Hubble Space Telelscope. As a result of an earlier acquisition from Eagle Picher, Electro Energy Inc. now owns the facility that produces batteries for satellites, including the long-lived Hubble Space Telescope. The company also recently acquired production facilities from Energizer where it plans to build batteries for the military initially.
When Being Bi-Polar is a Good Thing - Part II
Conclusion of 2-Part Interview with Electro Energy, Inc. president and CEO, Michael Reed
By Bill Moore
To Part One
One of the very first questions any layman asks about a battery-powered car is how long will the battery last, and by that they usually mean how durable is it? How soon will I have to replace it?
In a 2002 white paper available on the Electro Energy Inc. web site, there are several graphs that seem to strongly suggest that its bi-polar approach to battery construction may very well result in packs that have extraordinary durability, with the caveat being how deeply cycled they are.
So, I asked Michael Reed, the company president and CEO about the interpretation of those graphs and how applicable are the results of a 6 amp hour cell to larger modules and then complete packs. His response was encouraging. You can listen to the entire interview using either of the two MP3 players at the top of the page or by downloading it to your computer for transfer to your favorite MP3 device.
IN BRIEF: Synopsis of Interview Part 2
The company has tested their NiMH wafer-like cells to 80% depth of discharge (DoD) many thousands of cycles. At 40% DoD, their tests demonstrate more than 20,000 cycles. And at a 5% DoD, which Reed says equates to what automakers are designing their hybrid battery packs around, the cells will surpass more than 100,000 cycles "before they lose their capacity."
A contributing factor to the cells performance is also the compression the cell wafers, which keep the electrolytes in place and the electrode surfaces in contact.
EEI's primary business focus for the immediate future is the military and aerospace markets, but Reed said he is also interested in three other potential markets including hybrids and plug-in hybrids, as illustrated by their introduction of the first plug-in Prius to utilize a NiMH bi-polar battery, giving it a 25-mile electric-only range. While he acknowledges that the current sentiment is that PHEVs need to have a 40-mile electric-only range, he also believes that NiMH batteries are here today and proven, whereas there are still safety and durability concerns about lithium-ion cells. He thinks that the track record of NiMH today will make it an acceptable interim solution for what he calls a "medium-range" hybrid, while the industry works out the issues with lithium.
While the commodity price of nickel skyrocketed in the last year or so, it has started to come back down as new sources have started to become available, bringing the price back down to the "mid-teens" in dollar terms.
The company is also looking at the consumer electronics market, including lawn and garden equipment, which he sees as a "nearer term opportunity" than the high volume automotive application.
The EEI pack in their Prius is about 6 kWh and is configured not to replace, but to supplement the Panasonic 1.4 kWh pack that comes in the car. That is enough to allow the car to run for nearly 1 hour at below 34 mph in urban driving.
If government comes through with PHEV conversion incentives, EEI would be interested in developing a $6-7,000 kit where the cost per kilowatt hr would be about a $1000 for the complete system. He thinks the cost for a complete bi-polar NiMH pack could get down to $500 kWh, but not at current commodity prices for nickel, cobalt and other rare metals that go into the chemistry.
Reed believes that EEI's application of NiMH chemistry is sufficiently different and original that there should be no risk of patent infringement lawsuits from Cobasys and ECD Ovonics, which have been aggressive in defending their patents in the past.
The company has been working on introducing lithium chemistry into its bi-polar wafer design for about three years, Reed estimated, noting
that while lithium does introduce some changes to the manufacturing of their cells, they are not significant ones.
The initial funding of over a $1 million for the development of the lithium versions came from the venture capital arm of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Because of this work, done in conjunction with Rutgers University, the U.S. Army has stepped in with another million plus to fund the development of a bi-polar lithium version of their 2590 communications battery. Reed hopes that this program will evolve into an "operational supply contract" as early as 2008. It is this same 2590 battery that Lockheed Martin is considering for its High Altitude Airship, which it is developing as an alternative to communications and surveillance satellites.
EEI has demonstrated for the Department of Energy bi-polar NiMH packs up to 600 volts and 40 kWh of capacity. Reed sees no reason it can't ultimately scale up to megawatt capacity; and toward that end, the company is working with the DoE on a distributed energy concept that allows for greater use of intermittent, renewable energy on the grid.
While Reed sees "high-dollar" military contracts as the most promising immediate revenue source for the company, he also believes that NiMH-based batteries for both hybrid and plug-in hybrids will be a solid market for at least a decade. However, he also sees lithium ion chemistries starting to replace NiMH in the next five years.
Finally, he sees a niche market for US-made 18650 cells worth tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, and EEI plans to help meet that need through their newly-acquired production facility in Gainesville, Florida.