phones and laptops would have. This composition is considered as having the highest rating regarding energy content but its downside its high susceptibility to overheating that can lead to electrical fires.

On the side of the electric cars, only the Tesla Roadster utilizes this version of the lithium ion battery. Other cars, such as the Chevy Volt, use the LG Chem Prismatic Cells with manganese spinel (LiMn2O4) cathode chemistry. While this has a lower energy per volume rating, this chemical set up makes it less susceptible to overheating and thermal events.

This is in essence what ignorance of the facts can lead to hysteria and misinformation. Unfortunately, even learned engineers make the same mistake.

Battery Maker Seeks Alternative Businesses


One of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery makers for electric cars, A123 Systems, is now seeking to find other strategic businesses for the company. This announcement from the company’s CEO set off a 5.4 percent increase in its share price value.

A123 Systems, Inc. is the company that develops, designs, manufactures and sells lithium-ion batteries and arrays. It also consults with Government as to research and development. Most of the companies with global automotive manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers in developing rechargeable batteries and battery systems for hybrids, plug in hybrids and all electric vehicles.

The company’s businesses are divided into heavy-duty battery systems and passenger battery systems. The company offers rechargeable lithium-ion battery systems in many forms and sizes, together with packaged modules and tested systems based on its copyrighted Nanophosphate material.

The Waltham, Mass. based company, as the first step, engaged the services of an outside adviser “to provide financial strategic advisory services in connection with our ongoing strategic efforts and evaluation of strategic alternatives.” This was the announcement made by David P. Vieau, the company’s CEO during a conference call.

In 2011, the company reported a net operating loss resulting in a slide to 87 cents per share. With the announcement, the shares jumped to 96 cents per share. The company expects its sales of 2012 to be between U.S.$145 million to U.S.$175 million, which is definitely lower than the earlier projections of sales between U.S.$230 million to U.S.$300 million.

According to Barclays analyst Amir Rozwadowski, “Saying that they’re willing to look at all options may give investors something different to talk about. The announcement may be shifting the conversation to what is the inherent value of this company’s assets.”

Two of the company’s biggest clients are Fisker Automotive and German giant BMW. The company took a hit in its share price when it had to conduct a recall last March 26 of its batteries to Fisker when the car shut down after undergoing testing by Consumer Reports.

One of the challenges for the company is the development of an emerging product for its clients. Another issue is that most of its purchasers are start up companies, making it difficult for the company to project the market demand and limiting the company’s ability to lower overall costs of production.

According to Mr. Rozwadowski, “When you have a mismatch between demand and capacity, you have challenges.”

Fisker Karma Blamed for Home Fire


According to unofficial reports from the Fort Bend County Texas Fire Department, an unplugged Fisker Karma sedan had caused a fire in a home in the area resulting in about U.S.$100,000 structural damage costs.

The photos from the fire scene showed that the electric vehicle was almost consumed by the fire but the lithium ion battery pack remained intact. While the fire investigators have already identified the cause of the blaze, the investigation continues on the full extent of the fire.

According to Chief Fire Investigator Robert Baker, “Yes, the Karma was the origin of the fire but what exactly caused that, we don’t know at this time.” He further related that the driver arrived home riding the Fisker. He pulled into the garage and about three minutes later, the car was up in flames. The electric vehicle was not plugged in when the car was engulfed in flames, but the Karma battery remained intact. The owner related that right before the fire, there was a smell of burning rubber in the vehicle.

Baker further added, “The car was brand-new. He still had paper tags on it, so it was sixty days old at most.” It was later found that this particular Karma was a post-recall vehicle bought back in April.

The resulting damage to the garage was assessed as substantial, which spread to the second floor of the home. No injuries resulted from the incident and the home was apparently new, with the owner just moving into the residence. The damage was estimated at about U.S.$100,000, without the cost of the two other vehicles damaged in the garage which were a Mercedes Benz SUV and an Acura NSX.

The investigator quipped, “This looks just like golf cart fires we have down here.” He was referring to the extent of the fifty or so golf cart fires this suburban Houston area experiences annually.

He did observe that the fire scene was crawling with about fifteen engineers from the company finding the cause of the fire in the Karma.  The official statement of Fisker Automotive is as follows:

Last week, Fisker Automotive was made aware of a garage fire involving three vehicles, including a Karma sedan, that were parked at a newly-constructed residence in Sugar Land, Texas. There were no injuries.

There are conflicting reports and uncertainty surrounding this particular incident. The cause of the fire is not yet known and is being investigated.

We have not yet seen any written report form the Fort Bend fire department and believe that their investigation is continuing. As of now, multiple insurance investigators are involved, and we have not ruled out possible fraud or malicious intent. We are aware that fireworks were found in the garage in or around the vehicles. Also, an electrical panel located in the garage next to the vehicles is also being examined by the investigators as well as fire department officials. Based on initial observations and inspections, the Karma's lithium ion battery pack was not being charged at the time and is still intact and does not appear to have been a contributing factor in this incident.

Fisker will continue to participate fully in the investigation but will not be commenting further until all the facts are established.

Is this Karma or what?

Battery Design Can Revolutionize Electric Car Industry


A new approach to battery design has been unveiled by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the new design of batteries, a lightweight and cheaper alternative to current battery technology especially for electric cars would be made available.

The research is to be published in the Advanced Energy Materials journal and the design objectives would be to increase battery capacity several times higher than current batteries and would allow easy recharging of these batteries as simple as pumping gas in internal combustion engine cars.

The central innovation is the design called the semi-solid flow cell. In this battery design, solid particles are suspended in a carrier liquid that flows throughout the battery structure. In the design, the active components of the battery, namely the positive and negative electrodes, would be particles floating in a liquid electrolyte. Each particle suspension would be pumped throughout the battery separated by a filter allowing electricity to be created.

The new design essentially separates the two functions of the battery – the storage of energy and the discharge of the battery when used in two separate chambers, instead of the current design where both functions are done in one chamber. With the dichotomy of the functions, the efficiency can be maximized and allow the reduction of the overall size and cost for a complete battery system. All in all, efficiency is doubled and the cost halved with the building requirements for each battery.

Another improvement would be charging times for batteries would be decreased dramatically as refueling the battery would be done by replacing the charged particle liquid with a freshly charged replacement. Alternatively, it can be simply done by changing battery tanks in a gas stop.

These changes, when opened to the market, would allow for a more competitive costing for electric vehicles at par with conventional vehicles. The flow battery technology has been in the market for quite some time but the problem is the low energy capacity of existing liquids, requiring greater space for the tank to create the same amount of energy. The new semi-solid technology batteries from the MIT group has improved on this ten fold and is cheaper compared to lithium ion batteries.

The next step for the team headed by Mihai Duduta and Bryan Ho under the guidance of Professors W. Craig Carter and Yet Ming Chiang, would be marrying the liquid flow battery design for the lithium ion battery technology, proven technologies for the future market.

Russia and China to Produce Batteries for EV

Anatoly Chubais, RUSNANO CEO and Shaoping Lu, Managing Director of Thunder Sky Group Limited of China, recently signed an agreement in Beijing establishing the first Russian production of an ultra-capacity lithium-ion battery for Electric Vehicles.The RUSNANO Supervisory Council approved the Corporation's participation in the project last year and since then, the two companies started preparing all the necessary documentation to establish the joint Russian-Chinese venture that led to the signing of the contract between the companies. Thunder Sky Battery Limited is the first company in the world that successfully replaced “PVDF solvent” with solvent binder, producing a rechargeable lithium-ion battery high capacity. The agreement includes an establishment of a joint holdings company based in Russia to start the Lithium-Ion Technology production in the country.

They estimate that the total investment for the project at would reach about13.580 billion rubles or more than 400 million dollars. RUSNANO Managing Director Sergey Polikarpov said that, “This is a remarkable example of cooperation between Russia and China in the science and technology field. The project will help transfer and develop the world’s latest technology in Russia.” The two companies expect the sales of the project’s production to reach 13.1 billion rubles by 2015.

They would establish the High-End Lithium-Ion Battery production plant in Novosibirsk in Russia. The factory will have four fully automated and environmentally friendly production lines that the Thunder Sky group would install, creating more than 500 jobs in the region. A sales and marketing division will also be established to promote the Thunder Sky technology on Russian and East European markets. RUSNANO said that the plant would roll out from its production lines batteries that are primarily used for electric buses and minibuses. The batteries are also used in uninterrupted power supply units for IT, telecommunications and renewable energy systems, the Company added.

Production will be launched next year with an estimated annual production reaching 400 million ampere-hours by 2012, enough to power 12,000 electric vehicles a year, according to RUSNANO. The guaranteed demand for major part of batteries produced in first four years is ensured by the Thunder Sky contracts for the Chinese production of electric vehicles. The Russian market sales are expected to grow along with the demand generated by the production of new and re-equipment of existing model such as GAZelle mini-trucks.

The Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Plant will also supply the cathode material and lithium compounds for the batteries production. Other imported ingredients will be gradually replaced by domestic production, giving an impetus for the emergence of new cluster of high technology industries in Russia. The project’s Science and Technology center will adapt the nano-technology developments of Russian scientists and will considerably improve characteristics of the Thunder Sky batteries to create new market niches for their application. The Russian production unit will ensure faster commercialization and implementation of the scientific developments. The Russian company added they could easily reconfigure the flexible modular production process depending on the customer’s demand and the new technology emergence.

According to the McKinsey 2009 forecast, about 10 percent of all cars on the roads will be battery-electric or plug-in vehicles or running solely on electric power. That would create the demand for batteries growing up to $60 billion a year. Europe, USA and China are projected to be the largest markets for electric vehicle batteries.