A123’s Better Battery

Gary S. Vasilash

Last week we wrote about the potential for some significant developments in batteries, and lo and behold, on Tuesday A123 Systems announced, well, what its CEO David Vieau describes, with what we can only describe as a bit of hyperbole, but describes nonetheless, as follows: “We believe Nanophosphate EXT is a game-changing breakthrough that overcomes one of the key limitations of lead acid, standard lithium ion, and other advanced batteries. By delivering high power, energy, and life cycle capabilities over a wider temperature range, we believe Nanophosphate EXT”—which is a lithium-ion battery tech—“can reduce or even eliminate the need for costly thermal management systems, which we expect will dramatically enhance the business case for deploying A123’s lithium ion battery solutions for a significant number of applications.”

Including auto.


Yes, the beleaguered A123 Systems is continuing to work on developments that will have the potential of increasing the deployment of electric vehicles and hybrids.

A123 had the new technology tested at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) at the Ohio State University. And that “game-changing” reference comes up in a quote from Dr. Yann Guezennec, a senior fellow at CAR and a professor of mechanical engineering at OSU: “Nanophosphate EXT maintains impressive cycle life even at extreme high temperatures without sacrificing storage or energy capabilities”—more than 90% of initial capacity after 2,000 full charge-discharge cycles at 45-degrees C (113-degrees F)—“especially as compared with the competitive leading lithium-ion technology that we used in our head-to-head testing. If our testing also validates the low-temperature power capabilities that A123’s data is showing, we believe Nanophosphate EXT could be a game-changing battery breakthrough for the electrification of transportation, including the emerging micro hybrid vehicle segment.”

(According to a spokeswoman from A123, an initial application of the new technology will be for a global micro hybrid vehicle.)

A123 has its roots in nanoscale materials development that occurred at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the kind of place where research on things like physics, chemistry and nanomaterials are a matter of course

There are a couple of notable aspects of the new Nanophosphate EXT vis-à-vis automotive applications. For one, the low-temperature capability, assuming that it proves out as expected, can provide the cold-cranking that lead-acid batteries have long been the means of achieving. For another, by having to eliminate active thermal systems, the total system can be simplified.

Another thing about this development: While it has automotive application, it is also relevant to the telecommunications grid, which uses lead-acid batteries and generators for backup at cell towers. Which means that development costs can be amortized across more than one industry, which can help drive this sort of innovation into the market.