Las baterías de iones de litio moverán los vehículos eléctricos hasta 2025

Las baterías de iones de litio, que están empezando a sustituir a las de níquel en aplicaciones avanzadas, probablemente será la opción de la química de las baterías utilizadas en los vehículos híbridos enchufables y en los eléctricos puros, al menos hasta 2025, según los ponentes de la sesión dedicada a “Nuevas Tecnologías de Baterías” en el Congreso Mundial del SAE en Detroit.

Prabhakar Patil, director general de Compact Power Inc., filial de la coreana LG Chem, señala que el coste de los sistemas de iones de litio se ha reducido en un 97 por ciento por kilovatio-hora desde principios de la década de los noventa.

Prabhakar Patil predice que los costes caerán otro 25 a 50 por ciento en los próximos cinco años.

Patil ve un gran potencial en las baterías de zinc-aire y aluminio-aire, aunque no en aplicaciones en la industria del automóvil, por ahora.

Las baterías de zinc-aire tienen 3,5 veces más energía potencial que las de iones de litio, y las aluminio-aire almacenan 21 veces más, pero aún queda mucho por investigar antes de fabricarlas en grandes cantidades, por lo que en principio se destinarán a pequeños aparatos, como audífonos.

Patil señala la capacidad de EE UU, con una larga historia en la tecnología de iones de litio, y dice que debe ser capaz de alcanzar a Japón y Corea del Sur.

LG Chem proporcionará las células de las baterías de litio para el montaje en Michigan por General Motors Corp. para el híbrido enchufable GM Chevrolet Volt.

Patil espera que las fábricas en EE UU progresen, desde realizar sólo el montaje, a la producción del electrolito, las materias primas y, finalmente, la batería completa. Una instalación avanzada podría tardar hasta 18 meses en construirse y el coste no sería mayor que el de una fábrica de motores.

Patil señala que no existe ningún problema de recursos de litio. La mayor concentración de depósitos de litio se encuentra en América del Sur (especialmente en Bolivia), pero EE UU y Canadá tienen importantes reservas (ocupan el 4º y 5º lugar en recursos, respectivamente).


Experts Say Lithium Batteries Should Have Long Run

Lithium-ion, which is just starting to replace nickel-metal-hydride in advanced auto applications, likely will be the chemistry of choice for batteries used in hybrid and electric vehicles through at least 2025, panelists agreed during a session on New Battery Technology at last week’s SAE World Congress in Detroit.

Prabhakar Patil, CEO of Compact Power Inc., a subsidiary of Korea’s LG Chem, notes that the cost of lithium-ion systems has dropped 97 percent on a kilowatt-hour basis since the early 1990s. He predicts costs will fall another 25 to 50 percent within five years.

Patil sees great potential for emerging zinc-air and aluminum-air batteries, although not in automotive applications. Zinc-air units have 3.5 times the energy potential of lithium-ion, and aluminum-air has 21 times more. The problem is in converting the materials into high-power manufacturable systems. As a result, Patil expects these types of batteries to be relegated to low-power uses such as hearing aid batteries.

Patil notes the U.S. has a long history with lithium-ion technology and says it should be able to catch Japan and South Korea in terms of manufacturing. LG Chem will supply lithium-battery cells for assembly in Michigan by General Motors Corp. for GM’s Chevrolet Volt extended-range hybrid. Patil expects plants in the U.S. to progress from assembly facilities to electrolyte production, producing the raw materials and eventually making the complete battery. An advanced facility could take up to 18 months to construct and cost as much as a new engine plant, he said.

Patil disagrees with some reports claiming a boom in lithium-ion batteries will produce a shortage of the metal. The largest concentration of lithium deposits is in South America (particularly Bolivia), but the U.S. and Canada rank as the fifth- and sixth-largest markets, respectively.

As do some competitors, LG/CPI uses a manganese oxide in the form of a crystalline spinnel for the cathode. Some other companies use cobalt or various iron oxides. All use some form of carbon for the anode teamed with proprietary electrolyte mixtures.


Supplier: Chevy Volt battery on track
‘No showstoppers’ so far to delay new Chevy’s 2010 launch

The key to the success of General Motors Corp.’s Chevrolet Volt is the battery, and the supplier insists everything is on track for a November 2010 launch.

Despite the aggressive timeline, "so far there are no showstoppers" that would delay the launch, Prabhakar Patil said during the 2009 SAE World Congress in Detroit. Patil is chief executive of supplier Compact Power Inc., the North American subsidiary of lithium-ion battery maker LG Chem of Korea and sole battery supplier to the electric Volt.

The Volt has been a GM priority, in part because it has become a symbol of GM’s future and to counter government criticism that the automaker has failed to show leadership in advanced and green technology.

Politicians have been bashing GM and Detroit’s automakers for not doing enough to build advanced technology vehicles. But, they’re not likely to derail the project even with GM’s financial troubles, said auto analyst Stephanie Brinley of AutoPacific in Troy.

"It would send a big mixed message," if the government did not support the efforts, she said.

The auto task force did, however, in its report questioning GM’s viability plan, said the Volt will likely be too expensive to be commercially successful in the short term.

GM has stood fully behind the project. The Detroit automaker showed off the car Wednesday at the White House, where Vice President Joe Biden stopped by unexpectedly to see it and other green vehicles from Detroit’s Big Three on display in celebration of Earth Day.

President Barack Obama has said the government will buy 17,600 domestic automobiles, including 2,500 hybrids, with $285 million in stimulus money.

Skeptics of the extended-range Volt (it has a gasoline engine to extend the range of the batteries from 40 miles to about 400 miles), point to the batteries in citing concerns about cost and performance.

Patil flatly refutes the assertions. Compact Power and GM continue rigorous testing and, at $3 a gallon of gas, the payback is within five years, he said.

Compact Power delivered its first battery pack to GM on Oct. 31, 2007, 50 more in 2008 and will provide 400 this year, Patil said. GM’s plans call for 10,000 Volts a year initially.

In Korea, parent LG Chem is starting work on a dedicated battery cell assembly line for the Volt. It must be running about six months before Volt assembly begins, Patil said.

Compact Power has been taking the cells and arranging them into T-shaped packs at a facility in Troy, which has grown from five people in 2005 to 85.

The pack assembly work — each module holds 200 to 300 batteries — will be taken over by GM in a new Michigan facility that should be ready for in-house production early next year.

A battery pack plant is an easy facility to set up, as it is not as automated as battery cell plants, Patil said. But engineering is still required to ensure the pack can withstand the rigors of daily driving conditions, to make sure it doesn’t overheat, and that it can perform if any of the individual cells don’t operate properly.

LG Chem will continue to provide the cells from Korea, but the plan is to eventually manufacture cells in the U.S., Patil said.