Company Backed By GM And DOE Says Its Lithium Ion Batteries Could Cut Costs In Half, Nearly Triple Energy Density

by Zachary Rybarczyk

Joint investment between the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors has enabled a breakthrough in lithium-ion cell technologies that could cut the price of electric vehicle batteries in half.

Armed with $7 million from from General Motors’ venture investment arm, G.M. Ventures, and $4 million from the Energy Department’s advanced energy research program, ARPA-E, California-based Envia Systems announced that it had created a battery pack with cells with energy density far greater than other technologies on the market.

Envia says its new manganese-based cathode design allows lithium cells to store almost three times the amount of energy per charge than today’s commercial lithium-ion battery packs. Envia’s chairman and CEO Atul Kapadia spoke to the New York Times:

“We will be able to make smaller automotive packs that are also less heavy and much cheaper,” Atul Kapadia, chairman and chief executive of Envia, said in a telephone interview. “The cost of cells will be less than half — perhaps 45 percent — of cells today, and the energy density will be almost three times greater than conventional automotive cells.”

Mr. Kapadia continued: “What we have are not demonstrations, not experiments, but actual products. We could be in automotive production in a year and a half.”

If these claims are true, they could provide a much-needed boost to the electric vehicle sector. Because batteries are one of the most costly parts of electric vehicles, dramatic improvements like this could substantially reduce the overall cost of vehicles. Dozens of companies are working on bringing battery costs down, but none have been able to get into a cost range that would break the market open.

Looks like a strategic government investment in good ol’ fashioned energy R&D could just get us there.

20 Responses to Company Backed By GM And DOE Says Its Lithium Ion Batteries Could Cut Costs In Half, Nearly Triple Energy Density

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    This is exciting news. The Nissan Leaf already pencils out well in California, with $4.50 gas.

    If batteries are cheap, so should be the sticker price of the car. There will be no engine or transmission.

    Adios, Koch and Tillerman. Sweet!

  2. Leif says:

    Amazing what corporations and public can accomplish when capitalism works for the betterment of the whole not just the wealth enhancement of the few.

  3. Tom King says:

    I know this story is good news, but it brings back bad memories of how GM eliminated the NiMH batteries from the EV market by selling the technology to Chevron and crushing the EV1. The only NiMH that Chevron lets me have now are the rechargeable AA’s that go into toy cars.
    Still, now that Obama has saved GM, there is a chance they might have learned their lesson.
    I hope this technology can quickly find its way into the electric bike market too. Lithium battery prices are falling fast and this news will accelerate that trend.

  4. Sasparilla says:

    I’ve been following this over the last couple of days this most excellent news. Testing actual batteries is a big deal. If everything goes well we’re still looking at years from being in a car (I’ve seen 2015 thrown around).

    Using the initial price estimates for these batteries ($180kWh which they said should fall significantly over time) it would give the Chevy Volt battery pack a cost of less than $3000.00 (its currently estimated to be over $10k).

    This will also make practical pure EV’s with ranges in the 200 to 300 mile range (which would also ease up on the deep cycling of the batteries since most people won’t be driving 200 to 300 miles on most days – and this will help with the durability of the batteries)

    With batteries you always have to wait and see if it makes it into production (the chemistry does have downsides) and sometimes things don’t pan out.

    That said the prices here are what we need to start disrupting the ICE vehicle market (disruptive technology level) at the price level – take me there. ;-)

    One other note, this is not the only radical increase in Li capacity etc. that has been announced over the last couple of years (its certainly one of the biggest and well substantiated), there’s more than one group going forward here and we will eventually reap the rewards from these leaps forward.

  5. Bob Savage says:

    Research & Development in the field of improved battery technology has made sense all along, but was resisted by people who had an axe to grind. What good will your solar panels be at night? Wind power is only good when the wind blows. I’m sure we have heard all of this nonsense over again and again.

    If we aggressively pursue conservation, efficiency, improved battery technologies, and alternative energy sources, we truly CAN make a better future for our children and grandchildren. I expect, therefore, that Republicans will do everything they can to stop this program before it does any more harm to the Petroleum industry.

  6. Linda says:

    Best news I’ve heard for a long time! I want it now!!

  7. Mark Bigland-Pritchard says:

    @ Bob Savage (5) –
    If the repugs manage to block serious achievement in the US, the research team should move to Germany or Denmark, where they will be welcome. Or maybe even Ontario or Nova Scotia.

  8. Sasparilla says:

    One other comment (sorry for the double), the oil industry will really, really, not like this. And they are the richest most powerful industry in the world.

    The oil industry is currently looking forward to decades of rising oil prices and profits – until a cheaper technology comes along and at some point enough people switch over to that choice enough to drive demand down.

    This is truly a threat to that decades of future monstrous profits for the oil industry.

    The Oil industry lackeys – the Republicans and Fox News – have been attacking plug ins and the Chevy Volt (in particular) relentlessly since their release over a year ago (presumably to tarnish the technology in as many consumer minds as possible).

    There is a reason that an Oil Company’s board of directors (Chevron at this point I believe, they bought Texaco) gets a say whether large format NiMH batts (which were used in EV’s in the late 90’s) are sold or not and so far none have been sold since the oil company got that control (NiMH batts are still cheaper per kWh than existing Lithium batteries).

    I don’t know what the oil industry will do beyond their PR attack of the technology through their media outlets (Fox News, GOP) and continued action in Congress (the GOP House has tried to eliminate the temporary plug in vehicle tax credit already). The oil industry is at war with this technology, make no mistake and we need to keep a vocal open eye on what they do.

    But if there is going to be a time for the Oil Industry to do something drastic and nasty it will be before plug in vehicles with this type of battery get to market (because by then it will be too late).

  9. Sasparilla says:

    Tom you are so right. GM’s history with NiMH makes me a little nervous – but they are good at picking battery technology. ;-) Frankly all the public heat they are taking from oil industry minions on the Volt is making me a little nervous right now (as I’m sure the GM execs know how much better they’d be treated by the GOP and Fox News if GM just dropped that car / technology).

    After GM decided to be out of the EV market forever (at that time early last decade) and wanted to make sure nobody else could keep going with the best battery technology (at the time) they sold their stake and patent control to Texaco in a sweetheart deal for $1.5 million.

    Hopefully current GM execs have the chops to see their Voltec & EV technology through as its going to become very profitable in the next generations.

    Currently NiMH is still cheaper than Li per kWh – can’t imagine where we’d be without that sale to Texaco, although these new batts will change that.

  10. Doug Bostrom says:

    If these claims pan out, they would put these batteries well within an order of magnitude of the simple energy density of gasoline. Factoring in thermodynamic losses w/gasoline, basically at parity or even better. A great leap forward, truly.

  11. SecularAnimist says:

    Also, IBM is collaborating with US government research labs to develop lithium-air batteries, which they say will “improve energy density tenfold” compared to today’s lithium-ion batteries, and will be “capable of powering an electric car at least 500 miles on a single charge”:

  12. Lou Grinzo says:

    Buckle up, kiddies, the Disruptive Technology roller coaster is just getting started.

    Overall, this battery new is undoubtedly a Very Good Thing, for all the obvious reasons. And yes, the oil companies will squirm and fight and lie and funnel vast sums into the campaign war chests of various elected officials to fight it, but that will (at worst) slow things slightly. They can’t fight brute force economics, and that vector is definitely pointing in the wrong direction for Big Fossil.

    I have no idea if this particular battery technology will be The One, or if it will be the “flow battery” or something no one here has heard of yet. And frankly, I don’t care who wins the affordable battery race, as long as someone wins it ASAP, because it will dramatically tilt the entire competitive landscape in the right direction.

    And while I’m at it, let me point out yet again that no one should underestimate the marginal utility to the average American driver if being able to say “[screw] you!” to the oil companies every time he or she drives past a gas station. (I predict a rash of injuries to middle fingers from overly enthusiastic and too frequent flipping of birds, but that’s another point for another time.) If I tell one of my neighbors or friends, who isn’t engaged on climate and energy issues, that an EV will let him or her drive at 20 to 25% of the per mile fuel cost, there’s real interest. When I point out the “[screw] the oil companies” angle, the person’s eyes light up like a Fourth of July fireworks display.

  13. Doug Bostrom says:

    It will be a great day when the present king of energy density is tossed from the throne. Regicide appears to be just around the corner.

  14. Leif says:

    As much as others, I to “want it now”. However, the “NOW” problem is keeping Earth’s Life Support Systems functioning long enough for this technology to flourish and able to make a difference.

  15. Sasparilla says:

    President Obama, for all his failures on climate change, mentioned when he gets out of office he’s going to buy a car with a plug (Chevy Volt).

  16. Jon S says:

    As long as cheney runs on battery power, I’d prefer these companies keep their big ideas to themselves, and think “big & bulky”.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Precisely, Bob. Leaving this sort of vital technological advance in the hands of capitalist corporations, dedicated to profit maximisation before all else, invites trouble. I’ll believe electric vehicles have arrived when I hear that Exxon etc have invested heavily in them, and announced that, for the sake of humanity, they have decided to get out of the oil and gas business.

  18. losamigos says:

    SA, interesting link to IBM’s Li-Air technology. One note from the NYT article at that link is that the IBM research is not federally funded. As with many battery claims, this research is still to reach a “go/no go” point after 3 years. I hope for the best, as I remember Toyota’s claim for a 100 mpg Prius using Li batteries 2 years ago. Still waiting.

  19. Ron says:

    There was a $10 million “challenge” for the commercial race to space. We need the same idea for the commercial race to an effective power battery system. I don’t believe a conspiracy is in effect to prevent battery tech, i believe effective battery tech does not YET exist.

  20. MorinMoss says:

    The real shame of the Prius was that it wasn’t a plug-in from the beginning.
    I believe that if it were, it would have been signficantly more popular and definitely more efficient.