GM-Volt EXCLUSIVE: Interview and Podcast with A123 co-founder, CTO, and VP of R&D Bart Riley on Building the Volt’s Battery Pack
Today I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Bart Riley, co-founder, VP of R&D and CTO of A123 Systems. We discussed A123′s battery system and how they are going about making the Volt’s battery pack system.
This interview is important in that is reveals the first details available about A123′s plans since the June 5th announcement by GM that battery contracts had been awarded
He indicated that A123 has over the past five years developed a battery system that has “unprecedented safety, power, and life.”
Specifically, they developed a nanophosphate cathode that differs from the cobalt-based system currently used widely in laptop and cell phone batteries. Those lithium cobalt dioxide cathode batteries can become unstable when charged or overcharged or abused and are subject to explosion. A123′s new safer cathode material nanophosphate, uses no cobalt, is not an oxide, and thus has no stability or safety issues. The cells can heat because they are high-power but cannot explode. Indeed the cells are already on the market in power tools.
A123 is collaborating with Continental AG to make the battery pack system which will meet GM’s requirements. Continental will put a large number of A123′s cells into a plastic case designed to handle the “abuse of the vehicular environment” and develop computerized cooling and battery management electronics that will examine each cell insuring that it does not come out of its ideal cycle of operation. There will clearly be a give and take between the two companies.
An important fact, Dr. Riley also noted that cooling the cells is important not for safety reasons, but because it is a “life issue” as he calls it. GM wants the batteries to last for at least 15 years of use and temperature variability can reduce battery life and must be avoided.
He states that the battery science is already complete and can meet the goals of the project, but minor tweaks of cell design may still have to take place for them to interact properly with the pack. Also packs must be able to be assembled on a mass-production scale. Unfortunately, as of this moment in time, he noted that a prototype pack does not yet exist.
Comparing this project to the Hymotion Prius extender pack which uses A123 batteries, Dr. Riley states that the Volt is a whole new platform as opposed to simply extending the battery life as Hymotion drop-in supplement does. That system though, can extend Prius driving range to 20-40 miles electric
Compared to Altair Nano’s system, he states that A123′s has higher energy density. Altair Nano uses a different anode, and winds up with 1/2 voltage and twice the weight per cell.
He stated that A123/Continental has no direct knowledge of the CPI/LG activity and are essentially operating in the dark from one another.
The goal of one year to functioning battery pack is approximate. He indicates GM is setting out a very aggressive time-line, but initial unit delivery for prototype vehicles could come out even in 6 months since A123′s focus is on “making things happen”.
Overall I got the impression that Dr. Riley was highly confident of his batteries scientific merit, safety, power, and durability characteristics. He seemed to indicate creating the pack was more of a second act; just a simple engineering process, and should be pretty straightforward.
I am certainly more confident that the unknown wild-card of the battery pack when it comes to the Volt’s production, is showing up as an ace!
Headquartered in Massachusetts, A123 has 350 employees there, in Michigan and in Asia.
Soon we will be hearing from the CPI team, so stay tuned!
This entry was posted on Thursday, June 21st, 2007 at 8:01 pm and is filed under Battery, Latest News, Original GM-Volt Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.