Battery Maker A123 Announces New Tech to Jump-Start Its Business The troubled company says an advanced design could lead to cheaper electric vehicles. Tuesday, June 12, 2012 By Kevin Bullis Audio » http://www.technologyreview.com/news/428172/battery-maker-a123-announces-new-tech-to-jump/ A123 Systems says it has developed an improved version of its lithium-ion battery cells that could open up new applications for lithium-ion batteries and lower the cost of electric vehicles. The batteries work better at both high and low temperatures than the company's current batteries. That could make them useful in cars and as backup power for telecommunications towers, A123 says. The new battery design might also allow automakers to simplify or eliminate the liquid cooling and heating systems used in some electric vehicles. A123 isn't saying much about the details of the new technology, except to say it involves tweaks to both of the battery's electrodes as well as the electrolyte. The new batteries still use a type of lithium-iron phosphate, the chemistry used in A123's conventional cells, and are expected to cost about the same amount to make, says Bart Riley, A123's chief technology officer. He says the new cells will be in commercial production by the beginning of next year. The high- and low-temperature performance could make the batteries suitable for replacing lead-acid batteries in backup power systems for cell towers or in areas, such as India, without a stable supply of power from the grid. A123 says that such an application would offer savings of about 60 percent over lead-acid batteries. These power systems often use diesel generators to charge lead-acid batteries, since the batteries take a long time to charge, and can't be recharged completely from an intermittent grid. But where it takes five hours to charge a lead-acid battery, it would take only 48 minutes to charge A123's batteries, decreasing or eliminating the need for the diesel generator, lowering costs still more. So far, outside sources haven't verified A123's claims, although initial tests through Ohio State University seem promising—they've shown similar performance at high temperatures, although only for a few hundred charge cycles. A123 claims the batteries maintain 90 percent capacity after charging and discharging at 45 ⁰C for 2,000 charges—the minimum number automakers want for electric cars. Real-world performance of the batteries could be much different than in laboratory tests, so further tests will be needed to confirm the capabilities of the new battery cells.