A123Systems has developed a new generation of Lithium-ion batteries, that will deliver up to 10X longer life, 5X power gains and dramatically faster charge time compared to conventional Lithium technology, as validated by independent testing at Motorola and government research labs. They are delivering batteries to Black and Decker with unprecedented power, safety, and life as compared to previously used batteries. Their batteries use proprietary nanoscale electrode technology built on research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and exclusively licensed from MIT. The initial family of batteries is targeted at applications such as power tools, advanced medical devices, hybrid electric vehicles, mobility products such as electric scooters, robotics, and consumer electronics.
The company is working with the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a major undertaking to develop battery materials for future use in hybrid electric vehicles. Preliminary performance results show a technology with great promise for the future of electric and hybrid electric vehicles. DOE is evaluating whether it can replace the NiMH batteries in hybrid vehicles with lithium-ion batteries weighing one-fifth as much. Their batteries will enable a significant cost and weight savings vs. NiMH or conventional Li-Ion technology for hybrid and plug-in vehicles. These advantages include:
- Twice the energy density of other Li-Ion HEV cells, While having the highest power to weight ratio of any commercially available battery (100C pulse capability).
- The lowest impedance of any cell/packs in its class
- Low impedance growth even at very high charge/discharge rates
- Proven to withstand thousands of discharge cycles with outstanding calendar life
- A design that withstands extreme shocks and vibration
- Operable over a wide temperature range (-30 to 60 degrees C)
- Intrinsically safe chemistry which is especially important for vehicular applications
Their initial product, M1 cells, packs up to five times the power density of current rechargeable, high power batteries. These cells offer the highest commercially available power density of any Li-ion chemistry. These high power products are able to pulse consistantly at high discharge rates at temperatures as high as 70C and deliver over 3000W/kg, over an order of magnitude better than conventional Lithium-Ion cells and with their low impedance and high thermally conductive design, A unique feature of M1 cells is their ability to charge to high capacity in 5 minutes or less. That’s a significant improvement over traditional Li Ion, which typically requires more than 90 minutes to reach a similar level of charge. Fast charge will be a key enabler of practical electric drive vehicles.
Impedance growth is one of the top failure modes of high power batteries and a major cause of power fade over the life of the battery. Their batteries are engineered (pat. pending) so their internal resistance (impedance) will decrease with their use. This is the opposite effect to most Li Ion cells which experience a growth in their internal resistance as they are cycled at high rates or temperatures. This is a significant benefit in applications requiring long calendar life such as hybrid electric vehicles or in devices that simply must work such as medical devices or mission critical systems.
With up to 10X improvement in life over existing rechargeable batteries, their batteries can deliver thousands of cycles at high rates. Cycles refer to the number of times a battery can be charged and discharged before it no longer has any power remaining. The cells can be continuously discharged to 100% depth of discharge at 35C rate, a marked improvement over all other rechargeable battery alternatives. Their batteries high chemical stability and a flat plateau at a lower oxidation potential than other Li-Ion chemistries provides products with record life. Their batteries meet the most aggressive hybrid electric vehicle cycle life requirements and at high rates with 100% DOD.
The cells are designed to deliver high power pulses at temperatures as low as -30 degrees C or as high as 70 degrees C. The company has developed a packaging system that offers 4 times higher thermal conductivity than conventional Lithium-Ion cylindrical cells. Coupled with the industry’s lowest impedance, this allows the most efficient temperature management of any Lithium-Ion cell in the market. As a result, their cells can operate without the cooling systems that are required in many applications, which currently use higher impedance battery products.
The company's cells are intrinsically safe and eliminate the risk of explosions and thermal runaway associated with conventional Lithium-Ion batteries that use oxide active materials. The active materials in their technology are not combustible and do not release oxygen if exposed to high temperature or in the event of battery failure or mechanical abuse. A123 coats an aluminum electrode inside the battery with nano-scale particles, a few hundred atoms in size, of lithium metal phosphate. The phosphate is safer than the oxide-based chemistry used in lithium-ion batteries today. Sound familiar, see earlier post containing the phrase: "Valance's phosphate-based Lithium-ion battery 'replaces toxic heavy metals' with phosphates." A123's chemistry is environmentally friendly because their cells contain no heavy metals. Materials are designed to ensure all the Lithium is fully extracted from the cathode when the battery is fully charged. As a result, safety issues relating to overcharge are eliminated because there is no Lithium available to plate on the anode in an overcharged state.
Their first battery is now in production and being delivered to the Black & Decker Corporation, a leading manufacturer of power tools. It will be first utilized in the corporation’s proffesional DEWALT line. DEWALT is using A123systems’ battery in a new, innovative, heavy-duty 36-volt power tool platform. The 36-volt power tools will provide users with increased levels of power and runtime, at a similar or less weight than their corded counterparts. Available in 2006, the new power tool line was designed from the ground up to ensure durability and reliability and to make optimum use of the increased power available from A123’s innovative battery technology. The line will include a hammerdrill, reciprocating saw, circular saw, impact wrench, rotary hammer, jigsaw, flashlight and combo kits.
A123Systems has multinational manufacturing capability. In addition to the main headquarters, which is located in Watertown MA, A123 operates a combination of wholly owned, state-of-the-art tier one manufacturing plants and subcontractor facilities in China, Korea, US and Taiwan comprising of more than 100,000 square feet. These facilities meet the stringent quality requirements of Fortune 500 companies.
Milwaukee Electric Tool has a line of less powerful 28-volt cordless tools made by a Canadian unit of Taiwan's E-One Moli Energy Corp. that have been selling at record paces. Bosch also plans on introducing new high-powered tools next year.
A123 Systems, Watertown, MA website
A123 Systems Unveils Lithium-Battery Technology that Delivers Unprecedented levels of Power, Safety and Life, Press release November 2, 2005
"New type of Battery Offers Voltage Aplenty -- at a Premium", Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2005