Battery Technology Advancements

Written By Brianna Panzica

Posted November 30, 2012

Today, electric car maker Fisker Automotive announced that it has halted production indefinitely.

The company is relying on a buyer for its battery maker, A123 Systems, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and is up for auction next week, with companies like Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) and Wanxiang vying for ownership.

But Fisker only has a limited supply of electric vehicles, and it will run out of its product by spring if buyers don’t come through.

It’s not alone in the problems caused by A123’s bankruptcy; the battery company also supplied companies like GM (NYSE: GM), which just this week debuted its new electric vehicle: the Chevy Spark.

A spokesman for GM told USA Today the car would maintain production levels, but there’s no denying this incident is an example of a larger problem.

The tech and electric vehicle industries depend on batteries. And consumers are constantly demanding improvements, particularly in three categories: longer life, more power, and faster charging.

When it comes to electric vehicles, longer battery life is in high demand. Since EV charging infrastructure is few and far between, drivers want their EV to go further on one charge. Fifty miles will no longer cut it. 150 and up is more like it.

And charging time is another issue with these vehicles. No one has six hours to wait for a charge in the middle of a road trip. Companies that have that half hour-long – or even hour-long – charging technologies are going to be the winners.

This is why the Department of Energy has decided to take matters into its own hands. The Department announced today that it would be opening a battery and energy storage research facility at the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois, investing $120 million in the venture over five years.

When Energy Secretary Steven Chu took office, he came up with a plan for what he called “innovation hubs,” where research would take place for energy advancement.

Out of the eight he had originally proposed, five have been approved by Congress and only three are in operation, according to the New York Times.

The three currently operating include a lab for energy efficient building designs, one for fuels from sunlight, and one for light-water nuclear reactors.

These will be rounded out with the energy storage lab and a research facility for rare earth and energy-critical materials.

Naturally, the move was criticized as it comes in the midst of the A123 problems. But Chu hasn’t let the criticism dampen the plans.

From Fox Business:

“Not every company succeeds,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at a news conference Friday announcing the new project. “Never should the United States say because one company didn’t succeed as much as others, we should get out of the game.”

Energy storage does not just include EV and smartphone batteries, either; as the nation moves to acquire more energy from renewable sources like wind and solar, storage will become even more vital.

Ideally, with sufficient capacity, renewable power like wind could be captured and stored when the winds are at their strongest and demand is down, and it would be pumped back into the system when demand peaks.

The project is guaranteed to create jobs. The Energy Department expects to have over 120 employees working in the facility and to have it online in the coming months.

It will work with companies in the industry to help design and optimize the findings, though no companies have been named yet.

That’s all for now,

Brianna Panzica

follow basic@brianna_panzica on Twitter

Energy & Capital’s modern energy guru, Brianna digs deep into the industry with accurate and insightful updates into the biggest energy companies and events. She stays up to date with the latest market moves and industry finds, bringing readers a unique view of current energy trends.

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