The electrification of cars is coming. It became inevitable when F1 rules were opened up to allow hybrids. Once Bernie Ecclestone says something is OK, the world follows… Seriously, F1 rules now allow for a kinetic energy recovery system that can be stored as electrical energy. This would follow the same concept as the regenerative braking system used in any contemporary hybrid including the Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion, or any of the GM full-size trucks.
Beyond the crazy world of F1, real progress is happening toward making battery-electric hybrids and pure-electric vehicles more practical in terms of performance and price. The key to affordable, long-range battery-electric and hybrid vehicles is the battery pack.
A recent announcement from Hitachi shows how quickly progress is being made in the battery sector. Hitachi is among the world’s leading battery manufacturers, and they recently announced a high-power automotive Li-Ion battery that lists its output as 4,500 W/kg. The cells have a service life of ten years, which should about equal the life of any car they’re installed in.
The newly announced battery produces 1.7 times the output of the company’s current automotive lithium ion cell which is rated at 2,600 W/kg. The new cells also supersede Hitachi’s soon-to-be-released 3,000 W/kg cell that won’t even go into production until 2010.
Hitachi has already produced 600,000 automotive lithium-ion cells. The new 4,500 W/kg cell will start going into sample testing soon (this Fall), and is expected to enter production in 2011.
Currently, cheaper, bulkier, and less-power-dense nickel metal hydride batteries power most gasoline-electric hybrids. The characteristics of NiMH batteries suit providing short bursts of power, not sustained electric runs over long distances. Lithium-ion cells offer the advantage of being more compact and more power-dense, enabling longer runs on battery power. For vehicles like the new series hybrid Chevrolet Volt, running up to 40 miles on batteries only is critical to their appeal and success. Lithium-ion cells are currently the best-known battery chemistry that can get the job done.
The quest for more power is driving battery research at an unprecedented rate. Money from the Obama Administration’s stimulus program and additional private funding is sparking new development in the U.S., which significantly lags behind South Korea and China in battery research and battery manufacturing capabilities.