A little while ago, there was a big competition going on between two lithium-ion battery manufacturers – A123 and LG Chemicals – to win the contract to build batteries for the Chevy Volt. I have to admit, I was rooting for A123. Maybe it’s because I would have rather seen GM invest in a domestic company rather than a foreign one. Maybe it’s because the founders came from MIT – I mean, what geek can resist that?
But I understood that GM needed to make a business decision, and if they felt that buying batteries from A123 would make an inferior Volt, I grudgingly accept. But apparently the main reason that Bob Lutz and GM chose LG over A123 was… that they wanted flat batteries, not cylindrical batteries. A123 makes cylindrical batteries.
Now, I’m clearly not privy to the engineering plans of the Chevy Volt, but… really? Let’s review what “flat” means in this context. For reference, the lithium-ion battery in your laptop contains cylindrical batteries; if you opened it up, you would see a bunch of batteries that look like your standard AA. That’s what A123 is making. The flat batteries that GM apparently wants are different – the battery part actually has a flat shape to it (as pictured above).
Such flat batteries are important when it comes to, say, building an ultra-thin laptop where every fraction of an inch counts. But would it make that much difference in a car? If you are design engineer out there, and you think it would make a difference, feel free to let me know. All I’m saying is that if A123’s devices delivered the same or better quality performance, and they are an American company, I would have gone with them.
Of course, it’s also important to consider the fact that A123, while a big startup, is still a startup. That may have been reason enough for GM to feel hesitant about making this deal. But A123 is a really big startup, and they are already going through the necessary steps to make their company public. They have hundreds of millions in VC money and employ 1700+ people. So it’s not as if GM would have been investing in one guy with an idea – A123 is serious stuff.
Although they missed the boat on the Volt, A123 seems unfazed; they are pretty determined to make electric car batteries one way or another. They just announced plans to open up a huge battery manufacturing plant in Michigan - the first of its kind in the US – but are asking for government loans (on the order of $1 billion or so) to help pay for it. It would be great if they got it, but if I were the government I’m not sure why I’d put so much R&D money in their one basket when a whole bunch of battery scientists just got together at Argonne National Lab to form a battery research coalition… Maybe they can work together.
Via Earth2Tech, Greentech Media
written by Anthony, January 13, 2009
written by Twist9, January 14, 2009
written by Andrew Young, January 22, 2009
written by Fred, July 16, 2009
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