Cobasys and A123Systems Partner on Li-Ion Batteries
03 January 2007
Cobasys and A123Systems have signed a memorandum of understanding to enter into a partnership to develop, manufacture, sell, and service lithium-ion energy storage systems for hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) applications.
The scope of the agreement will include joint development, marketing and supply of A123Systems nanophosphate lithium batteries and Cobasys systems integration and manufacturing of battery systems for HEV markets. Cobasys manufactures NiMH batteries, and is currently the battery supplier for the GM Saturn VUE and Aura Green Line hybrids. (Earlier post.)
To support customer programs in transportation markets, Cobasys will act as the tier one supplier providing the technical assistance and expertise for the design and development of battery system products including: packaging, thermal management, wiring, electronics and control algorithms.
Cobasys will help develop the requirements and specifications to meet the integration needs of customers and partners and will provide the validation testing of fully integrated lithium battery systems. A123Systems will manufacture and supply its automotive-class nanophosphate lithium ion cells and technology.
The agreement to unite Cobasys system expertise with A123Systems lithium technology further exemplifies our vision to be recognized as the world’s most admired energy storage integration solutions company.—Thomas S. Neslage, Cobasys President & CEO
We look forward to working with Cobasys to introduce lithium ion into the automotive market. This partnership will provide the market with game changing performance to further accelerate the adoption of hybrid electric vehicles.—David Vieau, A123Systems President and CEO
Cobasys designs, manufactures and integrates advanced battery system solutions for transportation markets, including Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV), Electric Vehicles (EV) and 36/42 Volt applications and to stationary markets, including Back-Up power supply systems for Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), Telecom and Distributed Generation markets. Cobasys is a joint venture between Chevron Technology Ventures LLC, a subsidiary of Chevron Corporation and Energy Conversion Devices, Inc.
In December, the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), an organization composed of DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation, awarded a $15-million battery technology development contract to A123Systems. (Earlier post.) The company, which supplies li-ion packs to Black & Decker for power tools, is also working with GE Global Research, Ballard Power Systems, and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to develop a lightweight, battery-dominant zero-emissions hybrid fuel-cell bus. (Earlier post.)
Two plug-in hybrid conversions companies—HyMotion (earlier post) and Hybrids Plus (earlier post)—also use A123Systems li-ion cells in their PHEV battery systems.
This could get A123 into the car market. It looks like a good business move for them and I would guess that it is good for Cobasys to go from NiMH to Lithium Ion technologies. If this helps get PHEVs going, then it is a very good thing. However, it sounds like Cobasys has deals on the BAS kind of car and not the full hybrids that can be used with PHEV.
Posted by: SJC | 03 January 2007 at 07:32 AM
Cobasys is a joint venture between ChevronTexaco Technology Ventures—a subsidiary of ChevronTexaco—and Energy Conversion Devices (Ovonics). These are the oil people, who now call themselves energy companies and are currently controlling the NiMH battery market. And, now they are going for control of the Li-Ion battery market. Notice there are few independent oil companies now and notice how the major companies are merging for more control of the energy business. Bp-Arco being the latest.
The way they operate is by patent infringement suits through the courts and then they settle by limiting the size of the batteries they will allow to be manufactured; and by having "friendly courts" issue a non disclosure order to the losing battery manufacturer so there are no public record of the settlement. This is the reason you haven't seen a Plug-in Toyota in the market place. Toyota is simply not allowed to buy larger batteries.
These energy companies are very busy working with other energy device and fuels manufacturers to make sure they protect their oil market and energy investments by controlling all forms of energy in the U.S. The oil companies are in the solar cell business and the alternative energies business as well and in the battery business.
All this big business control serves to slow down the development and time to market of other forms of energy. Good for their profits; bad for the consumers and worse for Global Warming.
I think it's time for a investigative reporter to gather this information and make it public so that our Congress has to address the issue. Where is Thomas Friedman when you need him?
Posted by: Ladson | 03 January 2007 at 08:28 AM
eh ? Cobasys ? Chevron ? Oiiil ? the ones that FORBID using nimh batteries in electric vehicles ?
Something smells fishy here.
Is the stranglehold trying to extend and extinguish the alternatives too ?
Posted by: kert | 03 January 2007 at 08:44 AM
Could it be possible that these oil companies see the writing on the wall and would like to participate in the profits to be realized from alternatives.The dems are promising aggressive energy legislation.
This story shows a supply chain developing. It seems to be pointing towards mass produced li-ion batteries to be used by major automakers.I think it is news we have been hoping for not an x-files conspiracy.
Posted by: earl | 03 January 2007 at 09:23 AM
As Cobasys has already shown its intent to control NiMH large format batteries, we can assume this to be their same play for LiIon. Under any reasonable interpretation of law, this appears to be a restraint of trade and violation of anti-trust law restricting monopolization of markets.
If this venture encourages licensing of large format LiIon for EV use - more power to... us. If, however, the venture attempts to restrict large format batteries - it may be necessary for DOJ to step in and un-muddy the waters.
Of course A123 has only one, narrow approach to LiIon - there are other, more advanced, more startling technologies that can and will be introduced to keep BEV, PHEV etc. highly competitive. Should prove to be fun.
Posted by: gr | 03 January 2007 at 09:44 AM
um .. from what i gather, NiMH related developments and patents were also initially scattered around in various research groups and startups, but Cobasys went and gobbled up each and every one of them until they had the full control over the technology.
If you see a news headline "something Cobasys something AltairNano/Valence/EEStor" or smthing like that any time soon, be worried, very worried.
Posted by: kert | 03 January 2007 at 10:29 AM
Has anyone actually seen the fine print of the deal? The link here did not actually say anything about A123 selling their patents or being limited in their ability to play in the PHEV market. It only mentions HEVs. If they let themselves be limited to only woking with Cobasys in the automotive industry then they are the dummest halibuts ever!
Posted by: Neil | 03 January 2007 at 10:42 AM
Another example of Big Oil's predatory practices:
Do you think for one minute they would hesitate to control battery production? If these guys would only spend their money to help develop and disperse the new technologies for every one's good instead of fighting progress--we can only hope, I guess.
Posted by: Ladson | 03 January 2007 at 11:23 AM
Hate to be a pessimist, but why does A123 have to team up with Cobasys, of all other potential partners, given Cobasys track records and policy regarding PHEV's? This may not bode well for the future of PHEV or BEV. What does Cobasys have to do with automotive batteries, considering that A123 already has a hefty grant of $15 millions from USABC, and partnership deals with other power players, for example, GE global research? Oh, I know, Cobasys has deep pocket of billions of USD from oil profit, ready to goble up all other battery technologies and keep these on hold from BEV or PHEV market until no more profit can be made from oil!!!
Posted by: Roger Pham | 03 January 2007 at 12:14 PM
I knew it was only a matter of time...
until the conspiracy theories floated to the top.
Posted by: Patrick | 03 January 2007 at 12:20 PM
Let’s hear it for another round of weird comments by the tin hat crowd.....a little more research on everyone’s part and you will find that a number of Japanese companies are already working on this same battery technology. So no need to panic here guys!
Posted by: JD | 03 January 2007 at 12:34 PM
I am not normally a conspiracy follower but Panasonic pulled their large format NiMH battery which was used in the electric RAV4. They now will sell no NiMH battery useable in a BEV. They do have a sealed agreement for patent infringement with COBASYS.
Posted by: Bill Young | 03 January 2007 at 02:34 PM
I think A123 is looking for a buyout. When you are a startup, you either go public or sell. Going public without the contracts from large customers is difficult. Since there are other competing types of Lithion Ion batteries, they may have figured that Black and Decker would not be that profitable. So, you go with the deep pockets.
Posted by: SJC | 03 January 2007 at 03:09 PM
If the government is really serious about ending our addiction to oil, they would buy the most promising technologies required for the electric dominant hybrid of the future such as Altair Nano or A123 Systems batteries, AC Propulsion electric drivetrain, etc and license them for a simbolically low amount of money to all national car makers. It is obvious that greed will not allow the car companies to work toward oil freedom therefore the government should step in and level the playing field for the next generation hybrid.
Posted by: Freddy | 03 January 2007 at 04:52 PM
A123Systems thinks this is the right path to further accelerate the adoption of hybrid electric vehicles and they may be right. But, I’m sure I'm not the only one who can say, "I've got a bad feeling about this." I’m sure the BEV, HEV, and PHEV, advocates will be watching Cobasys like a hawk for signs of “suppression” of this game changing technology. Cobasys systems wants to be the most admired energy storage integration company, the question is admired by whom? Only time will tell!
Posted by: David Thomas | 03 January 2007 at 06:46 PM
Yes Freddy, it will the government -- the Chinese goverment. They know that it is in their national interest. China is rapidly expanding their electrial energy production to replace energy from oil and other finite fossil fuels. Also, our government is an auction, whereas their government leaders are not beholden to campaign contributors. I have hope, but it is not with the Republicans or Democrats that represent us.
Posted by: Arnold | 03 January 2007 at 07:06 PM
The Chinese are expanding their nuclear and hydro electricity production but their biggest expansion in electrical production is with coal which is a fossil fuel.
Electricity (and hydrogen) is not a substitute for fossil fuel. It is merely a way to deliver energy from some primary source (fossil fuel, solar, wind, nuclear, hydro etc.)to the consumer.
Posted by: Bill Young | 03 January 2007 at 07:24 PM
The curious bit here is that in A123Racing ( A123 outlet selling packs for RC enthusiasts ) support forums, lots of people were BEGGING for info on electric bike battery packs from them, preassembled, with chargers, for drop-in upgrades for their previous Pb or Ni packs. It was a long time before anyone from A123 responded, and the response was : "We are currently not looking at that market, but knock yourselves out if you want to assemble our cells into packs yourselves"
Mind you, people have run bikes on Black&Decker twin packs and are very happy with them, expect for the inconvenience of not having a single charger for the full pack.
Now, electric bikes and scooters are an established fast-growing market with quantifiable demand for high-performance batteries, just like RC community or powertools. How on the earth did they miss that ?
Posted by: kert | 04 January 2007 at 12:19 AM
Ni-MH batteries are not suited for BEV and PHEV applications. They have low charge/discharge efficiency (about 70%) and very high high-temperature self-discharge rate. Period.
At least two companies have early licensing agreements from Ovonic which allow them to make BEV batteries sold in US. All companies are free to make BEV Ni-MH batteries outside US. So far, no takers.
One could make conspiracy theories out of this at will.
Posted by: Andrey | 04 January 2007 at 01:41 AM
How close are Panasonic EV to a LiIon battery with similar performance?
Posted by: clett | 04 January 2007 at 02:30 AM
Cobasys is a Tier 1 supplier to GM, thus A123 Systems will get access to supply GM vehicles. In light of upcoming BAS, 2mode, and 2mode PHEVs, this is a BIG DEAL. This could mean contracts in the tens of thousands of units in the near term. In the long term, it could mean this company could become very successful, with millions of units installed in millions of vehicles.
Posted by: allen_Z | 04 January 2007 at 08:08 AM
The conspiracy fears are real but the solution is also real and simple. The government has set rules that auto makers must meet for safety and smog protection. Let our government set rules and regulations for auto production and sales, requiring all vehicles to be full electric. Bypass hybrids as they are already obsolete. Tesla Motors has seen to that along with AltairNano.
Posted by: Norm | 04 January 2007 at 09:34 AM
Norm... What government are you thinking of? The US government, Congress, mil and other agencies, have long fought to build the petro-industry. They're not about to kill in in one swoop by mandating EVs. Won't happen.
The current path, though slow, is transitioning us from low MPG guzzlers, to flex fuel, HEV, PHEV while giving us a chance to grow alt fuels infrastructure and production. An all-EV future will not be viable until we re-build our grid to generate electric via clean coal/H2, zero-threat nuke and alt energies wave, wind, solar, geo, etc.
Tesla is great demo tool. But $100k cars are an insignificant green market.
Posted by: gr | 04 January 2007 at 11:39 AM
It has been said that the U.S. created the automobile and oil industries. If that is true, then we have 100 years of capital investment and no one in the money/power structure is going to jeopardize that.
Posted by: SJC | 04 January 2007 at 04:28 PM
Did someone say, "I have a bad feeling about this"? Well, I have a bad feeling about this. I think I saw it coming, but hoped I was wrong. Green car fanciers, Battery Electric Vehicle lovers, we have nothing to fear but Big Oil (Dallas), Big Auto (Detroit), Big Government (D.C.) and Big Money (Wall Street). There is so much inertia in "Don't change anything, I'm making money now", that it takes many years and a tidal wave of competition from those without vested interests in the status quo, to change anything. Capitalism is efficient at making money, not at accomplishing the public good. "If I (or, you or I) were king, a lot of good stuff could get done real fast". But by the law of unintended consequences, the revolutionary army of gas station owners and internal combustion mechanics and displaced American auto workers would storm Washington and set up an Oiligopoly. Oops- I think that already happened.
Posted by: rich easton | 04 January 2007 at 09:08 PM