By on August 9, 2007

a123_in_prius.jpgToyota is delaying introducing lithium-ion battery-powered hybrids because of safety concerns. Forbes reports that the Japanese automaker is hanging fire (so to speak) due to worries that the cells might overheat or explode. Toyota doesn't expect to have hybrids with Li-Ion batteries until 2011. They've also delayed plans for Tundra and Sequoia hybrids. Whether or not this will affect GM's hopes of lithium-ion powered Volt is yet to be seen. Meanwhile, commenting on an earlier TTAC post, Tesla spinmeister Darryl Siry claims their Roadster's Li-ion battery pack passed UN and DOT protocols for safety "when shipping" which which "can actually be harsher than safety when in a car."

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18 Comments on “Toyota Backs Off Lithium-Ion Plans for Prius...”


  • avatar
    miked

    Ford would have just recalled the batteries after they started catching on fire….

  • avatar
    fallout11

    Techno-optimism meets reality….

  • avatar
    glenn126

    At least Toyota are admitting that they need more time to make the cars non-flambe’

    As miked mentioned – “unlike Ford…”

  • avatar

    hmmm….spinmeister. Actually, I oversee sales, marketing and service for the company. On this site I just try to add as much extra facts as I can to help your readers make good judgments. For example, to clarify my statement on the UN and DOT testing – what I meant was that these tests are actually done by abusing the battery itself, not smashing the car with the battery in it, where it is it protected by the chassis. We handle thermal issues separately by liquid cooling the pack.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Link

    Still, even with tough safety rules, the [battery powered electric] cars can pose special hazards. When installing an array of batteries in a car, Mr. Wayland lays a rubber blanket on top of it, and connects one battery to the next, one at a time, to avoid short-circuits.

    But in March 1998, feeling elated after installing 28 batteries in preparation for a race, he whipped off the blanket before he was finished. He leaned down to connect the last battery to the array and dropped the brass connecting rod, which bounced from battery to battery, creating a trail of sparks and flashes. A superheated cloud of gas, called a plasma, formed and flickered over the batteries as the heat generated by 336 volts melted the brass and fused the batteries together.

    “I could feel the skin burning on my face,” recalls Mr. Wayland, who wasn’t seriously injured. A colleague threw a wet towel over the blaze. The towel was vaporized. Fire extinguishers had no effect. Finally, a fireman wearing a hazardous-materials suit disconnected the batteries, and the cloud disappeared. “The Zombie looked like a roasted marshmallow,” Mr. Wayland says. The car was quickly repaired, and Mr. Wayland has since been known as “Plasma Boy.”

  • avatar
    Luther

    Well…If you pack the lithium cells in a refrigerator, then you will have perpetual motion.

    -Senator Albert Einstein

  • avatar

    I’m pretty convinced that lithium-ion for the Tesla Roadster and the THINK car (they’re supposed to be collaborating) will be a disaster …

    What a lot of people fail to realize is that a modern compact battery is actually a bomb – it satisfies the classic definition of a bomb: a considerable amount of energy stored in compressed, compacted form, with potential volatility.

    With larger, more manageable batteries (though not as powerful) you reduce the number of units that can go wrong. With lithium-ion, you are multiplying the number of units into the thousands.

    Check up on mobile phones that have exploded …

  • avatar

    Robert Schwartz:
    When installing an array of batteries in a car, Mr. Wayland lays a rubber blanket on top of it, and connects one battery to the next, one at a time, to avoid short-circuits.

    In college we had an race car to compete in SAE Formula Electric. There were pit stops involved so we built aluminum boxes to hold four batteries each (we used 32 optima gel-cells for power) that would slide in a rail to line up the connectors.

    Never once did we have a ‘plasma boy’ style incident.

  • avatar
    Luther

    “Ford would have just recalled the batteries after they started catching on fire….”

    Nahhh. They would blame it on Navistar.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    If you really want to save the environment, don’t buy a hybrid or any new car. Buy used or keep your jalopy running. Less consumption = better for the environment.

  • avatar
    rtz

    Toyota is scared. Toyota is extremely conservative.

    GM though is a different story. Bob Lutz was at one time, CEO of Exide batteries. That’s the ace in GM’s sleeve. He knows batteries and the production of batteries. What it takes, what it is.

    He knows what he’s getting at:

    http://www.autobloggreen.com/2007/08/09/breaking-general-motors-to-work/

    Clever guy. Bring them in real close. Make them a part of GM. Kinda like AC Delco.

    Exide source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Lutz

    Those A123 bats will get the job done. The only reason you haven’t seen a car with 1,000 mile range yet is because no one has piled on enough batteries yet to do it. Do the math. It’s possible.

    http://www.evconvert.com/tools/evcalc/

    The Volt may just be one car. But the E-Flex drive train can be put in everything. Any fuel source, with full on electric even being an option. Any car, any fuel, you want total electric; sure. Prius on steroids.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Just think about the potential liability and media disaster with plug-in hybrids. Today, most car fires happen while moving on the street or after having just stopped.

    Imaging charging in a garage at 3am. A few lithium-ion explosions/fires will have soccer moms everywhere avoiding plug-ins like 1980′s Audis after a 60 minutes hitpiece.

  • avatar
    rtz

    The power tool battery packs these batteries are currently in don’t have any problems:

    http://www.dewalt.com/us/products/attachment_detail.asp?productID=14905

    They won’t burn like other Li chemistry’s can.

    http://www.valence.com/technology/safety_video.html

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    I have to think the cycling of the battery of a hand-held 3/8-inch drill has little to do with driving a 3,000-pound car. And, yes, I have plenty of power tools with battery packs. (Other than that idiot Craftsman electric impact wrench advertised to produce “240 ft.-lbs. of torque” that couldn’t remove the lugnuts from my racecar, which had been carefully hand-torqued to 95 ft.-lbs…)

  • avatar
    Johnson

    rtz, li-ion batteries in small applications like power tools are one thing; li-ion batteries in large applications like automobiles is a whole other matter. Li-ion batteries in a car will have to be high voltage high power batteries that must also withstand a crash and be reliable for many years without replacement. Power tool batteries don’t have to do any of that.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    ” … UN and DOT protocols for safety “when shipping” …. “

    Hmmm, I don’t think the United Nations (UN) has any battery shipping safety protocols.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    “rtz, li-ion batteries in small applications like power tools are one thing; li-ion batteries in large applications like automobiles is a whole other matter. Li-ion batteries in a car will have to be high voltage high power batteries that must also withstand a crash and be reliable for many years without replacement. Power tool batteries don’t have to do any of that.”

    The rechargeable batteries in my power tools, cell phones, etc. are a source of real aggravation as they fail to hold a decent charge after 1-2 years and are terribly expensive to replace.

  • avatar
    Johnson

    jthorner:
    The rechargeable batteries in my power tools, cell phones, etc. are a source of real aggravation as they fail to hold a decent charge after 1-2 years and are terribly expensive to replace.

    Exactly. I too have cell phones, tools, laptops that use li-ion batteries, and they significantly use their ability to hold power/charge after 2-3 years.

    Toyota currently gives an 8 year warranty on their hybrid vehicles that covers the whole hybrid system including batteries. I’m guessing that Toyota wants to achieve at least the same reliability/durability levels with Li-ion batteries as they have achieved with NiMH. That means having li-ion batteries than can be reliable for many years, and importantly that can hold a charge consistenly for many years without severe performance degredation.


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