Monday, November 03, 2008

Nano Powering The Auto Revolution

Nanotech continues to be the driving force behind innovation in the auto industry, where the biggest challenge right now is providing those plug-in hybrids with enough long-lasting power to make them more than fancy golf carts.

GE recently made another investment in battery maker A123Systems, which "uses nanotechnology to produce rechargeable lithium-ion batteries with a combination of greater power density, lower weight, lower cost and improved safety than other battery types, based on materials licensed from MIT. Unlike standard lithium-ion batteries, A123's batteries are not prone to overheating."

I wrote a little on the advantages of nano-enabled Li-ion last year:

Current NiMH technology - the one powering the Toyota Prius, for example - is guaranteed to keep a car running for seven or eight years, he says. The next generation will go as long as a decade. But automakers are asking for 15-year battery life, and NiMH can't do that. Li-ion, once perfected, will.

Plus, Li-ion will do it cheaply once production is ramped up, since the material is not as price sensitive as nickel. And Li-ion is two to three times lighter than NiMH. More here

Technology Review gives us a little more on A123 and its competitors and partners:

A123 uses a new lithium-ion chemistry that allows its batteries to be much lighter and more compact than the nickel metal hydride batteries in existing hybrids today, and safer than the conventional lithium ion batteries found in consumer electronics. In June GM announced that it is working with the South Korean company LG Chem, and its subsidiary Compact Power, based in Troy, MI, to make both battery packs and the individual cells inside them. They also signed an agreement with an LG Chem competitor, the Frankfurt, Germany-based Continental Automotive Systems, to develop battery packs. Continental had planned to use A123 as a subcontractor to supply the batteries for these packs. The new agreement puts A123 in direct contact with GM on the Volt project. More here

I covered the unveiling of the Volt concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show a couple of years ago (PDF 219k) and interviewed the creator of the all-electric Tesla (PDF 197k).

The story of battery development appeals to me because it hits on the two primary topics I've been reporting on these past few years: nanotech and the auto industry.

Related Patent
Nanoscale Ion Storage Materials

March goes out like a Li-Ion
Who's driving the revolution?

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