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Panasonic EV Energy Co. Starting Studies Geared to Mass Production of Li-Ion Cells for Toyota

25 December 2007

Panasonic EV Energy Co., the battery-making joint venture between Toyota and Matsushita, has begun studies at its Omori factory geared to the mass production of lithium-ion batteries, said Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe in his end-of-year press conference. The Omori factory currently produces NiMH cells.

Lithium-ion batteries are better suited than NiMH cells for use in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, Watanabe said. Toyota, Matsushita, and Panasonic EV are currently conducting development on the cells and systems. Toyota’s current prototype plug-in hybrid uses a NiMH battery pack. (Earlier post.)

In the press conference, Watanabe briefly described Toyota’s three-pronged approach to sustainability: R&D into technology in pursuit of sustainable mobility; sustainable manufacturing and social contributions.

Hybrid technology will play a central role in achieving sustainable mobility, according to Watanabe, who noted that Toyota has now sold a cumulative 1.25 million hybrid vehicles worldwide. As previously stated, Toyota is targeting annual hybrid sales of 1 million units as early as possible in the 2010s, and will have a hybrid model in all Toyota series vehicles.

Watanabe referenced the ongoing testing of the plug-in hybrid prototypes in Japan and the US, saying that the company is making steady progress toward the commercialization of the plug-in vehicles.

In the area of energy research, he noted, Toyota has begun development of cellulosic ethanol.

Toyota recently selected four plants in various regions to be models for the sustainable plant concept announced earlier this year. The sustainable plants are designed to offer “ground-breaking environmental performance” to use renewable energy; and to contribute to the local community and environment.

The model plants are in Mississippi, the UK, France, and Thailand.

We are currently aware that the automobile industry has reached a turning point in many ways. For example, we must respond to expanding markets in countries exhibiting significant economic growth...and also address the environmental and energy issues on a global scale that will enable us to comply with the strengthening of regulations such as the recent US CAFE bill and the European CO2 draft.

We are aware that when responding to these changing circumstances, it would be extremely important to make individual decisions concerning things that must be changed and those that must be kept the same.

— Katsuaki Watanabe

December 25, 2007 in Batteries, Hybrids, Market Background, Plug-ins | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack (0)

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Despite not being a big fan of the big T, I see this as a positive step nonetheless because of how it will improve economies of scale for the industry as a whole.


The realization of Lithium Ion batteries is a major step toward developing electric vehicles. Up until now, nobody has found any means of independant transportable energy that beats Lithium other than liquid fuels.

This news seems more like another installment in a press release campaign. Toyota has "begun studies" on mass production of Li-ion? Doesn't sound like much.

"and will have a hybrid model in all Toyota series vehicles"

If they achieve that, an all hybrid lineup is not far behind. The ubiquity of hybrid systems, with increasing efficiency and lowering cost, would spill over nicely into pure EV technology.

What is happening with the EEStor supercaps?

Has 2007 been changed for 2008 for their 15 Kwh unit for the Zenn mini car?

What happened to their larger 52 Kwh unit?

Toyota is playing its cards very close to its chest, there is no information here regarding the exact chemistry Panasonic will be using for its automotive Li-ion batteries. The commodity cobalt-based products are generally not considered safe enough and, Toyota itself had decided to stick with NiMH for its initial foray into PHEV territory for just that reason.

On the other hand, Tesla Motors claims its water-cooled battery pack consisting of almost 7000 LiCo-ion commodity cells is quite safe. Perhaps Panasonic is also pursuing this route, but with fewer, larger cells. That's just conjecture on my part, though.

In any case, I suspect Toyota absolutely wants to avoid handing GM a PR coup in the hybrid arena with the Chevy Volt. I cannot imagine the above press release is mere window dressing, it just doesn't spell out any details.

So Toyota hasn't given up on Panasonic yet. I imagine that they are pulling late shifts at Panasonic working to catch up in the area of battery chemistry.

Harvey: EEStor announced some months ago that they would be delayed until sometime in 2008. That announcement fed the skepticism that exists about the company and their product. Be great if they work, but I'm not holding my breath. Another possibility is the carbon nanotube ultracaps that they're working on at MIT.

Neil: Thank you for the update.

An MIT carbon nanotube unit is probably many years away from mass production.

Matsushita (Panasonic) is not playing catch up at all...they (well most Japanese companies) try to be quiet about any new innovations and tend to be conservative in pushing forward with them. Panasonic is ready to provide Li-Po (Lithium Polymer) as long as they don't set another factory on fire!

Building test products is one thing. Full scale production is a far more different and greater risk requiring long-range planning and the coordination of many entities; get it wrong and you could flush the company.

For that reason, I don't see an overnight changeover to either LI batteries or PHEVs; but, a transition over time to protect Toyota's bottom line. And, for that matter I don't see any other company making this move quickly unless its a small company breaking into the business with little to lose.

If you have been following the progress of Tesla Motors, you know how complicated it is to bring a reliable, new technology car to market.

In any case it's exciting' to see that the idea to move electric drive into the main stream is finally gathering traction and momentum. But, that's still only half the answer for transportation, the other piece to put in place is generating the electricity by solar power. See the following graphic: http://www.motherearthnews.com/uploadedFiles/articles/issues/2007-12-01/RenewableEnergy.pdf

While I would love to charge my car with electric power from my roof, it has been shown before that if upto 80% of the cars in the USA would be replaced by electric cars, they could be charged at night with the electricity that is lost at the moment. Not a single additional powerstation would be needed.
So for the first decade of electric vehicle introductions, there's plenty of wasted electricity that can be used.

Nano-solar has shipped its first megawatt of thin film (printed) solar cells. It expects to ship 430 megawatts during its first full year of operation at about 99 cents per watt. We may have roof top solar units earlier than thought.

I wonder if Nano-Solar's 25 year warranty applies if anyone installs it across the roof of their HEV/PHEV.

If I remember correctly, MIT's carbon nanotube supercapacitor won't reach prototype stage until at least 2009. But the potential is enormous: we could see battery packs that charge in minutes instead of hours and last just as long as today's NiMH and Li-On units, with a possible major reduction in the size of the battery pack.

This is massive.

The Japanese (unlike Americans) move at a glacial pace.
Only a few months ago Toyota said it had no plans to use lithium batteries in it's next generation Prius.
The fact that they are conducting studies to ramp up production proves they have been convinced by the guys at CalCars that this is the right way to go.
The USDE Argonne study also shows that Li-Ion PHEVs are the way to go.

Here's my prediction:
Toyota has a plug-in Prius based on Li-Ion technology in the time frame that GM has promised for the Volt.

I believe the Lithium ion battery is ready for hybrid applications, but still a few years developments away from plug-in applications.

Even then, an optional recharge kit to provide a short distance all electric mode can be a bridge feature, until the commute distance plug-in is ready.

EEStor is having difficulty getting the trace amounts of unobtainium that they need.

Alain wrote:

So for the first decade of electric vehicle introductions, there's plenty of wasted electricity that can be used.

I agree. We would need to wire the garage so that cars would plug into "interruptable" power service. The power company would distrubute the electricity that currently goes to waste (spinning reserve) in the most technically/economically efficient way so that somtime in the middle of the night (when it would become "our turn") the car would recharge. Presumably, the lower rates paid for interruptable service would fund the cost of the wiring and extra power meter.

If the power company offered a vehicle to grid (v2g) option I would be suspicious. Wouldn't adding additional charge/discharge cycles shorten battery life?

It seems that BYD (China) may beat GM and Toyota with lithium batteries PHEVs and BEVs as early as late 2009.

BYD (a bit like Toyota) will build both the vehicles and batteries.

BYD's BEVs may find a good start up customer in Israel for their Electric Vehicle Roadway project.

The Bolloré/Pininfarina BEV may follow a few months latter.

Others will certainly follow.

Interesting times ahaead.

So for the first decade of electric vehicle introductions, there's plenty of wasted electricity that can be used.

A common misconception. Many powerplants sit idle at night, but they do not burn fuel and "waste" electricity. Other notes:

1. Nanosolar will not ship anywhere near 430 MW its first year, and will not charge 99 cents per watt for quite a few years.

2. Toyota will not use lithium cobalt oxide. Top management made that call after the laptop fires and sent Toyota/PEVE engineers back to the drawing board. The nextgen Prius will be NiMH, a lithium version will come later. Toyota won't have a true PHEV by 2010. They may attempt to save face with a PHEV-8 or something.

Doggy, please explain yourself. I was under the impression that large coal fired generating stations are fed coal all night regarless of load. Not true?

Mick,

Coal plants do run around the clock. They can be throttled back a little, I think to 75-80% of max output. In some regions this is enough to handle peak-to-trough variation, at least with help on the demand side from electricity-hungry industries who set themselves up to consume ultra-cheap nighttime power.

Areas which need more peaking power use turbines. Mostly natural gas, but some are still oil-fired or dual-fuel. Turbine fuel is more expensive, but they can shut down overnight and fire up again each day. California uses a lot of single cycle gas turbines for peaking power, especially in the summer.

"Spinning reserves" are something else entirely. Utilities keep some turbines in a hot idle condition so they can ramp up instantly if a big powerplant suddenly drops offline. You need spinning reserve even if you eliminate peaking entirely. Spinning reserves don't generate any electricity to speak of, and burn very little fuel because they're running at idle.

Electricity may not get wasted, but fuel does. Peaking turbines are inefficient: a single-cycle gas peaker might be 32% efficient vs. up to 60% for a modern combined-cycle gas turbine.

I ran some numbers for a California summer day once. Electricity provided was 840 GWh that day, with a trough around 24 GW range and a peak near 45 GW. With a PHEV fleet (and a tiny amount of V2G) electricity consumption would increase to peak-free 1000 GWh. Combined-cycle gas turbines would actually burn LESS natural gas to support a "flat" 1000 GWh profile than the single-cycle peakers actually in use that day burned to support the "peaky" 840 GWh profile. On a GHG and economic basis the electricity to fuel a PHEV fleet would have actually had negative cost that day. Of course each day is different, you need a year-round analysis to figure the overall cost. Still, the result was an eye-opener.

I think everyone here is off the main issue.

The issue is not chemistry. This has been settled. LiCo is dead. It will be LiFeP (most likely) or some other chemistry. Neither the issue is PHEV vs. HEV. This is already settled in favor of PHEV. Neither is the issue GM vs. Toyota. This has also been settled in the backrooms through mutual understanding.

The issue is SPHEV vs. PPHEV. Serial vs. Parallel. SPHEV wins handsdown. All big autos have seen the handwriting on the wall. Question for them is not SPHEV, but how they can milk the customer for the longest time, before they are forced to earnestly offer SPHEV.

GM has toed out of the line with the Volt. So I think GM will be brought in line by 1- making sure the Volt is not a runaway success, 2- by blowing up battery issues for the Volt, 3- by keeping the price high, etc. GM will be given a quota for SPHEV, and told not to exceed it. Everybody else will not be touching SPHEV until they can milk the HEV and PPHEV cycle to its fullest. So do not see any big auto trying to earnestly introduce SPHEV before 2015 or 2020.

Rafael: If you really believe Tesla has solved the 7000 cell LiCo problems, then I have some oceanfront property in Kansas for you to invest in. It comes with private saltwater marina.

EESTOR is a joke. No proof of concept yet.

Big auto will delay LiFeP SPHEV and SEV as far back as it can. It will produce all sorts of alibis as to why it is doing that. GM has gotten a reprieve, due to its dire market conditions, but as long as it toes the party line. If GM gets too excited about the Volt, then all bets are off.

A123 is extremely quiet nowadays. Does anyone know what is going on with them? Difficulties, or are they trying to hide the goose that lays the golden eggs?

@ Alain and others,

I fear that you do not understand what the statement means that you would not have to build a single new power plant to power a conversion to a 80% PHEV auto fleet.

That statement is literally correct. The existing electrical generation plant capacity is there but that that does not mean that the the plants on cold standby,(not even started up), or hot standby, (spinning on "no Load" power setting) consume any where near the same amount of fuel as the same plant would, when the plant is under full load generating electricity.

Think of it as an auto idling in your driveway; yes it is consuming fuel, but not as much as it would be using while pulling your boat up a steep mountian road at highway speed. Then it would be literally drinking fuel, instead of sipping it.

Lots of these plants have spare capacity but are very inefficient and they are used only every so often to meet peak demand.

If the load permanently went up so those plants had to be used every day the Utilities would NOT WANT TO USE them for long; even assuming that they could do so for very long, as they are way overaged and unreliable. Many were meant to be retired in the 1980s.

A building boom on electrical generation plants would ensue. But that is happening now, already.

For my part, I think Toyota is the real leader for this kind of innovation. I sincerely hope other automakers follow suit.

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