Ford Unveils New Battery Technology for Hybrids and Electric Vehicles

By dancurranjr On May 4th, 2009

hybrid_battery_packFord Motor Company, in an attempt to offer more fuel efficient vehicles and technology, unveils its latest plans by introducing new Lithium (Li-ion) batteries in its hybrid and electric vehicles between 2010 and 2012. According to Ford, the plan has called for extensive research that will better the technology over time. Right now research is in the early stages and is being conducted by battery suppliers and university researchers to help advance the cause. The participants include Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the University of Michigan, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Susan Cischke, Group Vice President, Ford Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, stated, “Ford is strongly positioned to accelerate its electric vehicle strategy this year thanks to the significant research that we’ve already completed. Our collaboration work with suppliers and partners will help us be one of the first automakers to bring the next generation of personal transportation to market.”

Ann Marie Sastry, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan Energy Systems Engineering Program had this to say about Ford’s effort to promote the new technology: “The Efforts of the Ford team to reduce the cost and mass of Li-ion systems have been important to the research community at large.  Their efforts are yielding improved Li-ion systems, and more knowledgeable workers.”

Along with Ford, these partner organizations will be conducting digital simulations tests, collecting degradation data, that Ford and its battery suppliers have used to improve Li-ion performance.  According to Ted Miller, Manager, Ford Energy Storage Strategy and Research, “Our plug in electric hybrid vehicles fleet is a direct result of our Li-ion research, and the data mined from these field tests will provide crucial information as we make advances in battery technology.”

The new technology will replace the existing nickel based batteries that are currently being used. Researchers say the Li-ion battery systems will be 5 percent more energy efficient than the nickel metal hydride battery used in today’s hybrid electric vehicles. Also, from a cost prospective, it is 30 percent less expensive at the annual volume of 3 million hybrids. The test vehicle featuring the new Li-ion battery is the Ford Escape Hybrid model.

The battery itself is said to be 25 to 30 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter than the existing nickel batteries, which makes them, easier to pack into a vehicle.

SOURCE: eNews Park Tech

PowerGenix Aims For Hybrid Car Batteries

By dancurranjr On April 30th, 2009

hybrid_battery_packPowerGenix has made its mark by commercializing nickel-zinc batteries for cameras, electric scooters and power tools, many of which will be shipped this fall. But its long-term goal is to tackle the battery market for hybrid electric vehicles as well.

As of now, San Diego’s PowerGenix doesn’t have its battery technology developed for the vehicle market. It’s looking to raise money to fund that activity. The company put some of its powerful nickel-zinc batteries in a Toyota Prius last May. The car has been driven more than 10,000 miles.

“For cars you need a high rate of discharge. That’s where our batteries have strength,” says Jeff Phillips, chief technology officer at PowerGenix.

PowerGenix Chief Executive Dan Squiller says the cost of his nickel-zinc batteries for hybrid cars could be half that of lithium-ion. The reason: Lithium-ion batteries are potentially flammable, and producers have to engineer around that, increasing production costs. (Nickel-zinc batteries don’t catch on fire.) The capital equipment for making lithium ion batteries is also more expensive, Phillips says. PowerGenix intentionally designed its nickel-zinc batteries so they could be manufactured on existing nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal-hydride production lines.

For power tools, PowerGenix’s nickel-zinc batteries cost about 40 cents per watt-hour. By comparison, lithium-ion batteries, such as those from A123 Batteries (also used in power tools), cost about 70 to 80 cents per watt-hour. For vehicle batteries, the cost will go up a bit because the systems are more complicated, says Ying Wu, senior analyst at Lux Research. But Wu still expects lithium ion to be more expensive than nickel-zinc for vehicles.

The challenge: Billions of dollars are being spent by large automakers such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda in joint ventures with battery makers to roll out lithium-ion batteries for electric and hybrid electric autos. If it can get federal loans, A123 Systems of Watertown, Mass., is planning to spend $2.3 billion to build factories in Michigan to make its lithium-ion batteries for Chrysler and others. PowerGenix has raised just $61 million, and the U.S. Department of Energy no longer spends money researching nickel-zinc batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries do have a higher power density than nickel-zincs, and a longer run time. That means they’re better suited to electric-only vehicles–a market that PowerGenix’s Squiller says he won’t be pursuing.

If history is any guide, PowerGenix may be able to overcome some steep challenges.

The company traces its roots to a meeting in the 1990s at Apple Computer. Morris Eisenberg, a charismatic chemist who had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp, tried to convince Apple’s then-power group technology manager, Jeff Phillips, to use his nickel-zinc batteries in Apple laptops.

Phillips passed because the batteries didn’t have the energy density of lithium- ion cells, but he saw other opportunities for them. He eventually left Apple to join Eisenberg at a company he started called Next Century Power. That company folded in the late 1990s; its assets were bought by investors who started PowerGenix. Phillips has served as chief technology officer at PowerGenix since it was founded in 2000. Eisenberg has since passed away.

Squiller is hoping to get some money from the federal stimulus package, in which up to $4 billion is allocated for energy storage. But he’ll have to wait a bit. “No one knows how that money will be given out,” he says.

SOURCE: Forbes

Volt Battery Development Nears Final Phase, GM Says

By dancurranjr On March 22nd, 2009

hybrid_battery_packGeneral Motors Corp. will reach the final engineering phase of its Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle this summer, when prototype vehicles hit the road, an official said today.

And though GM may run out of cash next month unless it receives $2.6 billion in additional federal aid, the automaker continues to work on second and third generation electric versions that will cost less than the Volt, which is scheduled to debut in November 2010, GM officials said.

As part of the $13.4 billion federal loan package GM received late last year, the automaker is required to develop vehicles that rely on advanced technology. GM must show progress on becoming a viable company by March 31 or the U.S. Department of Treasury could demand repayment — a move that would force the automaker into bankruptcy.

GM is working with companies that produce battery cells and electronic and thermal systems to find innovations that will drop the cost of subsequent generations of electric vehicles, said Denise Gray, GM’s director of hybrid energy storage systems.

The first-generation Volt could cost as much as $40,000 because of its expensive lithium-ion batteries, and Congress is considering tax breaks that would defray the purchase cost.

GM has about 30 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles on the road right now that utilize the Volt’s lithium-ion battery packs and the automaker will start testing about 80 prototype vehicles this summer that functionally represent the electric car, said Bob Kruse, executive director for Global Vehicle engineering.

The Volt will rely on a lithium-ion battery pack that will let commuters travel up to 40 miles on electric power alone. The Volt’s engine kicks in after its battery is drained by about 70 percent to sustain the battery’s remaining charge to keep the car running for several hundred miles.

The electrification of vehicles is seen as a growth area in the auto industry and rival automakers have launched electric vehicle plans to cut the dependence on foreign oil.

At the North American International Auto Show in January, GM said it is boosting its Volt investment to more than $1 billion by establishing a plant in Michigan, possibly in southeastern Michigan, that will produce lithium-ion battery packs. The automaker also said it will open a 31,000-square-foot automotive battery lab and partner with the University of Michigan to educate future battery engineers.

GM initially will rely on foreign-made batteries for the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle, scheduled for production late next year. GM is partnering with South Korea-based battery maker LG Chem, though batteries eventually could be produced in the U.S., Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said.

GM plans to select the battery plant site by the end of June with production starting in early 2010. The facility would be the size of a small engine plant and a portion would feature a “clean room environment.”

GM executives and analysts have said it makes sense to have the plant in southeastern Michigan because the Volt’s engines will be built in Flint and the vehicle assembled at GM’s Detroit/Hamtramck plant.

SOURCE: Detroit News

Parts Shortages Could Delay GM’s Plan to Offer 26 Hybrids by 2014

By dancurranjr On March 5th, 2009

gmGeneral Motors ambitious viability plan announced a fortnight ago called for up to $16.6 billion in additional aid and the reduction of more than 47,000 jobs across the company’s global resources, but there was another major announcement in the plan that went largely unnoticed. GM also pledged to increase the number of hybrid vehicles it sells from the current eight to 26 by 2014.

Unfortunately for GM, while it may have the technology ready, potential parts shortages, especially for the all-important battery arrays, may end up causing delays. That’s the biggest worry according to GM executive vice president of global powertrain and global quality Tom Stephens. Speaking with Automotive News, Stephens said the original viability pledge for all 26 hybrids was made on the assumption that the components will be available.

It’s not just batteries that are in short supply, GM may also have to start producing its own electric motors for its future hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

One vehicle, the Saturn Vue Two Mode hybrid, already has been delayed because of a component shortage. That vehicle was supposed to have been launched by now but has been pushed back to June, Stephens said.

Tom Stephens is an important man at GM as he will replace the head of global product development, vice chairman Bob Lutz, who is retiring at the end of the year.

SOURCE: Motor Authority

Hybrid Vehicle Repair Expenses Roughly Equal to Non-Hybrids

By dancurranjr On February 13th, 2009

2010_toyota_priusRepairing cars is never a pleasant thought, because it pre-supposes your precious piece of automotive machinery has been damaged. But it’s comforting to know that though your fuel-swilling performance machine might be expensive to operate, it’ll be a cheap and easy fix, while the likes of the Prius will be forking over the cash when the body work needs doing – or so the story goes.

It’s no longer true that hybrids cost more to fix than regular cars. It used to be that way – up through 2006, the cost of fixing a hybrid was about 8% above the non-hybrid average. But now things have evened out, and there’s no advantage one way or the other. All of this information has been collected and analyzed by Audatex, a firm that specializes in providing statistical information to insurers and the automotive industry.

So why the change in repair costs? Part of the answer lies in the greater availability of junkyard parts from now-off-the-road Prius and other hybrids, which simply didn’t exist in any meaningful quantity when all of the cars were less than 5 years old. Those salvage parts are cheaper than buying new, and reduce the overall repair costs accordingly.

Also, Toyota has reduced the price of replacement battery packs for first-gen Priuses to $2,299, though second-gen battery packs still cost $2,588. It’s not as clear, however, why the repair costs on so-called ‘shared’ hybrids – cars with non-hybrid doppelgangers – experienced that same repair premium early on. In theory, since they share the same body work, they should share the same repair costs. Nevertheless, both dedicated and shared hybrids have seen repair costs tumble over the last two years.

The end result of the confluence of cheaper parts, more plentiful salvage replacements and a longer history on the road is that hybrids are now common enough to be treated – and priced for repair – like normal cars.

Source: Motor