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The Lithium-Ion Challenge

While the fuel cell development continues apace, the development of the lithium-ion batteries that are essential to the E-Flex architecture remains a challenge.

While the fuel cell development continues apace, the development of the lithium-ion batteries that are essential to the E-Flex architecture remains a challenge. Specifically, there needs to a reduc-tion in cost and increases in both reliability and dependability, according to Beth Lowery, GM vp of Environment and Energy. They’re looking for what she describes as “the next level of lithium-ion batteries,” and to that end they are working with a number of development partners including Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions (JCS; www.jci.com and www.saftbatteries.com), A123 Systems (www.a123systems.com), and Cobasys (www.cobasys.com).

Joe Lograsso, engineering group manager, GM Hybrid Energy Storage Devices, says that they’re focusing on lithium-ion batteries rather than the nickel-metal hydride batteries that are used in other auto applications because they are on the order of 40% lighter and require 20% less space. Mass and packaging are key considerations for vehicle development. With regard to the technology, Lograsso says that “an evolutionary advance” is required, as good progress has been made in the fundamental battery chemistry. However, he points out that the installed base for lithium-ion battery production is currently located mainly in Asia—as the key industry using the batteries is consumer electronics—and that in order to ramp up the necessary capacity in the U.S. it may require government support.

Mary Ann Wright, CEO of JCS, and former director of Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs at Ford Motor, notes that among the challenges that need to be addressed are “automotive-compliant performance and quality.” It’s one thing if your digital camera doesn’t work. It’s something else entirely if your car doesn’t. She also points out that while developing the cells is one thing, integration with the total vehicle system is a complex undertaking.

This last observation is echoed by Scott Lindholm, vp of Systems Engineering at Cobasys: “Even if a perfect battery existed, it would still require a system.” Packaging, crash survivability, moisture intrusion, cooling system, and electronic controls are among the many issues that need to be addressed moving forward.—GSV