DETROIT -- LG Chem, the South Korean company that will supply lithium ion batteries for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, is considering building a plant in the United States.
Prabhakar Patil, CEO of the company's U.S. unit, Compact Power Inc., said today during an interview at the auto show that LG Chem will manufacture the Volt's batteries in a plant south of Seoul. He said that more testing and validation must be conducted and that some last-minute changes could be made before LG Chem delivers batteries in quantity to GM.
But, Patil said, the battery's basic chemistry, which relies heavily on manganese, is set.
Patil spoke with Automotive News Staff Reporter Richard Truett just after GM announced that LG Chem had won the Volt contract.
How was LG Chem able to win the Volt battery contract?
We had three advantages. One is the cathode chemistry, which is more manganese-based. That has the safety characteristics because it resists giving off oxygen. But at the same time, it also has a stable and fixed cost.
The second is the battery's proprietary zinc core separator. The importance of that is that other manufacturers have protection devices outside the cell. But we have a significant layer of protection inside the cell.
And finally, it is the laminated flat package. It is like the battery in your laptop. The part count is so much smaller, which means better manufacturability, better quality and lower cost. And it is also good for thermal management. The temperature difference between the center of that flat cell and the surface is much less than in a cylindrical cell. If ever the cell was to let go, the failure mode is very benign. If a cylindrical cell lets go, it becomes a projectile.
How does LG Chem's expertise in making lithium ion batteries for consumer electronics prepare the company for automobile battery production?
We make the little lithium ion batteries at the rate of about 30 million to 40 million per month. That's a lot of experience in terms of quality discipline, and that is something very critical to a vehicle program. In a laptop, you maybe have a dozen cells. In cell phones, you have one. But getting consistence in a battery pack for a hybrid that has over 200 cells is a big deal. That's where this high-volume manufacturing capability comes in.
How will the batteries perform in cold weather?
They'll perform very well all the way down to minus-30 degrees Celsius (or about minus-22 degrees Fahrenheit). Below that, there may be some measures that have to be taken to warm up the pack. As the battery starts to deliver power at the colder temperatures, the resistance is higher. Therefore, internally, the temperature will climb and get to the nominal temperature.
What is the expected life span of the battery pack?
We are going to be warrantying it for 10 years or 150,000 miles. It's an arrangement where GM warranties it to the customer, and we are responsible to GM for the warranty.
When will LG deliver the first production-ready cells to GM?
We have already been delivering production-intent cells. GM is already putting production-intent cells into packs.