Lithium-Ion Technology: A Step Forward in the Green Agenda

Anu Cherian, Senior Industry Analyst, Energy & Power Systems Group, Frost & Sullivan

The automotive sector grabbed all the attention in 2009 with the release of several concept vehicles. This was most definitely a tricky diversion from the overwhelming grim economy. Consumers were so used to fulfilling their desires for the latest cars with easy loans in 2008.

They had to put all their desires on the back burner in 2009 and gain a grip on the economy and the ensuing rigid market scenario. Nevertheless, persistent automakers continued to whet the appetites of consumers by making big promises of fuel economy and new battery technology, combined with electric or hybrid electric motors.

In addition, they showcased sleek designs and defiant goals to consumers at the renowned auto shows in 2010.  These strategies have placed the consumer on edge, awaiting their turn for a personal financial breakthrough to make their first investments.
The real driver is the lithium inside of the battery.  Some of its nascent steps in advancing to large-scale production have been highlighted with A123 Systems grand opening of its new production facility.

The Lithium Interest
Lithium ion manufacturers that have a head start in the automotive industry are A123 systems, Magna, GS Yuasa, Acta cell, Boston Power, CFX Battery, Electrovaya, Mobius Power and Seeo, among others. There are several others that are intensely pursuing the automotive market. Once accepted, the volumes and economies of scale that can be achieved in the automotive sector are vast. In addition, it is the market that has sufficient leverage to be a trend setter in increasing acceptance of the technology.

The Head Start of A123 Systems in North America
A123 Systems is all set for the grand opening of the largest lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant in North America based on available data. The new plant in Livonia, Mich. is expected to expand A123’s manufacturing capabilities by up to 600 MWh per year when fully operational, contributing to the company’s plan to expand global final cell assembly capacity to more than 760 MWh hours annually by the end of 2011.

The opening of the Livonia factory comes just over one year after A123 was awarded a $249 million grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help the company execute its strategy to ramp up US manufacturing capabilities to meet increasing, market-driven demand for its innovative technologies.

The most significant benefit to switching to lithium-ion batteries is to improve the energy density by 150 percent, which would enhance battery system performance. The automotive lithium-ion battery market touched the $53.2 million mark in 2010, accounting for all the prototypes in use as beta testers for concept cars. Some of the other government funds provided to manufacturers are listed below.
•  Johnson Controls ¬ Saft: $ 299.2
•  KD ABG MI, LLC ( Dow Kokam): $161.0
• Compact Power, Inc.:  $151.4
• EnerDel, Inc.: $118.5
• General Motors Corp.: $105.9
• Exide Technologies with Axion Power Technologies: $34.3
• East Penn Manufacturing Co.: $32.5

In Pursuit of the Near-Term Market
The high-end performance car market is expected to provide the needed impetus to propel the market from a concept stage to production. Manufacturers such as Porsche, Ferrari and BMW hold a record to bring a concept to fruition and full production. This article further identifies the potential in the latest concept cars that can significantly propel the European and North American markets to transition to a lithium energy provider.

The Porsche 918 Spyder Concept
The heart of this green machine is a 500 horsepower V8 engine; electric motor powered with a lithium-ion battery attaining 218 horsepower and hits the road with the seven speed PDX gear box. The car is expected to operate in four modes.
• E-Drive which is meant for running on electricity only with an expected range of 16 miles
• Hybrid mode uses gas and electricity depending on the conditions
• Sport Hybrid mode also uses the gas electric mode but places the vehicle in a more advantageous position for performance over fuel efficiency
• Race Hybrid mode switches the car to complete top performance characteristics

The greatest advantage with Porsche is their history of always having brought a concept car into production, along with their aggressive drive to enter into the green race.

Not much has been revealed about the heart of the technology that decides between making and breaking this dream which is the proposed lithium battery. However, as with the Germans and their quest for the very best, no stone will be left unturned to make this miracle hit the road.

The Ferrari 599 HY-KERS Concept
In this vehicle, the electric motor runs alongside a 6.0 liter V12 engine reaching a top speed in 10.4 seconds. Its pertinent green benefits are carbon-dioxide reduction by 35 percent, regenerative use of braking power to recharge batteries and an electric motor rated at 100 horsepower. The long-term goal is to use this platform and create many such green options that can be incorporated into future designs of cars.

While performance car manufacturers are increasingly faced with new standards for fuel efficiency, the launch of the kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) in the Ferrari 599 establishes Ferrari’s capability to adapt to new regulations. Although much is not revealed about the lithium battery proposed to be used, its position below the floor plan of the car right inside the underbody is expected to decrease the center of gravity, thereby increasing stability. However, it is known that the lithium battery is expected to store up to 3 kw of electric energy.

BMW – Very Close on Heels
The ultimate driving experience is witnessing a gear change as BMW has seriously placed strategies to stay ahead in the race.

To rescue an industry that has been blamed extensively for the oil drain and inefficient use of natural resources, it is essential that the approach begin from the more affluent high-end customer to slowly percolate and gain ground in changing the entire dynamic of the affordable consumer market.

Its key focus has been on aspects that intrinsically decrease fuel efficiency such as start and stop, idling, as well as recovering braking energy. Although each car manufacturer targets the very same areas that need to be changed, each takes a new technology to deal with the problem. Some of the technologies that have suited regenerative braking are ultracapacitors, fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries. In the meantime, there is a possibility of using Magna as its lithium vendor for the near term needs of its green car design.

Other techniques used by BMW to increase fuel efficiency are high precision direct injection, twin turbo charging, and aerodynamic flaps behind the signature twin kidney grille.  BMW’s long-term goal is to explore the use of hydrogen technology, despite the current lack of necessary infrastructure to sustain its growth.

The battery design for each of the aforementioned performance car manufacturers is expected to be unique, as well as superior in design.

Everyone wants to go green, but right now the technology is focused on upper-end markets due to the cost. As these technologies mature, there is a possibility that they can reach various market segments. Meanwhile, it is interesting to watch how the energy storage sector targeting lithium ion integrates itself neatly into the automotive space with additional build ups to lithium aftermarket use and lithium recycling. The direction looks extremely positive, and the independent competitive approaches to parallel opportunities are important to build confidence in the use of lithium ion for hybrid electric vehicle systems.

Contact Frost & Sullivan at

This article appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of Battery Power magazine.

Leave a Reply