Li-ion Polymer Battery Maker Kokam America Is Partner of Choice for Smith Electric Vehicles US; Kokam JV With Dow Targeted at Scaling Up Production
17 April 2009
When Smith Electric Vehicles US Corp (SEV-US) announced on 27 March its selection of Kansas City, Missouri as the site for its US assembly plant for electric commercial vehicles (earlier post), SEV-US CEO Bryan Hansel named Kokam America (also based in Missouri) as the electric vehicle company’s battery “partner of choice.” SEV-US is working on an official statement that will soon be released detailing more of the scope of the relationship, according to an SEV-US spokeswoman. The partnership with Kokam does not currently extend to Smith Electric Vehicles based in the UK.
Kokam America also made news earlier this week when its newly unveiled joint venture with Dow Chemical and Townsend Ventures LLC—KD Advanced Battery Group LLC (KD)—announced plans to invest $665 million in a new 800,000 square foot battery manufacturing facility in Michigan, and also was awarded $144.6 million in tax credits towards that plant from the state. (Earlier post.)
Kokam produces a range of prismatic lithium polymer cells (the “Superior Lithium Polymer Battery”, SLPB) based on an NMC cathode (lithium cobalt manganese nickel oxide) with a graphite anode. Its large format, large capacity cells range from 5 Ah to 240 Ah. Kokam America has been producing its SLPB cells for 8 years in its Missouri plant, says Kokam America CEO Don Nissanka, targeting niche market applications from the military, to medical devices, to industrial applications. The company did $40 million in sales last year, and was profitable.
There is nothing magic to [the chemistry]. We have some inside things that we do for safety, and a patent on the cell design. We produce high energy and high power density cells—we can capture both in one cell—and also have good cycle life. Today we can make that product very cost effective.—Don Nissanka
Nissanka estimated that currently the production cost for the SLPB cells is in the $0.75/Wh range ($750/kWh). “Going into the auto industry, we have to keep below $0.50/Wh [$500/kWh] and we believe we can get there.”
Kokam uses thin film lamination in the manufacture of the plates for the cells, with patents on its folder-to-folder continuous manufacturing process. This technology provides two improvements over conventional Li-ion technologies in the market today, according to Kokam:
A flexible form factor using stacked type cell assembly that can be combined with folder-to-folder continuous production processes. This allows shortened evolution time from a developmental prototype cell to a large scale commercial production cell.
An improvement in safety due to the reduction in the physical impedance of the cell.
Kokam cells for applications such as SEV-US’ will likely have an energy density in the range of 180 Wh/kg, with power density in the range of 2,200-2,400 W/kg, Nissanka said. The cells have a cycle life of 1,500 cycles at 100% Depth of Discharge, and offer a fast charge capability which “was one of the reasons Smith picked us,” Nissanka said.
Kokam has always been in the niche markets, Nissanka said, although the company began gearing up for the automotive market several years ago. Aside from the benefit of having a customer with a proven portfolio, and aggressive expansion plans (SEV-US is partnering with Ford on the electric Transit Connect in the US, earlier post), the relationship with Smith will also provide Kokam with a valuable trove of real-world operational data.
We are looking to get as much data as we can. Nobody really knows how [these batteries] will perform in two, three, five years. With Smith, with the cooperative relationship, we will understand how batteries will perform on the road. Working closely with them, accumulating much data, working with universities...over the next few years we will learn a lot.—Don Nissanka
The joint venture with Dow Chemical is basically to expand the business, and not for battery material, Nissanka said. Dow Chemical is a Tier 1 supplier to the auto industry with significant presence, and it has the scale-up capability to help Kokam go from producing cells in small volumes to very high volumes.
The structure of the joint venture is between Dow Chemical, Kokam America and Townsend Ventures LLC. Townsend is also the majority shareholder in Kokam Korea, and Kokam America. Nissanka is also currently serving as the CEO of the JV.
It will be interesting to see how those first generation high energy (180 Wh/Kg), high power, quick multiple charge-discharge SLPB batteries perform over extended use.
Around $500/Kwh is still too expensive for mass produced PHEVs and BEVs requiring up to 20 Kwh and up to 80+ Kwh respectively.
Price has to come down below $250/Kwh to reduce the total cost of a PHEV/BEV to that of current ICE vehicles.
Performance should also double to about 350 Wh/Kg within 5 to 6 years.
Advanced batteries future look better avery day.
Posted by: HarveyD | 17 April 2009 at 07:54 AM
We have to see if they can get the cost/price down to acceptable levels for a consumer product sub assembly.
"Nobody really knows how [these batteries] will perform in two, three, five years."
That says it, everyone needs to know how they will perform in 5 years. We can agree that the warranty could be 5 years and not 10, but people want to know the long term cost. If they are facing the cost of an engine rebuild every 5 years, the want to know this.
Posted by: SJC | 17 April 2009 at 09:21 AM
Does this mean Valence is being bump out?
Posted by: TheOne | 17 April 2009 at 10:29 AM
It does sound that way David. SEVUS as I understand it are initially producing their Smith Newton large truck, using Kokam batteries - but still using Valence batteries on those built in Europe by SEVUK.
Elsewhere today it is reported that for the electrification of the smaller Ford Transit Connect, SEVUS will use Johnson-Saft batteries. So SEVUS will be working with two battery suppliers in the US. Unless that report is mistaken which I think it possibly could be.
Posted by: Bob Uppendown | 17 April 2009 at 12:45 PM
A very strong looking partnership. Current estimates are that mass EVs, even the early models, will be paying the present pricing for Asian Li-ion, about $350/kWh. With this level of investment in domestic battery manufacturing - more jobs return home. And, big Detroit will be able to tout parts made in the USA. A major selling point going forward.
Posted by: Reel$$ | 18 April 2009 at 09:34 AM
Very bad lifespan but for that use it shouldnt be too bad as long as they oversize the pack enough to make up for it. Extremely bad cost.
I hope they can improve on both those aspects soon.
Posted by: wintermane2000 | 18 April 2009 at 11:20 AM
The highly automated or rather automatable features of their batteries ough drive down the cost of battery cell manufacturte. That is a pre-requisite to keeping the battery business n the western developed societies.
But they are still using the Cobalt chemistry and all the dangers that that represents.
Posted by: ExDemo | 18 April 2009 at 04:03 PM
Yes, they are still using cobalt in their electrodes, which would also concern me, but clearly they must have assured the guys at Smith that they have the safety aspects covered, and those guys are EV experts. I'll be interested to see how they perform.
If GM were to switch to the 180 Wh/kg Kokam cells, the Volt battery pack could be almost halved in weight, as they are currently using 100 Wh/kg LiFePO4 for safety and longevity reasons.
Posted by: clett | 20 April 2009 at 10:02 AM