A better battery means a better electric car

This is a guest post by Sam Peters 

Group of batteriesWaltham, Mass.-based A123 Systems have developed a new form of lithium-ion battery that could change the game for electric cars, taking them from niche product to usable daily transportation. A123 has been in the electric car battery business for some time, inking a deal with Fisker Automotive to produce battery packs for the company’s Karma electric car, among other projects.

The newest batteries mark an evolution of the pioneering company’s lithium-ion phosphate battery technology, now with higher power output, greater density and many more recharge cycles before needing replacement. Here’s a breakdown of underlying technology and applications:

Technology 

Known as the Nanophosphate EXT system, the new batteries are based on a familiar concept and structure but pack advances in the way energy moves between the electrolyte, or the battery’s ion-carrying core, and the electrodes, or charge-carrying units that send energy to and from battery cells. A123 holds a slew of patents on proprietary electrolyte and electrode technology, with its newest-generation EXT batteries the culmination of years of lab research.

Claims have been vetted and verified by Ohio State University’s well-respected Center For Automotive Research, who had only positive things to say about A123’s new technology. With the world’s automakers willing to snap up any battery proven to make electric cars safer and better, A123’s future is bright despite some current financial woes.

Applications 

In electric cars, key battery characteristics are discharge rate, capacity, stability and number of life cycles. Pure electric cars need batteries that can provide large amounts of power on demand while providing long life without a loss of capacity. A123’s new batteries are purported to last twice as long as today’s commercial electric car batteries. The only downside to using an iron phosphate-based technology is a lower power density, around 160 watt-hours per kilogram, than with some competing technologies.

Uses for this technology could extend beyond just electric cars, from commercial uses such as cell phone towers to work in the lab carried out by organizations like Huntingdon Life Sciences. This battery will play an important role in low-emissions science institutes. Because the Nanophosphate EXT batteries do not require complex cooling systems to stay within their required temperature range, they are easier to mount and use on a daily basis, which makes them ideal for laboratory environments.  The new batteries are rated from -30 degrees Celsius to 60 degrees Celsius, a much greater range than lead-acid batteries or other lithium-ion units.

With potential to power electric cars with more usable power and longer battery life, A123’s cells are set to change the game. Their uses extend far beyond just in vehicles, but company executives are hopeful that profits from the EV market will continue to finance battery improvement technology and long-term growth.

What do you think of this? Would improved battery life and performance make you more likely to consider an EV as your next car? Can you see other applications for A123’s new batteries? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

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