WASHINGTON – Battery specialist A123 Systems said Tuesday (June 12) it has developed a battery technology advance that enables lithium ion batteries to operate more efficiently in extreme temperatures without costly and heavy heating and cooling systems.
The performance of traditional batteries is degraded at extreme temperatures, meaning they deliver less cranking power at low and reduced cycle life at high temperatures. The MIT spinoff’s Nanophosphate EXT (Extreme Temperature) technology is billed as delivering improved performance at extreme temperatures while eliminating the need for active, liquid cooling systems that have meant higher battery costs for applications like micro-hybrid vehicles.
High battery costs have dampened consumer enthusiasm for electric vehicles. A123 Systems (Waltham, Mass.) did not provide specifics on the total cost savings delivered by its nanophosphate battery technology, but did claim it would eliminate the need for a replacement battery over the average eight-year lifespan of a micro-hybrid vehicle.
The company also said reducing or eliminating the need for a thermal management system could reduce “total cost of ownership” over the life of a battery in applications like transportation and telecommunications.
Yet-Ming Chiang, an MIT engineering professor and founding scientist at A123 Systems (Waltham, Mass.) said in an interview that cooling system size, weight and cost represent a substantial portion of the current cost of lithium-ion, lead acid and other battery types. Chiang said the company’s new approach is ideally suited to micro hybrid vehicles that rely on start-stop regenerative braking to generate and store electrical power in hybrid cars. The new approach provides a capability that traditional lithium-ion batteries can’t satisfy due to the “historical compromises” on battery performance at high and low temperatures.
The company claimed cells built with its Nanophosphate EXT technology are expected to be capable of retaining more than 90 percent of initial capacity after 2,000 full charge-discharge cycles at 45 C, according to testing performed at Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research. The center is currently testing cold temperature performance, which A123 said it expects will deliver a 20 percent increase in power at temperatures as low as minus 30 C.
A123 said it has been steadily focusing on continuous improvement of its core lithium iron nanophosphate technology, including improved battery electrolytes, active materials and cells. The ability to operate at extreme temperatures with active cooling or heating is seen as bigger step since it could help reduce battery cost and weight.
For example, the primary advantage of lead acid in starter battery applications has been better cold cranking capabilities. A123 claimed its new technology will boost the cranking power of its 12V lithium ion start battery.
The company said it expects to begin volume production of 20 amp-hour prismatic cells based on its Nanophosphate EXT technology in the first half of 2013. A123, which has received federal funding to advance commercialization of its lithium battery technology, operates a battery manufacturing facility in Livonia, Mich.
While A123 also sees telecommunications applications for its technology like back-up power for telecom equipment in hot climates, the key applications is likely micro hybrids. The company cited a recent forecast by Lux Research that estimates that the hybrid car market could reach 39 million vehicles by 2017, generating a $6.9 billion market for batteries and other energy storage devices.