Gm Cuts Deals on Batteries

By: Evander Klum

As Hybrid technology becomes the new and increasing demand in vehicles, GM plans to provide its consumers with the best quality of battery in its cars. GM has announced their team-up with the world's largest producer of nanophosphate batteries, the A123 Systems Inc. This kind of battery is the one being widely used in rechargeable power devices.

"The industry is on the cusp of radical change ... a transformation," said Bob Lutz, GM's vice-chairman of global product development. GM has announced an agreement with A123Systems, a Watertown, Massachusetts-based supplier of Li-ion batteries.

The nanophosphate chemistry being developed by A123 will bring GM's electric cars from its laboratory to the roads of North America, meeting the complex criteria of vehicles powered by electricity. The deal, said Lutz is their key step to meet the criteria, with A123 pioneering the nanophosphate chemistry.

"Breakthrough battery technology will drive future automotive propulsion, and the company that aligns with the best strategic partners will win," said Lutz, who made the announcement recently in Michigan. "That's what is important about this deal."

Last January, in the Detroit Auto Show, GM launched its E-Flex system, a technology making a vehicle able to adapt to several electrical power sources including fuel cells with common electric-drive systems.

The ultimate icon for this E-Flex system is the Chevrolet Volt, the electric concept car showcased in Shanghai featuring a fuel-cell engine as extender. The Volt had been modified with a diesel engine and body enhancements and was introduced as the Opel Flextreme in the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show.

Li-ion battery technology is viewed by GM (maker of ) as the key towards plug-in hybrid vehicle commercialization. Li-ion battery has higher power and energy density (capacity per unit size and weight) than the nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries commonly used in hybrid vehicles. The nanophosphate chemistry of A123 is said to produce more power output, longer life and safer operation along the battery life.

The lithium ion batteries supply electric power to cellular phones, lap tops and other power devices. Significant improvements are necessary to scale up the technology to be used in automotive applications.

One major concern of the Li-ion battery is the area of thermal management. Recently, there were numerous reported cases of overheating and explosions in cellular phones with the battery. Recalls had been made to some cellular phones and lap tops as a response to the issue.

With GM's partnership with A123 in developing batteries for its E-Flex system, this problem may be solved with joint efforts to be exerted by the two giants both experts in technology advancements.

"We're confident that one or both of these companies' solutions will meet our battery requirements for the E-Flex system," says Denise Gray, director of GM's energy storage devices and strategies.

"The card we have up our sleeve in terms of advanced technology and propulsion ... has me thinking we have a good hand," Lutz says. "In poker lingo, we are `all in.'"

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