Ford, University of Michigan open $8M battery lab focused on test production of advanced technologies
14 October 2013
Ford and the University of Michigan opened a new $8-million battery lab, housed at the U-M Energy Institute, which will serve as a battery manufacturing facility designed to support pilot projects. Advanced manufacturing methods will be used to make test batteries that replicate the performance of full-scale production batteries, allowing for faster implementation in future production vehicles.
The lab is the result of collaboration between Ford, battery suppliers, the University of Michigan, and the state and federal governments, and is targeting advancements in extending battery life and durability. Ford, the only automaker to invest in the facility, contributed $2.1 million. Other investors include the University of Michigan, Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the US Department of Energy.
The facility will allow Ford to collaborate with battery cell manufacturers, suppliers, university researchers and startups to test new battery concepts on a small scale that could be replicated for full production.
We have battery labs that test and validate production-ready batteries, but that is too late in the development process for us to get our first look. This lab will give us a stepping-stone between the research lab and the production environment, and a chance to have input much earlier in the development process. This is sorely needed, and no one else in the auto industry has anything like it.—Ted Miller, Ford’s manager of battery research
The University of Michigan is also one of the institutions participating in the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) $120-million Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) Battery and Energy Storage Hub (Earlier post.)
As part of that effort, a dozen University of Michigan researchers are working to advance next-generation technologies by simulating new materials, building them, understanding how those materials work and then constructing large-scale prototypes.
The new lab with Ford will be open to JCESR-related research, but it is not exclusively tied to that effort, noted Bruno Vanzieleghem, Assistant Director of Operations at the University of Michigan Energy Institute. Ford and other potential industrial partners have both a defined short-term need as well as the longer term research need for energy storage materials and systems.
The basic research of JCESR will benefit from having the prototyping facility in the out years of the project as innovations are being considered for scale up, Vanzieleghem added. The new facility will also be open to outside users on a fee for service basis once it is up and operating.
Ford has been supporting battery research for more than 20 years. Last year, the company invested $135 million in design, engineering and production of key battery components, and doubled its battery testing capabilities. Ford was able to accelerate durability testing, with test batteries now accumulating 150,000 miles and 10 years’ life in about 10 months.
Even so, battery development is in its infancy, and more research is needed. Just as critical, said Miller, is the need for new chemistries to be assessed in a credible cell format, which means small-scale battery cells can be tested in place of full-scale production batteries without compromising the test results.
It is way too early in the battery race to commit to one type of battery chemistry. In the span of 15 years, the industry has gone from lead-acid to nickel-metal-hydride to the lithium-ion batteries used in Ford C-MAX and Ford Fusion hybrids on the road today. Others in the auto industry have placed their bets, but we are convinced a better solution will require input from a multitude of partners.—Ted Miller
Miller said locating the lab on a university campus will be a draw for battery suppliers to work on complex problems in a common environment.
We need to work on these problems together in a neutral lab setting. This way, we all win. I think you are going to see a lot of companies in the battery supply chain come to Michigan to use this facility, in very short order.
This is important for the state of Michigan, too. Previous investments have been focused on battery production, and now our state becomes a research core for batteries. The University of Michigan benefits, because the best and brightest from car companies, suppliers and academia will come here. In turn, that will attract the best students. We need to nurture the next generation of battery scientists, and it helps Ford that the campus is less than 40 miles from Dearborn.—Ted Miller
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