Transitional Technologies: Next-gen batteries promise to extend range and durability

Here’s the final topic on Green Auto Market’s series covering transitional technologies leading to the future of electric automated mobility.

Tesla is continuing to work on its ride-hailing app, Tesla Network, which is part of the company’s long-term strategy to compete with General Motors, Uber, Lyft, Ford, Waymo, and others in autonomous, shared-ride services — aka robotaxis, electric mobility, and ride-sharing. Analysts and investors wonder how this will affect the automaker’s global strategy in electric vehicle manufacturing and sales, battery production, energy storage, and solar energy; and how to factor it into the automaker’s valuation.

All of it means that Tesla, and competitors who are taking advanced mobility quite seriously, are going to need even more reliable and high-performance, long-range batteries. To start off, here’s a look at some of the top selling global EVs and their specs and starting prices; and what they’re saying about their next steps in bringing in next-generation batteries that will be fundamental in hitting these targets.

And then there’s the question of which next-gen battery technology will win the race.


Tesla Model 3:  Like its competitors, Tesla is using lithium-ion cells in its batteries, with the Model 3 getting 2170-size cells. While it can power 250 miles for the starting version, the long range versions of the Model 3 can deliver 322 miles. CEO Elon Musk and team are spending a lot of time on what the next steps in battery packs will look like. They’re likely to be changed over to lithium iron, which would offer longer range and more durable battery cells. Tesla is hoping to hit the 400 miles-per-charge and 1 million mile-life for the battery pack. The company hopes to rid its batteries of the rare and expensive cobalt element to hit its targets.

It looks like the new batteries will be built in both California and its next Gigafactory in Germany. We’ve been hearing a lot this year on the “Roadrunner project,” which would bring new battery plants close to its vehicle production plant in Fremont, Calif. Plans are in place with the City of Fremont that will allow for adding two buildings down the road from the Fremont factory and will make space for r&d and new battery manufacturing.

There had been doubts over whether Tesla was going to be producing batteries at its Berlin plant, but that’s been reassured by a regional government official. Tesla is going to build “completely new batteries” at Gigafactory Berlin, according to Brandenburg Minister of Economics Jörg Steinbach. Tesla is expected to announce the details of the plan in September at its “Battery Day.”

BAIC EU-Series:  Beijing Automotive Group (BAIC), one of China’s largest automakers will be adding SK Innovation’s NCM 811 cells. That working relationship is expected to start sometime during the second half of 2020. The lithium-ion cells will be produced at SK Innovation’s first plant in Changzhou, China, and will be owned by a wholly-owned joint venture between the two companies and Beijing Electronics. The new battery is expected to get a range increase up to 311 miles (NEDC). SK Innovation’s NCM 811 are said to come from a “low cobalt chemistry,” which is gaining share in China over other types of NCM. NCM is made up of lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese, versus LFP which is made up of lithium, iron, and phosphate.

BYD Yuan / S2 EV:  The Chinese automaker has been pleased recently to see its Yuan and S2 EV achieve sales success in the EV and the crossover SUV markets. These models and others in the company’s portfolio will be powered by BYD’s next-gen battery at some point in the near future, the company said earlier this year. It will come from its new “Blade” lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries.

It will be part of the company attempting to stay on track during the COVID-19 outbreak. It may come through its new sub-brand, FinDreams serving the automotive design, manufacturing, and parts markets. One of them is called FinDreams Battery. It will be part of the Chinese company opening its technology and products to the whole world, BYD said.

Solid-state batteries:  Last year, Fisker Inc., launched its Ocean model, with plans to roll out the $40,000 all-electric SUV in 2021. Solid-state batteries will be part of it, with the potential for making improvements in range — up to 300 miles per charge, the company said. CEO Henrik Fisker said its solid-state battery can produce 2.5 times the energy density that lithium-ion batteries can, at perhaps a third of the cost.

A few years ago, Toyota played an important role in the future of solid-state batteries when announcing that they would power its ambitious EV product launch plan. But it does take its time in testing and developing new technology. The company now says that its developed a working prototype of the batteries, and that limited production will start in 2025.

Solid-state batteries will be replacing liquid electrolyte with a solid, and backers see it as the breakthrough that will finally bring long-range, solid, durable batteries to market. Improvements could come from higher energy density and range, improved safety, faster recharging, longer battery lifespan, and being less prone to extreme weather conditions. But these batteries have many challenges that need to be resolved, Toyota said.

So it looks like the competition by battery manufacturing companies and vehicle makers will be which next-gen battery wins — lithium iron or solid-state. Of course, there’s also NCM, with its lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese batteries.






Big Picture: Tesla Motors dealing with battery fire, September sales figures

Tesla Model S fireHave you seen the YouTube video that went viral a few days ago – where passengers driving down a street in Kent, Wash., view a Tesla Model S on fire? The car struck metal debris on Oct .1 in the town near Seattle – said to be a “curved section” that fell off a semi-trailer. First responders said that the fire occurred in the electric vehicle’s lithium-ion battery. “The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote in a statement. “Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse.” The driver was safe and only had good things to say about the car. Tesla’s booming stock price dropped 10% over two days but looks like it could be coming back. It will most likely turn out to be similar to what Chevrolet went through with the NHTSA report on the Volt lithium battery catching fire in a test; or to Nissan going through the wringer last year over the Leaf’s battery life receding in extreme heat conditions in Arizona. The Volt and Leaf are doing just fine, and the Model S will probably come through in sales and reputation if handled the right way by Tesla Motors.

In other Tesla news, the automaker is moving forward to direct sales in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association reached an agreement late last week to allow the automaker to apply for a single dealership license. Tesla withdrew a lawsuit and now needs to get approval from the Virginia Motor Vehicle Dealer Board, the state regulatory agency that oversees dealers in the state, before it can begin selling vehicles in Virginia. Tesla Motors has taken another step toward expanding its fast charger options for Model S drivers. For $1,000, you’ll soon be able to get a CHAdeMO fast-charger adapter. While the 50 kilowatt CHAdeMO stations aren’t nearly as fast of the 120 kW Tesla Superchargers, there are a lot more of them out there on the roads – primarily in the Pacific Northwest region.

Correction: California funding of 100 hydrogen fueling stations
As reported by a Green Auto Market reader close to the story…. The coverage of California’s governor approving bills last week incorrectly reported funding for 100 hydrogen fueling stations in the state. It wasn’t $20 million in one lump sum – it needs to be described as “either $20 million per year or a potential total of $220 million during the life of the extended program (until 2023).” My reporting assumed that hydrogen stations would cost $200,000 each but it’s actually costing a bit more than that amount. So, if you catch incorrect reporting, please let me know. If you completely disagree with what I wrote, please let me know. It could inspire and fuel another commentary from me.

September sales figures didn’t break records, but the metal was still moving
Electric Drive Transportation Association just released electric vehicle sales numbers for September 2013. About 8,127 plug-in vehicles were sold last month – 4,477 plug-in hybrids and 3,650 battery electric vehicles. The numbers weren’t as high as August’s record sales, but they do show a 40% jump over September 2012. Cumulative 2013 sales for plug-ins were 117% higher than they were by this time in 2012. There were 33,576 hybrids sold last month, which correlates with the overall downward sales trend in new vehicle sales in the US market. Long term, it looked better – total sales for hybrids in 2013 were 21% higher than they were in the first nine months of 2012.

New book follows the money trail shaping renewable energy
“Do you get the feeling that the energy industry and the Congress that it owns are deliberately lying to you? If so, you are 100% correct,” according to an announcement that Editor Craig Shields just had his third book published, Renewable Energy: Following the Money. The book features another set of interviews; the effects that economics and financial power have on the course of the energy industry are explored by high-ranking officers in the US military, lobbyists, scientists, economists, environmentalists, journalists, and heads of NGOs. I applaud Shields’ hard work and wide ranging perspectives on renewable energy and clean transportation. I admire how much he’s kept his word on staying in the trenches on where all of this is going as a business – whether that be through attending key conferences or interviewing experts of all genres for his books and blog. This new book digs into what I would describe as what “Deep Throat” ex-FBI official W. Mark Felt kept telling reporter Bob Woodward about the Watergate scandal: “Follow the money trail.”

CARB streamlines propane and NGV upfits, but Peter Ward calls for it to go further
The Cal­i­for­nia Air Resources Board (CARB) has stream­lined the process for propane auto­gas and nat­ural gas vehi­cle upfits through approv­ing changes to its rules. This brings the process closer to require­ments of the US Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. Peter Ward of Alter­na­tive Fuels Advo­cates would like to see the process go fur­ther, where adjust­ments to the require­ments could be made with­out hav­ing to go to the Board each time. It’s the first substantial revision to the CARB rules in 18 years. Ward would like to see continued cooperation and mutual interest continued between CARB and the industry. “Keep the regulations nimble,” he said.

Highlights from Plug-In 2013 in San Diego

  • Debate continued by panelists on how public charging should be funded. Some say it should be essentially free to the public – paid for by retailers wanting to offer consumers incentives for showing up and staying a while. Some charger makers and others argue that most of the charging is happening at home and the EV drivers should just have to swipe their credit card to charge somewhere else. However, one-time processing fees could be a problem for acceptance of these systems by consumers. Then there’s the problem of too many people charging during peak hours when utilities are limited in how much energy should be flowing to charging stations. It’s likely there are not enough EVs out there yet for it to be a problem, but the worry continues.
  • Via Motors has a contract to build and deliver $20 million worth of plug-in hybrid pickups and vans to over 50 participating fleets. The fleets will also be sending real-time data to the US Department of Energy to study for improvements in fuel economy and emissions.
  • ABB launched the Terra 53 for North America. This 50 kW DC fast charging station meets both SAE Combo and CHAdeMO standards for battery electric vehicles, all in one station.
  • A coalition of US and German automakers unveiled a public combo charger at the Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego—in an eVgo Freedom Station. It uses the CCS plug and combines a J-1772 Level 2, 240-volt charge point with direct current (DC) fast charging.
  • Eaton released its Dual AC Level 2 charging stations for simultaneous charging of two EVS. The stations can charge electric vehicle batteries up to three times faster than traditional charging systems to offer a cost-effective solution.

And in other news during a busy week…..

  • Clean Energy Fuels released  its “Redeem” renewable natural gas fuel. The company says it is the first one to commercially distribute a renewable natural gas vehicle fuel made from waste streams such as landfills, large dairies and sewage plants directly to fleets around the country and at 35 public Clean Energy stations throughout California. Clean Energy says it’s 90% cleaner than diesel and comes from biogenic methane, or biogas – methane generated by decomposition of organic waste. The target is to produce and distribute 15 million gallons of Redeem in its first year.
  • General Electric Co, Whirlpool Corp, Eaton Corp and others are developing more affordable natural gas vehicle home refueling systems. For about a tenth of the price of current models, plus installation, they aim to sell the new units to the millions of homes across America that are already hooked up to natural gas pipelines. Energy providers in Georgia, California and Utah are working on distributing new refueling units in the next two years. Honda has also expressed interest in the new technology.
  • UK-based hydrogen fueling company ITM Power has a 4.45 million (pounds) project that will integrate its hydrogen energy storage and vehicle refueling system on the Island of Wight. It’s called EcoIsland Hydrogen Vehicle Refueller, which is supported by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board.
  • General Motors is expanding its collaboration with the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) to develop hydrogen fuel-cell technology. It ties in with GM’s new fuel-cell development facility in Pontiac, Mich., which is about 20 miles from TARDEC’s new fuel-cell research lab in Warren, Mich. The two entities will focus on testing the durability and performance of fuel-cell materials. In related news, Daimler and GM will be investing in two other fuel cell projects aimed at advancing the vehicle technologies and building out the fueling infrastructure. Daimler is putting about $500 million into a network of hydrogen stations in Germany over the next 10 years.
  • The Toyota RAV4 electric version took the top ranking away from last year’s winner, the 2013 Lexus GS 450h in the Automobile Club of Southern California’s 2013 Green Car Guide. Results come from the organization’s Automotive Research Center, which has been a leading vehicular emissions test lab since the late 1960s. Testers look at how hybrid, alternative fuel, electric, fuel efficient, and extremely low emitting gasoline-powered vehicles on the market are performing following a number of patterns vehicles are typically experiencing.
  • Kia will release the 2015 Soul EV, the first electric car from a Korean automaker to be sold in the US beyond concept cars displayed at auto shows.
  • The US Environmental Protection Agency wants to make right with consumers to avoid future fuel economy rating meltdowns like the ones we’ve seen lately. EPA will be giving more information about its audits and data submitted by automakers. Results from 20 recent fuel-economy audits will be released soon to the public to start the changeover.

Lithium-ion batteries see much brighter days for Asia-based battery makers

LG Chem battery researchNot long ago, Navigant Research identified what it considers to be the top 10 most significant lithium-ion battery makers active in the electric vehicle market. Its top 10 ranking is based on systems integration, safety engineering, chemistry performance, geographic reach, manufacturing and product performance, pricing, and overall corporate financial health. Here’s the top 10 list with a bit of company background information….

  1. LG Chem – formerly a subsidiary of LG Group, the South Korean company went public in 2001 with LG Group remaining a significant investor.
  2. Johnson Controls – a US-based company offering products and services to optimize energy and operational efficiencies to several industries including automotive.
  3. Automotive Energy Supply Corp. (AESC) – a joint venture between three Japan-based companies – Nissan, information technology company NEC Corp., and electronic device company NEC TOKIN Corp.
  4. Panasonic – a Japanese electronics company.
  5. Samsung SDI – a subsidiary of South Korea-based Samsung Electronics.
  6. SK Continental E-Motion – a joint venture between South Korea’s largest oil refiner SK Innovation and German automotive parts supplier Continental AG.
  7. Hitachi – a Japanese engineering and electronics conglomerate.
  8. Toshiba – a Japanese engineering and electronics conglomerate.
  9. GS Yuasa – a Japanese company known primarily for automobile and motorcycle lead-acid batteries.
  10. BYD – Chinese BYD Company is a major battery maker and also owns BYD Auto Co.

You might notice a pattern here – of these 10 companies, only one is US based and nearly all others are in Asia and bring many years of success in automotive, engineering, and electronics to their battery divisions. The US has its share of electric carmakers, but the battery packs haven’t gone well for US-based manufacturing. A123 Systems went bankrupt and is making a few batteries now for its Chinese company owner; EnerDel came from Ener1 and its troubled partnership with Norwegian electric carmaker Think. EnerDel is struggling with lack of business and just cut its Indianapolis-area workforce by one third. Coda Automotive has pulled out of the electric vehicle market and filed for bankruptcy. Management is now focused on building its battery energy storage system through its Coda Energy division, which it started in 2011, and it’s focused on markets outside of electric vehicles.

LG Chem has done very well in the global li-ion battery market, but the US has been a bad experience for the top-ranked company. LG Chem finally began producing li-ion batteries in July for the Chevrolet Volt at its Holland, Mich. plant, but that’s been stopped again in the past few days. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has raised questions about how the cells are being made. The EPA has issued a subpoena on LG Chem to find out what chemicals have been used in production. The company says that it’s still confident it can get production ramped up once this investigation gets wrapped up.

LG Chem had received $151 million in US Department of Energy funds, but had not built any Volt batteries from Holland, Mich., until very recently – only from its South Korean facilities. It got fairly ugly earlier this year when the Office of the Inspector General reported that LG Chem employees were sitting around doing nothing but playing games and watching movies while being paid from these federal funds. LC Chem was instructed to return $842,000 as a result of the report.

Lux Research reported that electronics giant Panasonic’s lithium-ion battery division earned about $40 million in profits during Q2 2013 – much better than in Q2 2012 when the company lost $20 million. The company is expected to invest over $200 million during the next year to expand its li-ion production lines in Japan. Panasonic has supplied nickel-metal hydride batteries to Toyota and Honda hybrid models, but more recently has invested more in its li-ion division. Tesla Motors is a major client – Panasonic has been producing 60 kilowatt hour to 85 kWh battery packs for its Model S electric car. Lux Research reported that Panasonic has overtaken LG Chem and AESC in US li-ion sales. The US market is competitive for li-ion EV battery market share, but it’s now coming from companies based overseas.