Thursday, August 9, 2007

Chrysler plans fleet test of lithium-ion batteries

Richard Truett
Automotive News
August 9, 2007 - 2:02 pm EST

UPDATED: 8/9/07 3:07 P.M.DETROIT -- Lithium-ion batteries are getting closer to production.

Chrysler LLC plans to install the powerful, lightweight batteries this fall in a test fleet of plug-in hybrid Sprinter vans. The technology could lead to production versions of the vans and then consumer applications, said Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa.

The Sprinter batteries are an early test of a new generation of lithium-ion batteries made by Johnson Controls-Saft, a joint venture between Johnson Controls and French battery maker Saft. It's the first real-world test of the company's lithium-ion technology -- the batteries, the pack and the control system -- which could see high-volume production in the future, said Cappa.

A number of companies are gearing up to produce lithium ion batteries for hybrids. Lithium-ion batteries reduce the weight and space of a battery pack by about 50 percent yet produce almost 40 percent more power than the nickel metal hydride batteries used today in such vehicles as the Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota Prius.

The downside is that lithium-ion batteries can overheat.

Companies such as JCS, A123 Systems, Compact Power and others have been racing to perfect not only the batteries but also the control system that keeps the batteries cool. Says JCS CEO Mary Ann Wright: "This is a fast-moving technology."

Chrysler's Cappa said as many as 22 plug-in Sprinters will be built and tested in all weather extremes. California and New York are two states where the vans will be tested. He said the fleet of test vans will use gasoline and diesel engines. Cappa said the Chrysler engineers will not only be monitoring battery performance, but safety, too.

Lithium batteries were in the news earlier this year when Sony was forced to recall thousands of laptop computers because of overheating lithium-ion batteries.

Wright, the engineer who led the team that put the Ford Escape Hybrid on the road, said she's confident that JCS' battery technology is ready for real world driving conditions for safety and reliability.

"We recognize the concerns associated with Li-Ion batteries in cell phones and in computers," said Wright. "But the performance standards required in an automotive environment are very different and we understand the technology requirements necessary to deliver a safe battery.

"We are approaching safety in the same manner in which we approach all other battery system requirements -- with a layered system approach. We will ensure safety performance is achieved at the cell, pack and system level."

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