The Truth About Cars » batteries http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:04:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » batteries http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Tesla Says Battery Gigafactory Will Not Be Built In California http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/tesla-says-battery-gigafactory-will-not-be-built-in-california/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/tesla-says-battery-gigafactory-will-not-be-built-in-california/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 18:51:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=767433 Announcements of businesses leaving regulation-happy and costly California or declining to do business in California are as common here in the Golden State as seeing a Prius blocking the left lane on the 405. This move is a bit of a surprise as California-based Tesla Motors said this morning that they have eliminated the state as […]

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Announcements of businesses leaving regulation-happy and costly California or declining to do business in California are as common here in the Golden State as seeing a Prius blocking the left lane on the 405. This move is a bit of a surprise as California-based Tesla Motors said this morning that they have eliminated the state as a possible site for their $5-billion dollar battery factory, meaning only Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada remain in the running.

It was only two weeks ago that the electric automaker announced plans to build the 500 to 1,000-acre site designed to produce up to 500,000 batteries per year and employ up to 6,500 workers to support the launch of upcoming models. The Los Angeles Times says the California governor’s office is not commenting but you can be sure there are some embarrassed bureaucrats in Sacramento when they learned today that the sites they proposed to Tesla were the first to be rejected. Tesla is also mum as to why California was rejected as of this writing.

Besides California being Tesla’s number one state for car sales, the company employees over 6,000 workers at their Fremont factory, their Palo Alto headquarters and their Southern California design studio.

This begs the question: will Tesla possibly bargain with Texas to change their franchise laws to allow them to open traditional dealerships in exchange for the battery factory?

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Does Dan Akerson Know GM’s 200 Mile Range Battery is Vaporware? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/does-dan-akerson-know-gms-200-mile-range-battery-is-vaporware/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/does-dan-akerson-know-gms-200-mile-range-battery-is-vaporware/#comments Mon, 23 Dec 2013 14:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=685642 The hagiographic article by Bloomberg/Business Week on outgoing General Motors CEO Dan Akerson did exactly what Selim Bingol and the other PR honchos in the RenCen towers wanted it to do. With other news agencies and blogs amplifying the puffery and pulling quotes, the article got GM and Akerson a lot of good press. One […]

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The hagiographic article by Bloomberg/Business Week on outgoing General Motors CEO Dan Akerson did exactly what Selim Bingol and the other PR honchos in the RenCen towers wanted it to do. With other news agencies and blogs amplifying the puffery and pulling quotes, the article got GM and Akerson a lot of good press. One of the quotes that got pulled the most was Akerson’s reference to a “moon shot” project giving GM’s next generation extended range electric vehicle a 200 mile range on battery power, based on breakthroughs in battery technology. It may be more of a moon shot than Akerson let on, since GM has cancelled its contract with that battery’s likely supplier, accusing it of “material misrepresentation”.

In the Business Week article, it says:

Although GM has hinted that it’s working on a next generation of electric vehicle, Akerson says it’s aiming for a compact car that can go 200 miles on a charge and carry a generator, too. While it will be similar to the Volt, engineers are working on generators that could run on gas, diesel, or natural gas. The increased electric range is coming, in part, from advances in battery chemistry. GM is planning to bring the model out in 2016, for about $30,000, according to a person familiar with the idea who asked not to be named because the plans aren’t public. It’s a project that the company doesn’t want to say much about but signifies how it’s been trying to move past inventing things to putting inventions into showrooms. “We want it to be a moon shot so we can surprise the competition,” Akerson says.

That part about the company not wanting to say much about the project and citing an unnamed source is rather cute in the context of a high profile article that was based on weeks of exclusive insider access given to the Business Week writers. What’s also kind of curious is that GM’s “200 mile battery” was not really news, so citing an unnamed source seemed superfluous. In September, at an event at GM’s Tech Center battery lab, GM’s vice president of global product programs, Doug Parks told the Wall Street Journal that the company was developing a next generation electric vehicle that has a 200 mile range and would cost about $30,000, though the cost of the batteries today would make meeting that price point impossible. Last March, Akerson himself told an energy conference about the project. “There will be breakthroughs in battery technology, they’re on the horizon,” Akerson told a session at the IHS CERAWeek energy conference which was broadcast on CNBC.com. “We’re actually developing a car today which is really anathema to the way the auto industry works: We’re running a dual play on the technology to see which one will succeed. One will result in” a 100-mile range, “the other will be a 200-mile range.”

Just like his comments in the recent Business Week article, Akerson’s remarks last spring about a 200 mile battery sparked a flurry of news reports about a potential GM EV with such a range. Many of those reports speculated that the battery in question was a lithium ion cell being developed by Envia, a battery startup claiming to use a special cathode and unique silicon carbon nanocomposite anode to produce a battery with a remarkable energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram. The level of energy density would indeed make a 200 mile range EV possible. The speculation was founded on the fact that in 2011 General Motors had invested $17 million through its GM Ventures arm to take an equity stake in Envia, resulting in GM Ventures president and GM chief technology officer Jon Lauckner having a seat on the Envia board. In late 2012 the automaker and Envia signed a contract for the battery company to start supplying GM in 2016. Because of the long lead time and validation needed in the auto industry, the contract had very tight deadlines, needing a final design for the battery by 2014.

However, the fact is that by the time Akerson, Parks and Bloomberg’s unnamed source went public with the 200 mile battery project, GM already had doubts about the Envia battery and was in the process of canceling the contract. In an extensive investigative article on the Quartz website, Steve LeVine outlines the history of Envia, how it touted the breakthrough performance of its battery design, based on research at the U.S. Dept of Energy’s Arpa-E program, though it had never manufactured any batteries. GM embraced the company, signing a multi-million dollar contract as well as investing in the company only to find their potential supplier unable to meet deadlines specified in the contract. It turns out that their battery’s outstanding performance only lasted for the first few charge/discharge cycles and then fell off, continuing to decline.

Levine shows that by March of 2013, right around the time that Akerson started touting the 200 mile battery, at their first quarterly meeting specified in the supply contract, GM expressed concern that their own testing showed the Envia battery not meeting claimed performance specs. Envia asked for patience saying that the tight deadlines in the contract weren’t giving them enough time to properly develop the battery. By July, GM’s representative was accusing Envia’s founder, Sujeet Kumar, of making “material misrepresentations during contract negotiations”. GM could not reproduce the Arpa-E results and the automaker was not happy that Envia had claimed a proprietary anode composition when in fact “the anode material is not Envia’s.” GM gave Envia “a failed grade for this quarter.”

In early August, Envia received the following in a letter from General Motors:

Envia has failed to move the project forward or replicate the results on a timetable that could conceivably support the vehicle development process. In fact, Envia was unable even to replicate prior reported test results even when utilizing the third-party anode that had purportedly been utilized in the Arpa-E test battery.

The letter continued that GM was “well within its rights to terminate the December 2012 agreement.” By late August, the contract was cancelled. Envia is currently mired in litigation with former CEO Atul Kapadia, who negotiated the contract with GM, over his firing and with Kapur’s previous employer over intellectual property issues related to battery technology.

While all of this was going on, GM was still talking about a 200 mile battery. To be fair, Akerson did say they were working on two tracks, with more than one battery supplier, and LeVine points out that it’s not likely that GM would have committed to the idea of a 200 mile range EV without having additional battery suppliers under consideration. Still Akerson’s most recent comments to Business Week seem odd in light of the backstory on Envia, almost as though he’s been out of the loop. Akerson’s subordinates recognized Envia’s shortcomings fairly early on, while he continued to reference the project as though there were no problems.

For more information on the topic, Steve LeVine examines the chemistry and physics of Envia’s battery chemistry here, and Gigaom’s Katie Fehrenbacher does her usual thorough job looking at the litigation that surrounds the company here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Volvo Capacitive Carbon Fiber Panels Could Replace Batteries, Save Weight In EVs & Conventional Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/volvo-capacitive-carbon-fiber-panels-could-replace-batteries-save-weight-in-evs-conventional-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/volvo-capacitive-carbon-fiber-panels-could-replace-batteries-save-weight-in-evs-conventional-cars/#comments Thu, 24 Oct 2013 10:30:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=632762 BMW is using carbon fiber composite unibodies for the electric i3 and i8 models to reduce their weight, thereby increasing their range. Now, Volvo is using carbon fiber in a novel way for EVs. Using carbon fiber it has developed a composite material that acts as a capacitor, storing electrical energy, so theoretically body panels […]

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That CFRP cowl panel is really storing electricity.

BMW is using carbon fiber composite unibodies for the electric i3 and i8 models to reduce their weight, thereby increasing their range. Now, Volvo is using carbon fiber in a novel way for EVs. Using carbon fiber it has developed a composite material that acts as a capacitor, storing electrical energy, so theoretically body panels and structural components could act as battery equivalents. Unlike conventional batteries, which add weight to a vehicle, the carbon fiber capacitive body panels wouldn’t just power the vehicles but also reduce weight.

To demonstrate the technology, Volvo replaced the the trunk lid, door panels, cowl, and hood of an S80 with the new composite. The panels are made of multiple layers of carbon fiber, insulated from each other with layers of fiberglass. The fiberglass acts as a dielectric with the layers of carbon fiber performing the tasks of the anode and cathode in a conventional capacitor.

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Volvo estimates that replacing an EV’s entire battery pack with capacitive panels would reduce total vehicle weight by 15%.  It would also help in packaging. One criticism of the Chevy Volt is that its large centrally mounted battery pack turns a five passenger platform into a four passenger car. If the car’s structure is the power source, space formerly used for batteries can be put to better use.

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There are possibilities for conventional vehicles as well, with the potential to replace the heavy 12 volt starter battery with just a few capacitive carbon fiber panels.

There are possible drawbacks, including cost and safety. Carbon fiber is expensive to work with so panels would be costly to make and to replace. Also, in the event of a collision that damages the panels’ electrical safety could be a concern.

As usual, there was no world on when, or if, this technology will ever see its way to a production vehicle.

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LG Chem Suspends Newly Started Chevy Volt Battery Production at Michigan Facility Over Chemical Not Yet E.P.A. Registered http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/lg-chem-suspends-newly-started-chevy-volt-battery-production-at-michigan-facility-over-chemical-not-yet-e-p-a-registered/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/lg-chem-suspends-newly-started-chevy-volt-battery-production-at-michigan-facility-over-chemical-not-yet-e-p-a-registered/#comments Sat, 07 Sep 2013 22:13:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=512617 Only weeks after starting up long-delayed production of lithium-ion batteries for the Chevy Volt at their new factory in Holland, Michigan, LG Chem has announced that they are stopping production for up to six weeks because a compound used in that production apparently had not been registered for use in manufacturing with the U.S. Environmental Protection […]

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Only weeks after starting up long-delayed production of lithium-ion batteries for the Chevy Volt at their new factory in Holland, Michigan, LG Chem has announced that they are stopping production for up to six weeks because a compound used in that production apparently had not been registered for use in manufacturing with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. While no shutdown order was issued by the EPA, the agency recently issued a subpoena to LG Chem, demanding a list of chemicals used at the Holland facility.

LG Chem spokesman Jeremy Hagemeyer said in an email to news agencies, “We discovered the possibility that this material may not be properly registered and made the decision to pause our production until we have that question resolved. We are currently reviewing the registration status and will work with the EPA to resolve the issue quickly. In the meanwhile, we are delaying production activities for approximately 6 weeks until we have confirmed the registration status or otherwise obtain approval from EPA.”

The $303 million factory was partially funded with a $151 million federal stimulus grant to produce batteries for electric and hybrid cars. President Obama spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the facility in 2011. The plant had more recently been in the news when it was discovered that employees were idle there. LG Chem at the time said that the plant’s output was not immediately needed because lower than anticipated sales of the Volt meant that their Korean operations were capable of supplying all the batteries needed for Chevy’s range-extended EV. After an audit by the U.S. Auditor General determined that employees were indeed not doing production work, LG Chem reimbursed the federal government $842,000.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Hybrid and EV sales are up this year and GM will soon start selling the Cadillac ELR, which shares the Volt’s “Voltec” powertrain, increasing the automaker’s demand for batteries. Test builds on the LG Chem production line in Holland began in May. Last month LG Chem said that mass production has started at their Michigan facility and that after those batteries’ conditioning period was over the factory would begin shipments to GM by October for use in the Volt.

Hagemeyer said that during shutdown there would be no layoffs. Employees will be engaged in continuous improvement projects, training and maintaining readiness, according to the company. “We view this as a temporary issue and are very confident that we will proceed with production soon,” he said, stressing that the plant is safe. So far, General Motors has not commented on the battery production shutdown.

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day One http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-one/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-one/#comments Thu, 30 May 2013 22:55:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490088 TTAC has borrowed EVs in the past. Nissan even let us snag a Leaf for a week. Since then, I’ve driven every EV on the market except the Model S. (Not for a lack of half-trying, I call Tesla HQ regularly, but am too lazy to visit a Tesla dealer.) Every time I’ve had an […]

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2014 Fiat 500e, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

TTAC has borrowed EVs in the past. Nissan even let us snag a Leaf for a week. Since then, I’ve driven every EV on the market except the Model S. (Not for a lack of half-trying, I call Tesla HQ regularly, but am too lazy to visit a Tesla dealer.) Every time I’ve had an EV, the conversation is more about living with the EV than the car itself. This time we’re doing something different. When the review of the spunky little orange Fiat 500e (I’ve decided to name her “Zippy Zappy”) hits in a few weeks, it will be 100% about the car and 0% about EV trials and tribulations. That divorced conversation is happening this week in daily installments.

EV tech is evolving rapidly from every angle, which is why we’re taking a look at it in this way. When the Tesla Roadster came on the scene it was the first real EV you could buy in ages, but the lacking of a standard charging connector, two seats and a steep price tag limited its commercial viability. Next up we had the Leaf which sported the new J1772 standard charging connector and the first DC quick-charge connector in the USA. Sadly there were zero quick charge stations in America when we last Leafed. Just a year into Nissan’s grand experiment there were significant updates to the Leaf and thanks to California’s zero-emissions mandate we have an EV explosion with just about everyone hopping on the eBandwagon. Are they ready for prime time?

2014 Fiat 500e Digital LCD Instrument Cluster

The 500e is the most efficient EV on the market. That’s not just because it’s one of the smallest EVs available, but also because technology in this field is moving rapidly. The 500e’s motor, batteries, charger systems, etc are all the latest in design and that is what pushes the little Italian to the head of the pack. [Edit: my apologies, the Scion iQ EV is now the most efficient EV, but the 500e is very close] Even so the 500e is capable of only 80-100 miles depending on your driving style, the climate and your Range Anxiety. I suffer from RA pretty badly so my first day in the 500e I drove home with the cruise control set to 64 on the freeway and used my most efficient (and most level) shortcuts possible. Leaving work at 93% full (thanks to not being delivered at 100%) I stopped at the grocery store 41 miles later having consumed 55% of my battery thanks to climbing a 2,200ft mountain pass at freeway speeds. Range estimate: 75 miles, not too shabby and better than the Leaf on the same journey. 10 miles later my EV told me it would take 15 hours to recharge to 100% using the 110V “emergency” charger. I thought about heading to the beach 12-miles away since the weather was amazing but my RA kept me at home where I looked at pictures of the beach on my laptop. What will tomorrow bring?

Fiat 500e Charging, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 2

Day 3

 Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

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Government-Sponsored Do-Nothing Battery Plant Finally Plans To Do Something http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/government-sponsored-do-nothing-battery-plant-finally-plans-to-do-something/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/government-sponsored-do-nothing-battery-plant-finally-plans-to-do-something/#comments Mon, 06 May 2013 15:56:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=487452 South Korean LG Chem will finally begin commercial battery production at its Holland , Michigan, in July, Reuters says.  The batteries will initially help power GM’s Volt. Three years ago, at a groundbreaking ceremony for an LG Chem Battery plant in Holland, Michigan, President Obama promised that this and other pants will be “a boost […]

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South Korean LG Chem will finally begin commercial battery production at its Holland , Michigan, in July, Reuters says.  The batteries will initially help power GM’s Volt.

Three years ago, at a groundbreaking ceremony for an LG Chem Battery plant in Holland, Michigan, President Obama promised that this and other pants will be “a boost to the economy in the entire region.” The plant made headlines for doing nothing.

Half of the plant’s $300 million price was funded by the tax payer, courtesy of a $150 million government grant. Its workers “had little work to do and were spending time volunteering at local non-profit organizations, playing games and watching movies at the expense of the federal government and taxpayers,” Gregory Friedman, inspector general at the Department of Energy, concluded in a report.

The has not started production because “demand for electric vehicles such as the Volt has been lower than expected,” LG Chem told Reuters.

How many batteries will be built is unknown, but “volume is expected to consistently increase depending on the electric vehicle market and securing additional contracts,” LG Chem promises.

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Battery Hopes Fall Flat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/battery-hopes-fall-flat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/battery-hopes-fall-flat/#comments Wed, 10 Apr 2013 13:03:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=484195 Researchers are quickly getting disenchanted by the high price of lithium-ion batteries, paired with a growing number of high-profile incidents involving smoke and fire, Reuters says in an in-depth analysis. Some are looking way beyond Lithium-Ion. Some go back to technology that is older than the car: Lead-Acid. Many experts believe it will take at […]

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Researchers are quickly getting disenchanted by the high price of lithium-ion batteries, paired with a growing number of high-profile incidents involving smoke and fire, Reuters says in an in-depth analysis. Some are looking way beyond Lithium-Ion. Some go back to technology that is older than the car: Lead-Acid.

Many experts believe it will take at least another decade for lithium-ion technology to be ready for widespread adoption in transportation.

Others don’t see different chemistry for decades.

Companies like Energy Power Systems, a team of former Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius engineers, became “disenchanted” with lithium-ion’s complexity and cost and are now seeking to improve lead-acid.

Companies like Toyota are looking into alternatives to lithium-ion, such as lithium-air, and a much less tempestuous solid state battery.

“We don’t think that lithium-ion batteries are going to help us get to a point where we can dramatically increase volume and really call it a mass market,” Toyota spokesman John Hanson said.

One thing is clear: The battery is no microchip with a dramatic shrinkage of size and gains in power, and the miracle battery to end all electric vehicle woes is a mirage.

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Are Graphene Micro-Supercapacitors An EV Gamechanger? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/are-graphene-micro-supercapacitors-an-ev-gamechanger/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/are-graphene-micro-supercapacitors-an-ev-gamechanger/#comments Mon, 25 Feb 2013 13:30:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478801 Energy density isn’t the only reason why battery-powered cars have never caught on. As was highlighted in Tesla’s somewhat less than successful media road trip, the amount of time it takes to fill batteries with electrons can be as significant a factor in the practicality of EVs as the amount of electrons those batteries can […]

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Micro-supercapacitor-prv UCLA Photo

Energy density isn’t the only reason why battery-powered cars have never caught on. As was highlighted in Tesla’s somewhat less than successful media road trip, the amount of time it takes to fill batteries with electrons can be as significant a factor in the practicality of EVs as the amount of electrons those batteries can hold.

That’s one of the reasons why high power capacitors, also known as supercapacitors or ultracapacitors, have held promise – caps can charge and discharge very quickly. That promise, though, has been held back by the old bugaboo of energy density. Capacitors unfortunately have limited capacity. Researchers at UCLA who had previously announced the almost accidental discovery of a simple and inexpensive method of creating graphene sheets, which have ideal properties for fabricating ultracapacitors, have now published the results of their further research, demonstrating a scalable process for fabricating flexible graphene micro-supercapacitors that have some of the highest energy densities achieved yet for such capacitors.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The team, led by Richard Kaner, is developing the devices out of one of those fortuitous discoveries that expands the frontiers of science, like penicillin or nylon. Maher El-Kady, of Kaner’s lab, had invented an elegantly simple and inexpensive method of making graphene, a single atom thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in that hexagonal latice that C loves so well. He poured out a layer of graphite oxide solution on a plastic substrate and then exposed it to laser light. The process wasn’t the most clever thing about El-Kaner’s discovery, it was the equipment that he used. El-Kaner’s substrates were DVDs and he used a standard consumer grade LightScribe DVD burner for the laser. Refining the process, the team has now figured out a way to embed electrodes into the graphene, which is formulated over a flexible film, and they claim energy density comparable to current thin-film lithium ion batteries.

Often “scalable” means scaling up, but Kaner and El-Kady discovered that scaling down has advantanges. Miniaturizing the devices enhances charge storage capacity and charge/discharge rate and it also allowed them to produce more than 100 micro-supercapacitors on a single disc in 30 min or less. The flexible substrate allows for packaging options and the size means that they can be mounted on the back of solar cells or other chips.

As is always the case with potential energy gamechangers, the research team is looking for partners to produce their invention in industrial quantities. While the initial applications will likely not be for transportation, any development concerning electrical storage that combines enhanced energy density, faster charge/discharge rates, and lightweight miniaturization is bound to attract attention from the EV crowd.

UCLA press release here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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The Truth About Battery Life http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/the-truth-about-battery-life/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/the-truth-about-battery-life/#comments Wed, 20 Feb 2013 21:07:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478387 The drama circling around the New York Times test of the Tesla Model S doesn’t surprise me one bit. Why? Because I understand, perhaps at a deeper level than most of the motoring press, how batteries work. Perhaps that has to do with growing up in a family of engineers and scientists, but battery technology […]

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The drama circling around the New York Times test of the Tesla Model S doesn’t surprise me one bit. Why? Because I understand, perhaps at a deeper level than most of the motoring press, how batteries work. Perhaps that has to do with growing up in a family of engineers and scientists, but battery technology has always interested me. So when people from Phoenix came to me crying in their soup about their LEAFs in the heat and friends started wagging fingers at Tesla and the New York Times, I figured it was time for a battery reality check.

What’s the problem (this time)?

Consumer Reports says their Tesla’s power gauge dropped to “zero” at the 173-mile mark on a 176-mile trip. At the beginning of the trip the range indicator said 240 miles while the “projected range” indicator which takes driving style into account said 188 miles. On first glance this sounds like some horrific range issue. “OMG, the Model S missed its 240 mile range by 64 miles.” But did it?

 

What was the problem last time?

If you didn’t know about the Tesla / New York Times punch up, then click here for the article that started it all. (And a picture of a Tesla on a flatbed.) Basically John Broder took a Tesla out on the road for a long road trip and ran out of juice. Of course he also didn’t charge the battery fully at every opportunity he had, but that’s beside the point for the moment.

About those journalists

Our readers are no doubt familiar with Jack Baruth’s assertion that the vast majority of auto journalists are less than professional drivers. The same applies in this case, the majority of journalists know rather little about EVs, how they work, what’s going on in the battery pack and why it matters. Much like a novice on the track, a novice in an EV can result in unpredictable results.

How batteries work

Batteries are a means of storing electricity chemically. The fact that we’re talking about a chemical reaction is absolutely vital to keep in mind when anyone starts talking about range, battery degradation, heat, cold, charging, etc.

All batteries have three basic components: a cathode, an anode and an electrolyte between the two. Depending on what materials are used for each of these three components battery life, cost and power density will vary. At the low-end of the scale we have the zinc-potato-copper battery from school and at the high-end of consumer electronics we have the lithium iron phosphate-dimethyl carbonate-graphite battery known as the Lithium-ion battery, or the battery that powers modern cell phones, laptops, electric cars and is even used in the new Boeing 787. (Yea, the one getting the bad press.)

Every battery chemistry has its advantages and disadvantages. Lead-acid batteries (the one that starts your car) are heavy, cheap and can handle the high current draw of starter motors. Ni-Cad batteries that were popular in my child hood were relatively easy to manufacture and lower cost than other alternatives. Nickel-metal hydride batteries have been around for some time and thanks to their stability and energy density have been used in hybrid vehicles since the Prius and Insight. Lithium based batteries are the current star in the consumer electronics world because their power density and ability to charge rapidly are excellent for smartphones, tablets and laptops. The problem is Lithium batteries can be more “temperamental” than some of the older chemistries. If you want to know all there is to know about Lithium-ion batteries, click on over to Batteryuniversity.com.

What does this have to do with the cold?

Because batteries store energy chemically, a chemical reaction has to occur when charging and when discharging. When batteries get cold, the internal resistance of the battery increases which decreases the amount of energy that you can get out of the pack. You can test this at home yourself if you have a camera flash at home. Drop the batteries into the freezer, put them in the flash and see how long it takes to recharge the flash. What does this mean in a car? Well, you are charging outside and it’s near freezing, then (A) you won’t be able to completely charge a battery and (B) after charging if the battery cools off to ambient you won’t be able to use a portion of those electrons you just stuffed in the battery. Think about your 12V car battery, remember that cranking amps vs cold cranking amps rating? Same thing.

To fix these problems many EVs (like the Model S) heat the battery to try to keep it at an optimum temperature. Doing so ensures that you can use the entire capacity for charging and discharging, but it of course consumes power, and the colder it is, the more power it takes to heat the battery. In hot weather the system cools the battery to preserve the lifetime of the battery chemistry.

What are the factors that decrease battery life?

There are many factors involved, but put simply, having your battery at a very low state of charge or a very high state of charge has a negative impact on battery life. The rate at which you take the battery from charged to discharged or discharged to charged also has an impact. While cold temperatures may keep you from getting the most out of your battery, it usually doesn’t impact longevity. Heat on the other hand has a severe impact on battery life and it gets worse the higher the state of charge.

Back to Consumer Reports

Without access to Elon’s creepy data logs of the CR test vehicle, I have two suggestions to what was going on. First off, the car was fairly close to reality with the projected range of 188 miles, but this needs explanation and education. The car was saying that if you drive gently the maximum range is 240.  Drive it like you’ve been driving it,  expect 188. Now we insert the cold weather into the mix. I assume he was heating the cabin on a chilly day and driving like normal. What wasn’t obvious is that the Model S may very well have also had the battery heater turned on, if so, there’s your 12 miles. Even if that wasn’t the case, any gasoline car that gets the range estimate within 7% scores in my book.

What about those LEAFs in Phoenix?

A while back I got a frantic call from a friend in the Phoenix area. “My LEAF’s batteries are dead!” So for the next 15 minutes he poured his heart out about the problem. Towards the end the usual comments from a person dealing with “automotive loss” came out “Nissan needs to give me a new battery.” After all his woes had been aired he asked me what I thought. I paused for a moment and said (as nicely as possible) “I’m not sure what your problem is. What you are describing to me is normal battery wear and tear.”

You see, unlike the Model S, the LEAF does not have an active cooling system for the battery pack. (This was done to save money and with the LEAF now dropping to $28,800 (less than half the Model S), you get what you pay for.) The lack of active cooling means that in the hot Arizona desert, parked in the sun at work or at the mall your battery is slowly dying. Why? It’s all back to the chemistry again. The optimum service life of Lithium-ion batteries is achieved when the cell is a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Baking in the sun for 8 hours a day while you’re at the office the inside of the car can easily go over 170 degrees when it’s 115 outside. Since he had to charge his car at the office in order to get back home, he was compounding the problem since batteries get hot as they charge. As the battery aged because of the long commute he started to drop by the local DC quick charge station. This made the battery age even faster because now the battery is hot and you are rapidly going from one state of charge to the other. Net result: 20% loss in capacity over 2 years and 33,000 miles. Case closed.

What about my Prius? (or other hybrids)

Right now the Prius, and most older hybrids like the Escape Hybrid and the first generation Fusion Hybrid use Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. This chemistry is more stable but less power dense than lithium based batteries. In addition remember what I said about battery life? State of charge and charge/discharge rates are large factors. Hybrids extend their battery life deliberately by never fully charging nor fully discharging their batteries. In fact most non-plug-in hybrids use 60-70% of the rated capacity in the battery. Since they don’t depend on the battery for 100% of the propulsion like an EV does, charge and discharge rates are lower which also extends battery life. And lastly, it’s less obvious when your hybrid’s battery does age because it’s not your only source of propulsion. As hybrids move to lithium batteries they are retaining these life extending measures, but even still they may or may not have the same life span as the NiMH batteries, only time will tell. In the plug-in world, only GM seems to be operating in a cautious fashion by only using about 80% of the Volt and ELR’s battery pack vs nearly 95% of the capacity in Ford and Toyota models.

Who’s right and who’s wrong here? Who is to blame?

Everyone. The EV buyer who didn’t bother to do his homework, the dealer who didn’t help set expectations, and the manufacturer who promised all would be well. My inclination however is to place the burden on the EV buyer. If you’re going to buy a car of any description, you need to do your homework. You don’t buy a Mazda Miata and then get upset when you bend the frame trying to tow your 5th wheel. Likewise, don’t expect any EV to have some magical battery that runs on butterfly-farts and lasts 250,000 miles, it just won’t happen. Yet.

 

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Automakers Worried About A123 Deal, Stabenow And Levin Silent, No Phonecalls From The President http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/automakers-worried-about-a123-deal-stabenow-and-levin-silent-no-phonecalls-from-the-president/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/automakers-worried-about-a123-deal-stabenow-and-levin-silent-no-phonecalls-from-the-president/#comments Fri, 17 Aug 2012 09:20:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=457151 U.S. Senators long have warned of an exodus of American know-how to China. Last year, Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin complained to United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk about another attempt by China ”to illegally gain an unfair advantage over the U.S. automobile industry that will cost our country jobs. The United States […]

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U.S. Senators long have warned of an exodus of American know-how to China. Last year, Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin complained to United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk about another attempt by China ”to illegally gain an unfair advantage over the U.S. automobile industry that will cost our country jobs. The United States must respond strongly to stand up for American businesses and working families.”

A year later, the exodus is in full swing, and it starts to hurt. This time, it pains automakers to see how Chinese companies are getting their hands on taxpayer-funded secrets.

Battery maker A123, hailed by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as a contributor to “63,000 jobs,” praised by Senator Levin for hiring “thousands of employees by next year,” praised again by Senator Stabenow for creating “thousands of jobs for us in Michigan,” will power the creation of thousands of jobs in China.

Two years ago, this video was posted on Youtube, complete with an allegedly impromptu telephone call, President Obama congratulated A123 “on this tremendous milestone” of being “the first American factory to start high volume production of advanced vehicle batteries.” Two years, a $249 million grant from the Obama administration, a $135 grant and tax credit from the State of Michigan later, A123 is just about out of money, and being rescued by the Chinese. China’s Wanxiang Group wants to pay $465 million for A123, a move that “may help China unlock the secrets to critical and advanced green-car technologies,” as Reuters writes in a thorough analysis of the deal.

Author Norihiko Shirouzu talked to “engineering chiefs from two global auto makers,” (he names GM and Toyota in the lede, but does not connect the names to the unnamed sources) who “expressed concern at the prospect that A123 could lose control of its fiercely guarded battery design and manufacturing know-how. They are particularly worried that Wanxiang might shift part of A123’s research and development activities to China.”

Said one Chief Engineer to Reuters:

“I don’t care if A123 manufactures more battery cells and packs in China. That wouldn’t jeopardize its technological advantage. But showing what’s inside their black box … the technology that makes those battery cells packed with energy, to its Chinese investor, which has its own battery business, is completely another matter.”

The secret sauce of A123’s batteries is iron-phosphate, a chemical that makes sometimes violently flammable lithium-ion battery much safer. Iron-phosphate is also used in batteries made by China’s BYD, a fact mentioned by Shirouzu three years ago, when he was still writing for the Wall Street Journal. There had been a low level intellectual property conflict between A123 ever since. There were reports that A123 was looking to sue BYD over the batteries, but apparently, A123 soon had more pressing problems.

Wanxiang, says Reuters, profited from the troubles of the U.S. auto industry, “having bought up distressed parts makers over the past decade. It formed a joint venture which bought and turned around Driveline Systems, an axle maker in Illinois, and has taken over parts operations from Ford Motor Co, among others in the U.S. Midwest.”

Today, Reuters writes in a separate report that the A123 deal has closed:

“A123 Systems said the planned investment includes an initial credit extension of $25 million that it expects to receive this week. The rest coming through a mix of convertible notes and bridge finance with warrants, as certain conditions are met. The line of credit would help A123 keep making batteries for electric and hybrid cars. Last month, the company said it was left with only 5 months of cash. If all the warrants and notes are later converted to shares, Wanxiang will own 80 percent of the firm, A123 said in a statement. The agreement follows the non-binding memorandum of understanding that A123 signed last week.”

No protests were heard from Senators Stabenow and Levin against their baby A123 going to China. Stabenow, who used to complain that “China’s “New Energy Vehicles” plan will harm American companies and workers, cost Michigan jobs,” now chose to focus on the farm bill, and the funding of harbors.

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“I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China.” Ooops. Never Mind http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/i-will-not-cede-the-wind-or-solar-or-battery-industry-to-china-ooops-never-mind/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/i-will-not-cede-the-wind-or-solar-or-battery-industry-to-china-ooops-never-mind/#comments Fri, 10 Aug 2012 18:20:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=456306 In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said this to critics of his lavish green technology initiative: “I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here. “ Instead, battery manufacturers first get financed by double-green government handouts, […]

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In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said this to critics of his lavish green technology initiative:

“I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here. “

Instead, battery manufacturers first get financed by double-green government handouts, then they are ceded. Says Reuters:

“A123 Systems Inc on Wednesday became the second U.S. government-backed battery maker this year to go overseas for a lifeline – and it turned to China. Auto parts supplier Wanxiang Group will take a controlling interest and invest $450 million in the Massachusetts-based battery maker, which faced running out of cash by the year-end.

Earlier this year, Ener1 Inc, another battery maker that received a government green technology grant, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy under the control of Russian investor Boris Zingarevich. New York-based Ener1 is also a joint-venture partner in China with a Wanxiang subsidiary.”

Reuters says the government-supported boondoggle that is now handed to the Chinese for further exploitation was a pipe dream at best, or a giant lie at worst:

“ A123 promised to create 38,000 U.S. jobs, including 5,900 at its own plants. A123 said on Thursday it has 1,300 workers.

Theodore O’Neill, a former equities analyst with Wunderlich Securities, said A123 “built a factory that’s big enough to meet demand that’s probably not going to materialize until 2020 … They built it much larger than the market turned out to need.”  

In what appears to be the Fast And Furious of government boondoggles, the battery industry is first propped up with government money, then the technology is sold to China.

What’s more, the enemy already seems to have lost interest in the game. Shortly after the state of the union address, it was reported that China will “put an end to blind expansion in industries such as solar energy and wind power” and instead focus on old standbys such as nuclear and shale gas.”

Batteries of course are agnostic to where the juice comes from.  Obama’s adversaries are less cavalier.  “Once again it appears the Department of Energy and the Obama administration have failed to secure sensitive taxpayer-funded intellectual property from being transferred to a foreign adversary, which raises serious national security issues,” said    Rep. Cliff Stearns. Stearns is a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

 

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A123 Becomes Chinese – Faster Than Imagined http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/a123-becomes-chinese-faster-than-imagined/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/a123-becomes-chinese-faster-than-imagined/#comments Wed, 08 Aug 2012 13:29:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=455889 Troubled battery maker A123 is getting another lifeline. This time, from China. Wanxiang Group  will invest as much as $450 million in the company, says Reuters. Wanxiang, one of the largest Chinese auto component makers.  A123 will soon be Chinese. A123, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a […]

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Troubled battery maker A123 is getting another lifeline. This time, from China. Wanxiang Group  will invest as much as $450 million in the company, says Reuters. Wanxiang, one of the largest Chinese auto component makers.  A123 will soon be Chinese.

A123, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a program to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries, said last month that it only had four or five months until its money would run out. A123, which had big plans for the EV industry, reported a second-quarter net loss of $82.9 million on $17 million revenues. Does not sound like the best business. Wanxiang seems to have a different perspective. Says the Wall Street Journal:

“The proposed agreement includes plans for Wanxiang to obtain convertible notes and warrants that if fully exercised could give it an 80% stake in A123. The deal is expected to close by year’s end.”

When we reported about AS123’s cash crunch, TTAC correspondent Jellodyne said:

“Romney would have closed ‘em down, sold the parts (to overseas companies) and bought the batteries from China. That’s just good business sense.”

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Your Tax Dollars At Stake: Battery Maker A123 Running Out Of Runway http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/your-tax-dollars-at-stake-battery-maker-a123-running-out-of-runway/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/your-tax-dollars-at-stake-battery-maker-a123-running-out-of-runway/#comments Sat, 07 Jul 2012 14:03:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451657   The irrational electrification exuberance  claims another victim: Battery maker A123 Systems Inc is running out of money. A lot of it is your money. Says Reuters: “The company, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a program to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries, said in documents filed with U.S. […]

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The irrational electrification exuberance  claims another victim: Battery maker A123 Systems Inc is running out of money. A lot of it is your money. Says Reuters:

The company, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a program to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries, said in documents filed with U.S. regulators that it “expects to have approximately four to five months of cash to support its ongoing operations” based on its recent monthly spending average.”

Reuters views A123’s issues as “a reminder of the struggles for a U.S. electric-vehicle industry still in its infancy and dealing with lower-than-projected demand.”

The wire service calls President Barack Obama’s goal of getting 1 million battery-powered vehicles on the road by 2015 “a target that is looking increasingly unrealistic.”

America’s best-selling plug-ins, the Volt, the plug-in Prius and the Nissan Leaf jointly sold 2,990 units in June. They were out-sold by a small sports car targeted at drifters, the Toyobaru hachi-roku, which sold 3,502 units in June.

 

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Next-Gen Toyota Prius Targeted For Stateside Production In 2015 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/next-gen-toyota-prius-targeted-for-stateside-production-in-2015/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/next-gen-toyota-prius-targeted-for-stateside-production-in-2015/#comments Mon, 30 Apr 2012 15:07:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=442155 With a rising yen and forecasted sales of 200,000 units, Toyota is looking to kick Prius production into high gear on North American shores. The challenge for Toyota appears to be sourcing all the components needed to build hybrid drivetrains in the United States. According to Automotive News “Toyota already is scouting suppliers capable of […]

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With a rising yen and forecasted sales of 200,000 units, Toyota is looking to kick Prius production into high gear on North American shores.

The challenge for Toyota appears to be sourcing all the components needed to build hybrid drivetrains in the United States. According to Automotive News

“Toyota already is scouting suppliers capable of delivering inverters, electric motors and batteries from the United States in anticipation of the move, said Koei Saga, senior managing officer in charge of drivetrain r&d at Toyota.”

Currently, most of those parts have to come from Japan or South Korea. Initially, they may have to be imported to the future North American Prius plant, but the goal is for a local supply base. Toyota currently builds the Camry Hybrid stateside, but with imported components. Aside from cost factors, a big advantage of a local parts base is for the sake of “resiliency” – any natural disasters in Japan would not affect inventories like the 2011 tsunami/earthquakes did.

Also of note is the North American emphasis on lithium-ion equipped versions of the Prius. While only the plug-in uses a lithium-ion battery, (and base versions will continue to use a Nickel-metal unit), this would suggest that Stateside production would focus on more advanced versions of the Prius, or more plug-in versions. Presumably, the Prius c and “base” versions of the standard car would continue with the less advanced battery.

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More Details On Explosion at GM Tech Center: Gases from Experimental Battery Ignited http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/more-details-on-explosion-at-gm-tech-centergases-from-experimental-battery-ignited/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/more-details-on-explosion-at-gm-tech-centergases-from-experimental-battery-ignited/#comments Thu, 12 Apr 2012 11:31:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=439537 More details have been released about the explosion at a GM Tech Center battery lab yesterday that left one person hospitalized with chemical burns and a possible concussion. In a statement, GM said that while an “experimental battery” was undergoing “extreme testing”, gases were released from the battery cells. Something in the lab then ignited […]

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More details have been released about the explosion at a GM Tech Center battery lab yesterday that left one person hospitalized with chemical burns and a possible concussion. In a statement, GM said that while an “experimental battery” was undergoing “extreme testing”, gases were released from the battery cells. Something in the lab then ignited the gases and the subsequent explosion was severe enough to cause structural damage, blowing out windows and forcing open fortified doors. The battery itself was left intact. The Detroit News, according to an unnamed source, reports that prototype lithium-ion battery was made by A123, and that explosion happened during “intensive tests designed to make it fail”. The Warren, Michigan fire commissioner said that the lab was designed with safety in mind so damage was confined to the one laboratory. Though some of the 80 workers in the building were sent home for the day after the explosion, others continued to work. The 63,000 sq ft Global Battery Systems Lab has 176 test cells as well as 49 thermal chambers, where GM tests both production and prototype batteries. A HAZMAT team was dispatched to the facility, as were OSHA and MIOSHA inspectors, because of the injuries.

GM stressed that the incident was not related to the Chevrolet Volt or any other production vehicle. Since the electric version of the Chevy Spark won’t go into production until next year, the battery involved in the explosion might be a developmental version of the batteries A123 will be supplying for that project. It also might be a completely experimental prototype.

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Toyota/BMW Partnership: Diesel Engines Earlier, Batteries Later http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/toyotabmw-partnership-diesel-engines-earlier-batteries-later/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/toyotabmw-partnership-diesel-engines-earlier-batteries-later/#comments Tue, 27 Mar 2012 12:59:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=436627 Last December, Toyota and BMW announced “a long-term technological partnership.”  Ostensibly, it was about developing batteries together, and about BMW supplying diesel engines, in that order. Four months later, the priorities seem to have changed a little. In a joint press release, Toyota and BMW announce that they just now have signed an agreement on […]

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Last December, Toyota and BMW announced “a long-term technological partnership.”  Ostensibly, it was about developing batteries together, and about BMW supplying diesel engines, in that order. Four months later, the priorities seem to have changed a little.

In a joint press release, Toyota and BMW announce that they just now have signed an agreement on collaborative research for lithium-ion battery cells. Research has started, and this being research, it can take a while.

The diesel engines will come earlier, and in earnest. Toyota has contracted BMW as the supplier of highly efficient 1.6 liter and 2.0 liter diesel engines, and BMW will start shipping in 2014. Toyota has realized that diesel is a big seller especially in Europe, where it holds 50 percent market share. Diesel is making inroads in India. Even in Japan, diesel cars are beginning to appeal to customers. Toyota has its hands full with hybrids and other new generation technologies and does not have the bandwidth to tinker with its own diesel engines.

 

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Another Plugin Problem: A123 Warns Of “Potential Safety Issue” With Fisker Karma Battery http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/another-plugin-problem-a123-warns-of-potential-safety-issue-with-fisker-karma-battery/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/another-plugin-problem-a123-warns-of-potential-safety-issue-with-fisker-karma-battery/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2011 16:20:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=423570 In the ramp-up to the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, a great debate seized the engineering community: was Nissan opening itself to problems by not including a active thermal management system for the Leaf’s battery pack, or was Chevrolet’s liquid-cooled approach simply adding unnecessary complexity? Well, thus far, the verdict seems to […]

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In the ramp-up to the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, a great debate seized the engineering community: was Nissan opening itself to problems by not including a active thermal management system for the Leaf’s battery pack, or was Chevrolet’s liquid-cooled approach simply adding unnecessary complexity? Well, thus far, the verdict seems to be in Nissan’s favor. Though Leaf has been troubled by some dissatisfaction with its real-world range, the Volt has endurd the first technical semi-scandal of the plug-in era, when federal regulators found that ruptured coolant lines could cause fires. Now the liquid-cooled approach is hitting its second challenge, as Fisker’s battery supplier A123 Systems is warning in a letter [PDF] that

some of the battery packs we produce for Fisker Automotive could have a potential safety issue relating to the battery cooling system.

Ruh-roh!

In its warning letter, A123 explains

Specifically, certain hose clamps that are part of the battery pack’s internal cooling system were misaligned, positioned in such a way that could potentially cause a coolant leak. Over time, it is possible that in certain rare circumstances, this coolant leak could potentially lead to an electrical short circuit.

There have been no related battery performance or safety incidents with cars in the field. However, A123 and Fisker are committed to safety and are taking immediate, proactive steps to prevent any issue from occurring.

We have developed a confirmed repair for this situation. In the short time since recognizing this potential safety issue, the root cause was quickly identified, a fix has been developed and corrective action is well underway.

In total, fewer than 50 customer cars are involved in this action.

Bloomberg adds that the problem has been caught relatively early, as Fisker is still producing just 25 Karmas per day at Valmet’s contract-manufacturing plant in Finland. Production is scheduled to hit 60 units per day sometime next year. Meanwhile, A123 is also preparing to start supplying batteries to Chevrolet’s Spark EV, so GM is probably breathing a sigh of relief that it’s catching battery problems before that contract starts. Still, these early issues with battery cooling systems are tipping the debate in favor of the cheaper, less-complex passive cooling approach… for now, anyway. When Summer arrives and temperatures rise, we’ll be keeping an eye on the Leaf fleet to see if problems pop up there.

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This Is The Chevy Volt’s Post-Crash Safety Protocol http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/this-is-the-chevy-volts-post-crash-safety-protocol/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/this-is-the-chevy-volts-post-crash-safety-protocol/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2011 22:18:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420867 TTAC has received the following protocol, developed by GM in the wake of the June Volt fire at a NHTSA facility in Wisconsin, from a GM source and has confirmed its legitimacy with a second GM source. Though the procedure may be refined based on the findings of NHTSA’s latest round of tests, it gives […]

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TTAC has received the following protocol, developed by GM in the wake of the June Volt fire at a NHTSA facility in Wisconsin, from a GM source and has confirmed its legitimacy with a second GM source. Though the procedure may be refined based on the findings of NHTSA’s latest round of tests, it gives a good picture of what GM currently does to ensure the safety of Volt driver and passengers as well as rescue workers, towing company workers and salvage yards. And, I have to say, it puts some of my fears about this safety scare to rest. It hadn’t occurred to me that GM’s Onstar system could provide opportunities to respond to crashes in real time, and apparently the system provides a wide variety of data with which GM’s “corporate SWAT team” can tailor its response to any Volt crash event. Hit the jump for the full procedure.

  • Chevy Volt sends Onstar message of just occurred crash event.
  • Onstar team notified of Volt crash and immediately implements standard crash protocol to assist vehicle operator
  • Onstar immediately pulls key crash criteria from crash notification, i.e. vehicle speed, vehicles conditions (rollover), etc
  • Onstar team notifies Volt Battery Team Leader of crash event including key vehicle conditions
  • Volt Battery team leader works with Onstar to ping Volt and check additional data if appropriate (higher severity crash events, battery data, etc)
  • Volt Battery team Leader determines if high crash severity standards met for depowering or if there is any question about battery severity level.  If yes to either, Battery team representative is sent to crash site
  • Volt Battery team works with Volt advisor to contact Vehicle Owner and/or determine vehicle location
  • Volt Battery representative obtains approval from owner and then proceeds to investigate the crashed Volt and depowers battery if deemed necessary
  • Post Crash Volt stable and ready for disposition

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About Those Chevy Volt Safety Protocols… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/about-those-chevy-volt-safety-protocols/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/about-those-chevy-volt-safety-protocols/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2011 20:38:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418981 I caught hell from a number of TTAC’s Best and Brightest five days ago, when I blogged about the Chevrolet Volt fire at a NHTSA facility but failed to initially note GM’s response. At the time, GM’s Greg Martin said GM has safety procedures for handling the Volt and its battery after an accident. Had […]

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I caught hell from a number of TTAC’s Best and Brightest five days ago, when I blogged about the Chevrolet Volt fire at a NHTSA facility but failed to initially note GM’s response. At the time, GM’s Greg Martin said

GM has safety procedures for handling the Volt and its battery after an accident. Had those been followed, there wouldn’t have been a fire.

At the time, a number of readers accused me of bias for not including Martin’s response at first. Eventually I conceded that this was some worthwhile perspective for the story, but I cautioned that it only represented the opinion of one GM employee. Whether or not NHTSA actually followed those procedures remained an open question… until now. Automotive News [sub] is reporting that NHTSA couldn’t possibly have followed those procedures, nor indeed could anyone else, for the simple reason that GM failed to share them with anybody. So not only is the NHTSA fire being blamed on the fact that government regulators were not given the necessary safety procedures, but it turns out that rescue workers, salvage yards, towing companies and the like were not taught how to discharge the Volt’s battery either. In other words, this NHTSA crash was an important eye-opener for the Volt team.

GM had trained a number of rescue workers prior to the rollout, showing how to disconnect the Volt’s batteries and rescue occupants without running the risk of electrocution. But the NHTSA fire was caused because the Volt’s battery wasn’t fully drained before being put in storage, and this key safety step managed to escape the rescue training as well. Says GM’s Rob Peterson

We had a process [for draining the battery] internally but I don’t believe it was shared with anyone. The incident with NHTSA raised awareness that we had to develop a procedure and alert all stakeholders.

GM’s EV engineering honcho Jim Federico adds

The fire occurred because the battery wasn’t completely discharged after the test… GM developed its battery depowering process for the Volt after NHTSA’s test.

Though not as bad as a technical defect, this oversight is certainly a bit embarrassing to GM, which now has to endure the lectures of folks like Clarence Ditlow of the Naderite Center For Auto Safety, who rants

I can’t conceive that they didn’t have a standard operating procedure in place for handling a wrecked vehicle before the car went on sale. NHTSA and GM should have established protocols in place before it went on sale.

And you have to admit, he has a point…

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Chevy Volt Catches Fire After Crash Test, Investigation Under Way http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/chevy-volt-catches-fire-after-crash-test-investigation-under-way/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/chevy-volt-catches-fire-after-crash-test-investigation-under-way/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2011 16:45:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=417782 The Chevy Volt fire rumors started early this week, when the utility company Duke Energy told its customers to stop using their Chevy Volt home chargers after an October 30 fire. At last word, NHTSA said that No conclusions have yet been reached regarding the cause of the fire. We are continuing to monitor the situation. But […]

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The Chevy Volt fire rumors started early this week, when the utility company Duke Energy told its customers to stop using their Chevy Volt home chargers after an October 30 fire. At last word, NHTSA said that

No conclusions have yet been reached regarding the cause of the fire. We are continuing to monitor the situation.

But it seems that the investigation is coming home, as Bloomberg just reported that a Chevy Volt caught fire at a NHTSA facility, shortly weeks after being crash tested.

The Volt caught fire while parked at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing center in Wisconsin, three weeks after a side-impact crash test, said an agency official. The official, as well as the three other people familiar with the inquiry, said they couldn’t be named because the investigation isn’t public.

The fire was severe enough to burn vehicles parked near the Volt, the agency official said. Investigators determined the battery was the source of the fire, the official said.

Ruh-Roh!

GM’s response came from spokesman Greg Martin, who insists that the Volt would not have caught fire had NHTSA followed GM’s post-crash safety protocols.

In June, GM and NHTSA both crashed a Volt and could not replicate the May fire, Martin said. GM has safety procedures for handling the Volt and its battery after an accident. Had those been followed, there wouldn’t have been a fire, he said in a phone interview.

“There are safety protocols for conventional cars,” Martin said. “As we develop new technology, we need to ensure that safety protocols match the technology.”

The Volt has received NHTSA’s top safety rating based on crash testing, although in the side impact test, some metal did apparently penetrate the Volt’s battery. Whether or not that’s related to this latest fire, whether NHTSA did in fact follow post-crash procedures and other key details remain unconfirmed at this time. The government is in contact with other automakers currently selling or planning to sell cars with lithium-ion batteries as its investigation rolls on.

UPDATE: GM Chief EV Engineer Jim Federico writes

First and foremost, I want to make this very clear: the Volt is a safe car. We are working cooperatively with NHTSA as it completes its investigation. However, NHTSA has stated that based on available data, there’s no greater risk of fire with a Volt than a traditional gas-powered car.

Safety protocols for electric vehicles are clearly an industry concern. At GM, we have safety protocols to depower the battery of an electric vehicle after a significant crash.

We are working with other vehicle manufacturers, first responders, tow truck operators, and salvage associations with the goal of implementing industry-wide protocols.

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Report Knocks “Big Battery” Plug-In Subsidies, Will The DOE Notice? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/report-knocks-big-battery-plug-in-subsidies-will-the-doe-notice/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/report-knocks-big-battery-plug-in-subsidies-will-the-doe-notice/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2011 16:42:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=412842 The main tool for the government’s crusade to get one million plug-in cars on the road by 2015 is the “Qualified Plug-In Electric Vehicle Tax Credit,” a credit that returns between $2,500 and $7,500 to purchasers of a qualifying vehicle. To qualify for the minimum $2,500 credit, a vehicle must have a traction battery with […]

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The main tool for the government’s crusade to get one million plug-in cars on the road by 2015 is the “Qualified Plug-In Electric Vehicle Tax Credit,” a credit that returns between $2,500 and $7,500 to purchasers of a qualifying vehicle. To qualify for the minimum $2,500 credit, a vehicle must have a traction battery with a minimum of four kW/h, and the credit adds an additional $417 in credits for every kW/h above the minimum. Why? Well, you might think that it’s because the DOE has done its research and determined that larger battery packs deliver more social benefits… at least until the 16kW/h limit (the exact size of the Chevy Volt’s battery), where the credit tops out at $7,500. But according to new research by Carnegie Mellon’s Jeremy Michalek, that basic assumption doesn’t appear to be true at all. In fact, his latest paper argues that the government would actually be better off subsidizing smaller, not larger, battery packs.

In an in-depth evaluation [PDF] of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), large-battery EVs, smaller-battery EVs, Hybrids and conventional cars, Michalek and his colleagues found that

Current subsidies intended to encourage sales of plug-in vehicles with large capacity battery packs exceed our externality estimates considerably, and taxes that optimally correct for externality damages would not close the gap in ownership cost. In contrast, HEVs and PHEVs with small battery packs reduce externality damages at low (or no) additional cost over their lifetime. Although large battery packs allow vehicles to travel longer distances using electricity instead of gasoline, large packs are more expensive, heavier, and more emissions intensive to produce, with lower utilization factors, greater charging infrastructure requirements, and life-cycle implications that are more sensitive to uncertain, time-sensitive, and location-specific factors. To reduce air emission and oil dependency impacts from passenger vehicles, strategies to promote adoption of HEVs and PHEVs with small battery packs offer more social benefits per dollar spent.

Back in 2009, Michalek made the core of this argument in an interview with Spectrum Magazine

Spectrum: So if you have to make a choice—big or small batteries for plug-in hybrids—which is best?

JM: From what we’ve found, if you have a higher-capacity plug-in, something like the Volt, it could lower greenhouse-gas emissions for some drivers, but that comes at a cost that wouldn’t be paid back by fuel savings. A $100-a-ton carbon tax doesn’t even do it.

On the other hand, a driver who is able to charge frequently would do well to buy a small-capacity plug-in. This person might not care at all about the environment or about the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, yet he or she would still benefit from buying such a vehicle.

Places where the economic, environmental, and national-security objectives are all well aligned—that’s where you’d want to break in a new technology. I would say to carmakers, go after those people. And to consumers: Buy small, charge often.

The Volt would be the poster-boy for Michalek’s critique: it has the minimum battery size needed to claim the full $7,500 tax credit, and yet its creators admit that it was developed for a consumer use profile rather than ultimate efficiency. Whether the Volt was developed to exactly hit the government’s kW/h credit limit, or if the limit was tailored to the Volt isn’t clear… but what is clear is that incentivizing smaller batteries will do more per dollar spent to displace oil. As Michalek tells Bloomberg

It’s not that large battery packs are bad, it’s that they are not providing as many benefits per dollar. Ordinary hybrids increase fuel economy substantially, and the incremental cost of those systems is getting relatively small.

Meanwhile, the timing of this report is very interesting: Reuters reports that the DOE is about to reveal its own research into EV incentives, and will be pushing to spend more money on Obama’s goal of putting a million EVs on the road.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is due to unveil the results of a major review of research spending on Tuesday, one that could shift research dollars away from clean electricity and biofuels toward electric vehicles and modernizing the power grid.

The first-ever “Quadrennial Technology Review” prioritizes research that can be commercialized within 10 years, and research that could make a substantial dent in oil use and greenhouse gas production in the next two decades.

But will the DOE’s renewed push for EV proliferation reflect the sober analysis of scientists like Michelak, or will they be more wink-nudge games, in which the industry sets the policy agenda? After all, there are already plenty of reasons for the industry to keep electrified automobiles in a high-price ghetto, and the government has thus far been more than happy to play along with that game. But if this country is serious about reducing oil dependence, plug-in technology needs to be proliferated in the most efficient way possible. That means fewer handouts to luxury EV firms like Fisker and Tesla, and a more rational approach to consumer subsidies, as outlined by Michelak.

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GM, LG Team Up For “Single Purpose” EVs. Will Mark Reuss Let His Kids Drive One? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/gm-lg-team-up-for-single-purpose-evs-will-mark-reuss-let-his-kids-drive-one/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/gm-lg-team-up-for-single-purpose-evs-will-mark-reuss-let-his-kids-drive-one/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2011 15:44:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=409000 GM tightened its ties with Volt battery cell provider LG this week, announcing a deal to jointly develop next-generation electric vehicles. GM, along with the other Detroit-based OEMs, have been seeking closer ties with their suppliers, and as the JoongAng Daily reports, this deal helps LG at a time when the Korean conglomerate has been […]

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GM tightened its ties with Volt battery cell provider LG this week, announcing a deal to jointly develop next-generation electric vehicles. GM, along with the other Detroit-based OEMs, have been seeking closer ties with their suppliers, and as the JoongAng Daily reports, this deal helps LG at a time when the Korean conglomerate has been struggling

Two of LG’s pillars – LG Electronics and LG Display – are floundering. LG missed the boat on smartphones and persistently-low prices of display panels have plagued LG Display.

LG officials are hoping the EV project will give it momentum.

And though it’s no surprise that GM wants to move into the pure-EV market, its gamble on the extended-electric Volt has backed it into something of rhetorical corner.

LG President Cho Juno tells JoongAng that

This partnership is strategically important for LG’s future. We fully support GM’s goal to lead the industry in the electrification of the automobile.

Of course, the Volt represents an aspect of “the electrification of the automobile,” but based on media reports it seems that the deal is aimed at “jointly designing a range of electric vehicles from the bottom up.” That indicates that GM is making a bigger bet on pure-electric cars. But given GM’s Volt marketing emphasis on “range anxiety” and recent quotes by GM North America boss Mark Reuss, the firm will have to overcome its own anti-pure-EV rhetoric if it ever wants to market pure EVs in the US. A few months ago, Reuss told a crowd at GM’s Spring Hill plant, not far from where the first pure-electric car from a major OEM, the Nissan Leaf, will be built that

(The Leaf) has a finite range and requires infrastructure and charging to run it, where the Volt is really an extended-range electric vehicle. The Volt can really be the only car you own. You better be living within a certain range for the Leaf. … It’s a lot different market, a lot different car and a completely different driver.

I’m not sure if I’d put the Leaf in the hands of my three kids. Say, what if they can’t charge it? What if they get to school and can’t charge it? The Leaf is a single-purpose car.

At the time, this was understandable: Nissan and its partner, Renault, have made a huge global gamble on the pure-electric car. With the extended-range Volt leading GM’s electrification efforts, all of The General’s marketing eggs were in the “range anxiety” basket. But when short-term prerogatives conflict with long-term strategy, a little care becomes necessary. And when GM finally brings a pure-electric car to the US, Reuss is going to have to explain why he would let his kids drive it, and not the Leaf. That might not be easy…

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Toyota To Pay Tesla $100m For 2012-2014 Electric RAV4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/toyota-to-pay-tesla-100m-for-2012-2014-electric-rav4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/toyota-to-pay-tesla-100m-for-2012-2014-electric-rav4/#comments Wed, 20 Jul 2011 21:51:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=403733 Tesla will begin supplying Toyota with components for its electric RAV4 a year earlier than previously planned, reports Bloomberg, a move that will have Toyota paying $100m for the drivetrains rather than the previously-agreed-upon $60m. According to a Tesla SEC filing, the EV specialist firm will supply Toyota with a validated electric powertrain system, including […]

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Tesla will begin supplying Toyota with components for its electric RAV4 a year earlier than previously planned, reports Bloomberg, a move that will have Toyota paying $100m for the drivetrains rather than the previously-agreed-upon $60m. According to a Tesla SEC filing, the EV specialist firm will supply Toyota with

a validated electric powertrain system, including a battery, charging system, inverter, motor, gearbox and associated software which will be integrated into an electric vehicle version of the Toyota RAV4. Additionally, Tesla will provide TMC with certain services related to the supply of the Tesla Battery and Powertrain.

There’s still no word about how many of these RAV4s is Toyota planning on selling over those two years, or where will they be assembled, but it sounds like Toyota isn’t trying to launch quite the EV offensive that some green car blogs seem to be hoping for. As one analyst puts it to Bloomberg, $100 million “isn’t a huge amount for Toyota, so this allows them, with only modest downside risk, to participate in what Tesla is doing.” That sounds about right…

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You Are Looking At The Cure For Range Anxiety http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/you-are-looking-at-the-cure-for-range-anxiety/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/you-are-looking-at-the-cure-for-range-anxiety/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2011 10:45:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=400947 Capacity, weight and price of the battery are the big challenges facing the electric car.  Researchers at Sumitomo have developed a porous, sponge-like metal called “Aluminum-Celmet.” It promises to triple the capacity of lithium-ion batteries. If battery size is the problem, then Aluminium-Celmet can  reduce battery volume to one-third to two-thirds. Want to know how […]

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Capacity, weight and price of the battery are the big challenges facing the electric car.  Researchers at Sumitomo have developed a porous, sponge-like metal called “Aluminum-Celmet.” It promises to triple the capacity of lithium-ion batteries.

If battery size is the problem, then Aluminium-Celmet can  reduce battery volume to one-third to two-thirds. Want to know how it works?

“Celmet is a porous metal made from nickel or nickel chrome alloy. The porous metal manufacturing process comprises electro conductive coating to plastic foam, followed by nickel plating and plastic foam removal by heat treatment.”

Want to know more? Full text of a rather nerdy press release is here.

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German “Miracle Battery” Gets Government Safety Stamp http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/german-miracle-battery-gets-government-safety-stamp/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/german-miracle-battery-gets-government-safety-stamp/#comments Tue, 05 Apr 2011 20:56:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=390119 click “CC” for english captions When DBM Energy, an unknown German “mailbox company,” announced it would attempt a world record for the longest single-charge EV trip, the reaction from observers and industry insiders was nearly universally dismissive. Even when the drive was completed, and DBM’s electrified Audi A2 completed a 600km (373 miles) journey under […]

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click “CC” for english captions

When DBM Energy, an unknown German “mailbox company,” announced it would attempt a world record for the longest single-charge EV trip, the reaction from observers and industry insiders was nearly universally dismissive. Even when the drive was completed, and DBM’s electrified Audi A2 completed a 600km (373 miles) journey under observation, the skepticism lingered. Then, when the record-setting A2 burnt in a fire, the mystery deepened. Did the enigmatic battery start the blaze (as, a DBM battery apparently already has in a forklift), or, as DBM suggests, did a jealous German OEM try to kill their miracle battery breakthrough with a convenient arson? That puzzle hasn’t been hashed out, but according to AutoBild, Germany’s Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing) as well as the Ministry of Industry have tested the DBM battery for

extreme climate and air pressure changes, electrical short circuits, overloading or incorrect polarity and to mechanical influences such as vibration, shock and impact

The result? It’s safe! DBM has also made a 454km (282 miles) journey this month in a battery with less capacity than the world record-setting pack. More testing will be done, but it seems that DBM is on to something with its “miracle battery,” and the German automakers may yet be forced to abandon their long-held preference for hydrogen fuel cells.

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