MILWAUKEE -- Brian Kesseler, newly appointed president of Johnson Controls Inc.'s Power Solutions division, says propulsion batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles don't need to last 10 years. He is working on inexpensive ones that can be replaced after a few years, like standard car batteries. Kesseler spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett at the company's battery lab here.
Q: Nearly all regular lead-acid car batteries are pretty much the same size and shape. Could automakers also make standardized cells for battery-powered and electrified vehicles?
A: Every automaker selling battery electric or electrified vehicles uses a unique battery pack. Customized solutions are about the most expensive because you can't scale up production.
What we are solving for is how you get to scale and have it be a standard, core design that can be configured to meet the different automakers' requirements. That will let us spread across automakers and global markets to get to high volume production. It requires different thinking for our customers and the industry. There are some paradigms that have to be challenged.
Why do these battery systems have to last 10 years? And how much cost is being driven into the system because of it? Why can't it be a replacement item, much like today's lead-acid batteries?
If, for instance, a lithium ion battery lasted four years and the total cost of ownership was significantly lower for the consumer, you could avoid that big step up in price and cost to get that fuel efficiency and emissions reduction. Isn't that a better model?
Johnson Controls recently introduced a compact 48-volt lithium ion starter battery for micro hybrids, in which the electric motor only assists propulsion. Why?
To hybridize a vehicle costs thousands dollars more than adding start-stop. The 48-volt battery, we believe, could bring that cost down into the hundreds and makes the economic and business model much more compelling for mass market adoption.
How can the cost of producing lithium ion batteries be reduced?
Manufacturing lithium ion batteries is a high fixed-cost investment, a capital intensive investment.
The way you take out cost is that you load your plants with volume and run them 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The way to do that is to develop a scalable design.
You're saying that lithium ion batteries in electrified cars should become a regular replacement item, like lead-acid car batteries? How would that lower costs?
Here's what drives up cost: safety parameters and how much redundancy we have to put in our design for a 10-year life, a performance specification that may be too wide, and a life expectancy of 10 years.
That's where our customers and us need to partner up and have those trade-off discussions.
Not trading off safety, but trading off performance and life expectancy.
A 10-year battery can be produced, but the cost to do that around heat management and redundant cell configuration and all the other things that have to be done drives up cost.
So, JCI's goal with the new 48-volt battery is to make it less complex than today's lithium ion batteries and turn it into a regular wear item that consumers can replace and dramatically lower the cost?
If you keep the power below 60 volts, you can have a much more affordable replacement model in the marketplace. What if you can get a battery for a few hundred dollars off the shelf, just like you get it today, and the complexity of changing it is taking off two leads and replacing it in the same spot? That's a recipe and model that has been proven with lead-acid batteries over decades. There's no reason to think we can't learn from that and apply it to the adoption of advanced battery systems. c