Posted by: carboncreditsusa | February 1, 2009

“Electric Vehicle” Update: Battle Of Battery Developers Features Capacity, Power, And Price Under Government Subsidy Programs

The Energy Department has received about 75 applications for about $38 billion in loans; the program is authorized to issue $25 billion.

Now the U.S. firms are turning to the federal government to help them rev up production, and there are few voices fretting about the perils of industrial policy, especially when the economy needs a boost. Both sides of the aisle in Congress have backed government support.

A123 has applied for a $1.84 billion low-interest loan from the Energy Department under the advanced vehicle technology program created by energy legislation in 2007 to build manufacturing facilities in the United States. EnerDel has asked for $480 million to expand facilities in Indiana. (Both of the state’s senators, GOP Sen. Richard G. Lugar and Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh have urged Obama to increase support for battery technology.) The Energy Department has received about 75 applications for about $38 billion in loans; the program is authorized to issue $25 billion.

Fourteen companies have banded together in a National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture seeking $1 billion to $2 billion in investment over the next five years. They say it is the only way to compete with Asian manufacturers.

For carmakers, the choice of battery is a matter of strategy as well as technology. Three-quarters of American motorists drive 40 miles or less a day, so carmakers are trying to decide how much range an electric car battery should have.

GM plans on a battery pack big enough to last 40 miles, at which point a small gasoline engine will take over. Some rival companies are considering a smaller battery pack that might go only 20 miles, still enough to serve the needs of many local commuters without adding as much weight and cost.

Shai Agassi, the chief executive of Better Place, which is building electric car infrastructure in Israel, Hawaii, Northern California and several other places, thinks electric cars should have batteries only. He proposes setting up swap stations where motorists on long trips could exchange a depleted battery for one fully charged.

“We just don’t think that the answer to how to extend the battery is to put a power plant in our trunks,” he said.

One company is already making all-electric cars, albeit in tiny volumes. Tesla Motors has sold just more than 100 cars for about $100,000 each.

Ted Merendino, a sales associate for Tesla Motors, recently popped open the trunk of one of the sleek all-electric sports cars in the company’s show room in Menlo Park, Calif., and started talking about the battery pack that takes the car from zero to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds. The pack has 6,831 lithium-ion cells in parallel sheets that can power the car for 220 to 244 miles depending on the use of air conditioning and the radio.

The car saved weight by not having a conventional gasoline engine; the electric motor weighs only 130 pounds, Merendino said. But the battery pack is 1,000 pounds, far more than a conventional engine and making the Tesla sports car 700 to 900 pounds heavier than its closest equivalent, the Lotus Elise.

“Heat is a battery-killer,” Merendino said. To counter that, Tesla cools its engine with a heat exchanger and standard coolant.

Recharging takes much more time than filling a tank with gasoline, but much less time than most people keep their cars parked at home. With a special 220 volt, 60 amp plug and special wall socket, it takes about 3 1/2 hours to fully recharge.

Tesla has had its share of production problems, with parts coming from at least three foreign countries. But boosting battery production to serve an entire industry would be a problem of a different magnitude.

If you commandeered all the lithium-ion battery manufacturing capacity in the world, you would be able to make about 1 million plug-in cars a year, said Tesla’s Straubel. Moreover, he noted, there is virtually no spare capacity sitting idle.

“If you’re talking about tens of millions of cars,” he said. “You’re talking about building new companies.”

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