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A123 Touts Improved Battery For Electric Cars, Other Markets?

Technology: Improvement in battery chemistry promises higher performance

by Marc S. Reisch
June 18, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 25

Credit: A123 Systems
A123 Systems’ current start-up battery for microhybrid cars could benefit from its improved lithium iron phosphate technology.
A123 Systems’ current start-up battery for micro-hybrid cars could benefit from the firm’s improved lithium iron phosphate technology.
Credit: A123 Systems
A123 Systems’ current start-up battery for microhybrid cars could benefit from its improved lithium iron phosphate technology.

A123 Systems, a troubled lithium-ion battery maker, says it has tweaked the chemistry of its lithium iron phosphate battery in a way that optimizes performance in extreme temperature conditions without requiring costly heating or cooling systems.

The firm’s latest battery, the Nanophosphate EXT, is “a game-changing breakthrough,” CEO David P. Vieau says. “By delivering high power, energy, and cycle life capabilities over a wider temperature range,” he says, the battery overcomes limitations of competing batteries such as lead-acid and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide batteries.

Although A123 won’t provide details on the battery’s electrochemistry, the company does say it will retain more than 90% of its initial capacity after 2,000 full charge-discharge cycles at 45 °C and deliver 20% more power at –30 °C than A123’s standard battery.

A123 says the improved low-temperature performance of the Nanophosphate EXT eliminates the cold-cranking power advantage of a Pb-acid battery in a microhybrid passenger car—a new type of gas-powered vehicle with an engine that turns off at stoplights.

The development could herald a turnaround for A123, which has been plagued by a $52 million defective battery recall and slower than expected demand for its elec-tric-vehicle batteries. In a document filed late last month with the Securities & Exchange Commission, A123 acknowledged financing difficulties and said it expects to continue operating at a loss, raising “substantial doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

“These are smart guys with good technology, but will it be enough to save them?” asks Kevin See, an analyst at consulting firm Lux Research. Quoting Lux figures, A123 says the worldwide microhybrid market could reach 39 million vehicles by 2017, creating a $6.9 billion battery market. But See says price-sensitive automakers are more likely to go with Pb-acid batteries, except in high-end vehicles.

And although A123 is first to market with an advanced lithium iron phosphate battery, other firms, such as LG Chem, are poised to come out with similar models, See says. Raw material producers such as BASF and Clariant are ready to supply them, he adds.



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