Lithium-Ion batteries

Lithium-Ion batteries

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All hybrids currently produced employ an internal combustion engine, a generator and a Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery. NiMH is generally realized as an interim battery technology, soon to be eclipsed by the Lithium Ion battery. The question is, which company will be the first to charge ahead.

Lithium Ion is already in your cell phone, PDA and other gadgets you cant live without. All those batteries are small and dont use the power that a car requires. The Lithium Ion could provide a significant advance in the hybrid. Instead of finding ways to cut weight out of a car to make the car more fuel efficient, automakers could use a Li-ion battery. Li-ion batteries pack the same power as NiMH unit’s but cut the weight of hybrid power trains – enough to add a few more miles per gallon. As the cobalt Lithium Ion battery gets bigger they have a problem called thermal runaway. Thermal runaway is when the battery heats up and oxygen combines with it and the cathodes break and shoot out fire. Many companies have been working on this intolerance for years and are close to bringing their Lithium Ion battery to market.

The 5th International Advanced Automotive Battery and Ultracapacitor Conference (AABC) and Symposia was held at the Sheraton Waikiki Beach Resort, Honolulu, Hawaii, June 13 to 17, 2005. The largest AABC ever attracted 350 delegates from 22 nations (with nearly 100 delegates from Japan and Korea) according to AABC.
The conference symposium was as follows:

  • Large Lithium Ion Battery Technology and Application (LLIBTA)
  • Large Ultracapacitor Technology and Application (UCAP)
  • The Use of VRLA Batteries in Traction ApplicationsAt the annual battery conference Dr Menahem Anderman, Founder and President, Advanced Automotive Batteries consulting firm, said that the Lithium-Ion battery will be ready in 3-5 years and will have a rational cost acceptability within 8 years. Obviously, with that short of a time frame, companies are very close to bringing their batteries to market, if they have not already done so.

    Toyota, known as the pioneer hybrid car company, could look at replacing their Nickel Metal Hydride battery with a Lithium-Ion battery, according to Dave Hermance, Chief Engineer for Environmental Issues for Toyota. Hermance speculates that “At the battery conference held in June in Hawaii it was said that Lithium Ion is about 3-5 years away for hybrids and another 5-8 years away to get to a rational price point.” Laughing, Hermance adds, “of course, thats not to say that we wouldnt start at an irrational price point” Hermance also points out that the cost of Nickel has increased three-fold in the last five years, making the NiMH battery less attractive. The Toyota Prius is due for a redux in 2008 and, according to insiders other than Hermance, there is a strong possibility for the next Prius to have a Lithium Ion battery instead of a Nickel Metal Hydride. It wont be the first Toyota hybrid that has a Lithium-Ion battery inside.

    Toyota manufactures a Lithium-Ion battery for use in The Vitz, a minivan sold in Japan. Toyota has developed the battery to gain first hand experience with the technology. The battery uses the Li-NiO chemistry, not the iron phosphate chemistry. The battery is not for a hybrid system, but for a starting, lighting and ignition system (SLI) – stop-start system. United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) tests are for the specific application of electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid electric vehicles (HEV). There are no standards for SLI batteries.

    Howe’ver, Toyota has a battery that is quite capable and unless they are changing just to be at the forefront of the market there really is no reason for them to do so. A more likely candidate would be a company that doesnt have their own hybrid system and isnt beholden to the NiMH system. That company would more likely be Nissan.

    In 1996, Nissan developed a lithium-ion battery on a production vehicle for the first time anywhere in the world. Nissan currently uses the Compact Lithium-ion Battery that features a thin laminated cell in their X-trail FCV. The Lithium-ion Battery is only about half the weight and volume of a conventional cylindrical battery, while delivering about 1.5 times the output. Currently, it is fitted to a car chassis of the fuel-cell X-trail, but could be used on hybrid vehicles.

    Larry Burns, General Motors Vice President, Research and Development of all things futuristic, says that “if General Motors uses a battery in their vehicles it will be a battery that meets the requirements of the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC). 20-25 years ago each automobile manufacturer had their own independent battery research program. Ten years ago, the Big 3 (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) joined with the USCAR program to standardize requirements for automotive batteries. The Department of Energy is included in the program and any group that wants us to use their batteries, whether it is Toshiba, Saph, Valence or Panasonic, they have to meet the USABC requirements.”

    United States Council for Automotive Resarch (USCAR) was formed in January 1991 with the mission, according to USCAR, to pursue research and development of advanced energy systems capable of providing future generations of electric vehicles with significantly increased range and performance. The United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) consists of three Partners: DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors Corporation. This Partnership has a Cooperative Agreement with the United States Department of Energy (USDOE).

    Some of the requirements a battery has to have, according to Burns, are;

  • they have to store energy
  • has to have a good range
  • when the battery releases energy it has to have good acceleration characteristics
  • has to be thermally dynamic
  • has to have a good life rangeAccording to Burns, “The battery could be very important and the breakthroughs in Lithium-Ion are very promising. A lot can happen with technology on the way, but we encourage all breakthroughs. We are open to working with anyone that is developing batteries, but they need to meet the USABC testing requirements.” Burns has been on record for years saying that General Motors “will have a fuel cell propulsion designed and validated by 2010”. The implication being that once the infrastructure for fueling is in place General Motors will bring the car to market.

    Mark Chernoby, Vice President, Advance Vehicle Engineering, DaimlerChrysler concurs with Burns statement when it comes to working with USABC, “DaimlerChrysler is actively supporting development and research in Li-Ion batteries. Among the many flavors of this chemistry, Lithium-Iron-Phosphate shows high promise in overcoming the chemical & thermal stability issues of Li-Ion batteries under abusive conditions that might arise in automotive applications. This is the focus of our research and development at the USABC, in collaboration with USCAR and the US Department of Energy.”

    Gerhard Schmidt, Vice President of Research & Advanced Engineering for Ford said from USCAR, “Our companies have been cooperating on research for more than a decade through USCAR, which allows us to advance environmental and safety technologies faster and more cost effectively than we could accomplish alone.”

    A lithium battery is not rechargeable and should never be recharged, while lithium-ion batteries are designed to be recharged hundreds of times. Lithium-ion batteries have a high energy density, sometimes referred to as power to weight ratio. This means that for their size or weight they can store more energy than other rechargeable batteries. Each Lithium-Ion battery that uses different materials has their own set of problems. The cobalt Lithium-Ion battery causes thermal runaway. The Maganese Lithium-Ion battery has a durability problem. The iron phosphate Lithium Ion battery takes care of the thermal runaway problem, but it has a lower power ratio. Valence has developed an iron-phosphate battery that will be used in the upgraded plug-in Prius, which is being installed by clean-tech.com. The upgraded plug-in is not manufacture related and may discredit the Toyota Prius warranty if their system is modified.

    Mark Kohler, business development manager of Valence Corporation says that Valence has already modified a Prius with it’s Saphion technology, giving it 18 times more usable energy and tripling it’s fuel economy. “We dont have to worry about recycling the Saphion battery because there is nothing in the battery that is harmful to the environment and the material inside the battery is not worth extracting. Consider the lead acid battery, lead is toxic and worth something once it is extracted, the same thing for nickel out of the NiMH and cobalt out of the cobalt lithium ion.”

    The automotive industry has learned a great deal about technology through hybrids that will eventually be passed on to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. All the current hydrogen fuel cell vehicles include a battery and the consensus is that the battery of choice for fuel-cell vehicles will be the Lithium-Ion. Most automotive groups say that people are finding breakthroughs in batteries; such as Advanced High-Power Cathode Material with Improved Calendar Life and thermal Stability of Lithium-ion Cells. The last step will be to make this mass produced battery affordable.

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    About the Author:

    Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.

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