Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Battery venture wins new contract

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Posted: Aug. 14, 2006

A Johnson Controls hybrid battery technology joint venture has won a contract to pursue two more years of research into next-generation automotive batteries.

Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions, a joint venture of Johnson Controls and the European battery company Saft, will aim to continue research on lithium-ion batteries, under a contract from the United States Advanced Battery Consortium.

About 40 people work in the hybrid battery lab that opened in September, said Johnson Controls spokeswoman Karen Bauer.

Financial terms of the contract with the U.S. battery consortium weren't disclosed. Both Johnson Controls and Saft were studying the technology separately under prior contracts with the consortium.

The consortium is an industry-government group promoting research in new battery and energy technologies. Participants in the consortium include the U.S. Department of Energy as well as DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors.

"We are extremely gratified to receive this technology-development contract," Alan Mumby, Johnson Controls hybrid battery vice president and general manager, said in a statement.

"The project reinforces our commitment to creating advanced-chemistry battery systems for tomorrow's (hybrid electric vehicles), and delivering sustained market and technology leadership."

The focus of the next two years will be on improving the performance of batteries already developed in the lab. Other goals will be to study various manufacturing techniques with an aim toward reducing the batteries' cost, Bauer said.

The project will be funded both by Johnson Controls-Saft and the Department of Energy, Johnson Controls said.

The research intends to meet the goals of FreedomCAR, an industry-government research initiative designed to develop technologies that boost passenger vehicles' fuel economy and reduce emissions of pollutants.

The advanced battery hybrid systems team, located at the company's headquarters in Glendale, will direct the technology development program. Cell development efforts will be supported by facilities in the United States and Europe.

At an auto industry conference last week in Michigan, representatives of automakers said they are confident that lithium-ion will be the predominant battery technology for hybrid vehicles, but it's not clear when. More research is needed to explore how durable the batteries are, how effective they are and how effectively suppliers such as Johnson Controls-Saft will be able to bring down the cost of the batteries.

"Lithium-ion is clearly the future. We just don't know when," said Dave Hermance, general manager of advanced vehicle technologies at Toyota.

All hybrid vehicles on the road today operate with nickel metal hydride batteries. Johnson Controls announced last year that it will produce these hybrid batteries for a European carmaker on a luxury vehicle set to go on sale in North America in 2009. The name of the brand and the model on which the battery will be deployed haven't been disclosed.

Johnson Controls is the world's leading manufacturer of conventional lead-acid automotive batteries, both for new cars and the aftermarket.

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