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ExxonMobil Chemical Developing Lithium-Ion Battery Separator Technology Targeted for Hybrids

17 May 2006

ExxonMobil Chemical and its Japanese affiliate, Tonen Chemical Corporation, are developing a prototype microporous film for lithium-ion battery (LIB) separators that it expects will dramatically improve lithium-ion battery power and safety performance in hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) applications.

The researchers describe their progress in a paper presented at the sixth International Advanced Automotive Battery and Ultracapacitor Conference (AABC-06) in Baltimore May 15-19, 2006.

The film offers the potential to reduce the size and weight of HEV batteries, according to ExxonMobil Chemical, thereby contributing to HEV system cost reduction and to improvements in design flexibility and durability.

Tonen Chemical commercialized and produces a thin, polyethylene-based, porous film that is used as a separator in many rechargeable LIB applications. The film is thin, yet strong, helping to increase the stability and reliability of lithium ion batteries.

A homogeneous pore structure provides exceptional performance that maximizes battery safety. The film closes its pores if excessive heat is generated during the chemical reaction in the battery, minimizing the potential for short circuits and battery rupture.

The prototypes of the new film separators offer higher permeability as well as good strength and thermal integrity. The high permeability of the separator strongly enhances the power-related performance, which potentially reduces the size and weight of a battery system.

Xomlib
A comparison of the surface structure between the standard grade and LIB prototype separator materials for HEV applications. Click to enlarge.

In April, ExxonMobil Chemical and Tonen Chemical announced increased production capacity for separator film at the Nasu Plant in Japan to satisfy strong demand and high growth in the lithium-ion battery separator market.

The added film lines at the Nasu production facilities enable us to pursue potential demand growth for customers developing new-generation lithium ion batteries for hybrid vehicles.

—Jim Harris, Polymers senior vice president

Tonen Chemical’s product was adopted for the world’s first commercial lithium ion battery in 1991.

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Comments

This just goes to show that ExxonMobile Chemical is making good use of its oil profits by plowing them back into lithium battery research. We do need good batteries for hybrids and Tonen Chemical Corporation's development of microporous film separators that should improve lithium ion battery power and safety are a welcome technology.

[email protected]

"This just goes to show that ExxonMobile Chemical is making good use of its oil profits by plowing them back into lithium battery research."

Whoaaa, this article does not indicate how much ExxonMobile has invested in this project. Not sure its equal to the compensation of any of their board of directors..

I am not saying that the amount invested is equal to the compenstion of any of their board of directors. It may be only a fraction of that amount. All I am saying is that the investment of even a small part of their billions in lithium ion battery technology is investment in the right direction.

[email protected]

Maybe they'll crush the hopes for Li-Ion the way Chevron did for Nimhd batteries. I mean come on, they're not exactly altruists.

I don't think the nickel hydride batteries have the energy density that we really need. If anything, Exon would wish involvement in lithium ion battery development strictly for business purposes. There is no telling how much profit could be made from good batteries once PHEV's are marketed.

Even so, the transition away from oil will take many decades. As oil becomes gradually depleted, I believe that Exon will greatly benefit by having battery patents and technology. There will be a delicate balancing act on income due to declining quantities of oil, increased prices of oil and the sales of PHEV's. I do not believe that Exon has any intention of being left out in left field.

Business ruthlessness does not indicate stupidity or lack of vision.

[email protected]

There is one small lithium ion battery company which is public and seems to have the commercial lead re: hybrids- 20% owned by one of the majors. Can you identify? NT

I am concerned that the biggest reason they are investing in this technology is to accumulate a substantial patent portfolio for litigation for preventing imports to the US or sales in the US if a company is successful and becomes a possible disruptive player. GM used Lead Acid after investing and Chevron prevented imports. Petroleum, Auto part manufacturers, auto maintenance, Local dealers, Auto manufacturers would perceive this as disruptive if they are not already keenly aware. I think this is about developing a patent portfolio for litigation and impeding or squashing potentially disruptive technologies.

The high fuel prices are clearly making people desperate, but there is a better solution than tiny electric vehicles that might not be useful for many of us.
Your article describes testing of a very small electric vehicle. An electric car, if successful, could address issues with gas prices. Why such a small car? Why is it uncertain that it can work? Why would it not be offered for sale here?

I argue that there are entities that currently impede the introduction of mass-use electric cars.

Did you know that it's possible to build a full sized electric vehicle (EV), freeway capable for more than 100 miles per charge with batteries that last the life of the vehicle, and with air conditioning and power windows, etc. (not the costly Tesla). This is without research into Lithium or other exotic batteries (like the Tesla) but instead with proven Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. This car has been on the road for 10 years now as an embarrassment to the entities that stand against the existence of an electric vehicle: It is the Toyota electric Rav4, and there are about 600 of them still operating in California.

The "research required" line we have been told repeatedly is misinformation, which unfortunately, most of us believe.

Who does not want EV's in our driveways:

-Big Automakers, because they, and their dealer networks do not earn significant revenue by selling cars. A look at how large their service departments are (and our out-of-wallet experience with them) shows what's at stake revenue-wise because EV's never need service beyond tire changes. EV's don't even need brake jobs due to electronic regenerative braking that does most of the work. Their ordinary friction brake pads and rotors thus last the life of the car (as shown on the Toyota electric Rav4).
The large established car companies depend on their service department, like printer companies depend on sales of ink cartridges. So why did Toyota sell the Rav4 instead of leasing and crushing as GM did with the EV1? It's a mystery, but I came across a blog that mentioned that a Toyota exec at a public speech mistakenly said that the cars would be sold, and so to save face, Toyota reluctantly sold the Rav4. Buyers, however, now post on blogs that they actually had difficulty in getting the Toyota dealer to sell them an electric Rav4 and that they were highly pressured to instead buy a Gas Toyota or a Prius.

-Large oil companies, for obvious reasons. Note they are also major stockholders in auto companies and thus probably have influence over their board of directors.

-Kragens, Jiffy Lube, Smog Check Stations, muffler/brake centers, etc.

Business firms exist to make profits, but profits are going to be reduced if EV's replace the ICE car. Much of our economy is based on the automobile, and its upkeep. Almost every business is related in some way to the car. What will happen to employment if the need to service a car is reduced?

What happens to Midas, Pepboys, Kragen's, smog check, AMCO, gas stations, Jiffylube, general service repair centers, the manufacturing plants that fabricate repair parts, the UPS people that deliver the parts, the corner deli or Taco Bells frequented by those firm's workers at lunchtime? What about government agencies that depend on collecting all manner of tax revenue from the above interlinked economy?

If people understand this scenario, then they will understand why they can't yet buy an EV from the legacy business infrastructure. Only recently can one sniff the scent of a potential EV from upstart EV boutique manufacturers like Tesla (too costly for mass production partly because they hand-solder a battery pack of 6000 Lithium AA sized cells together in series-parallel groups), Aptera, BugE, etc., because a startup company does not need to address the risk that a service-free vehicle will parasitically affect revenue from other parts of its company.

Curiously, Nissan's CEO has advocated a pure EV but I have a hard time believing he really will build one and that the announcement is mostly PR in nature.

What could replace displaced jobs from the ICE economy? Anyone who has flown from California to Florida has seen that most of the American land in between is empty and that a sizable portion of it is desert-like with plenty of sun exposure. This land could be loaded with massive solar and energy storage farms. This would employ a sizable workforce to build and then to maintain them. Solar farms could be photovoltaic or solar thermal. Energy storage, for evening power delivery, could be networks of batteries, massive flywheel generators, or pumped water elevated reservoirs for hydro power generation. Costly? Yes enormously so, but so was the Manhattan Project and so is the Iraq war, national ventures not undertaken for profit and thus cost justification. How much of the above could have already been built with the funds spent in Iraq? Some people advocate nuclear power, but I would encourage solar as being risk-free. One exciting company in my city of San Jose, Nanosolar http://www.nanosolar.com/ seems to have developed solar photovoltaic panels at 1/10 the existing cost. They can print them off like sheets of a newspaper.

In regards to daschel's post May 17 2006: "I don't think the nickel hydride batteries have the energy density that we really need."

This is wrong. The Toyota Rav4 EV uses NiMH batteries. It's true that NiMH batteries are less efficient and heavier than a potential Lithium battery, but if you load enough of them into a full sized car, their size and weight do not matter. Try to get an owner of one of the remaining 600 Rav4 EV's to part with one. Recently, a Rav4 EV sold for $89,000 on EBAY. It had 47,000 miles on it.

So while there may be possible a "perfect" battery in the Lithium chemistry, we could already be driving EV's with NiMH while the Lithium research proceeded.

There are no more NiMH batteries being sold for EV cars because the patent holder on the large NiMH batteries will not allow them to be sold for transportation use. This patent holder is an oil company. Google "Rav4 EV" or "95 AH Large Format NiMH battery"

In regards to daschel's post May 17 2006: "I don't think the nickel hydride batteries have the energy density that we really need."

This is wrong. The Toyota Rav4 EV uses NiMH batteries. It's true that NiMH batteries are less efficient and heavier than a potential Lithium battery, but if you load enough of them into a full sized car, their size and weight do not matter. Try to get an owner of one of the remaining 600 Rav4 EV's to part with one. Recently, a Rav4 EV sold for $89,000 on EBAY. It had 47,000 miles on it.

So while there may be possible a "perfect" battery in the Lithium chemistry, we could already be driving EV's with NiMH while the Lithium research proceeded.

There are no more NiMH batteries being sold for EV cars because the patent holder on the large NiMH batteries will not allow them to be sold for transportation use. This patent holder is an oil company. Google "Rav4 EV" or "95 AH Large Format NiMH battery"

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