GM seeks to Lower Lithium Battery Prices by Investing in Envia Systems

Chevy VOLTBy John Addison (2/22/11)

General Motors with its Chevrolet Volt currently has the lead of Nissan, Ford, and others in delivering electric cars. The Volt is the first of many models in GM’s future.  The Voltec Propulsion System will be at the heart of a new GM crossover plug-hybrid SUV, the Opel Ampera in Europe, and probably a pure battery-electric car. Critical to GM’s competitive success will be reducing the cost, size, and weight of lithium battery packs.

To advance its lithium batteries, GM Ventures invested $7 million in Newark, Calif.-based Envia Systems to provide GM’s battery engineering team with access to advanced lithium-ion cathode technology that delivers higher cell energy density and lower cost. In a separate agreement, GM has secured the right to use Envia’s advanced cathode material for future GM electrically driven vehicles.

“Skeptics have suggested it would probably be many years before lithium-ion batteries with significantly lower cost and higher capability are available, potentially limiting sales of electric vehicles for the foreseeable future,” said Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures. “In fact, our announcement today demonstrates that major improvements are already on the horizon.”

Other participating investors in Envia are Asahi Kasei and Asahi Glass; as well as current investors Bay Partners, Redpoint and Panagea Ventures. The funding of the investor group totaled $17 million.

“With our high-capacity manganese rich cathode material, Envia is addressing two key issues in the next generation battery cells – higher capability and lower cost,” said Atul Kapadia, founding investor, chairman and CEO of Envia Systems. “We believe our battery materials have taken the technology lead that will help lower price points and unlock the market potential for our customers.”

Envia’s advanced cathode technology uses inexpensive materials that store more energy per unit of mass than current cathode materials. Since the cathode is a key driver for the overall battery cost, the more energy the cathode delivers, the lower the battery cost because fewer cells are needed.

“Our test results on small-format cells show that Envia’s high-capacity composite cathode material can increase the energy density of lithium-ion cells by up to one-third, at an equivalent level of reliability, safety and durability,” said Micky Bly, GM executive director for Electrical and Battery Systems. “We estimate this improvement in cell energy density and less expensive material will drive a substantial reduction in cell cost, leading to lower cost battery packs like the one in the Chevy Volt. Envia’s cathode technology also will offer benefits for other devices and applications where low-cost, high-energy density storage solutions are needed.”

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu stated, “We are once again seeing the benefits for the American people that come with federal investments in science and  technology, originally developed at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, is making its way into the market. By supporting American innovation, commercialization and manufacturing, this partnership is helping to boost U.S. competitiveness and create the jobs of the future.”

Not participating in the Envia investment is LG Chem, the current supplier for the Volt with its manganese spinel lithium-polymer prismatic batteries. Intense competition continues between LG Chem, Panasonic, Sanyo, Samsung-Bosch, NEC-Nissan, GS Yuasa, BYD, EnerDel, and dozens of other major innovators. Competition is intense to lower lithium pack prices down from $1,000/kW 3-years ago to about $500/kW today to $250/kW by 2020. GM and Envia just made the competition hotter and the sale of millions of electric cars more feasible.

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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.

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