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Thursday, August 9, 2012

GM may have electric car battery breakthrough

A small battery company backed by General Motors is working on breakthrough technology that could power an electric car 100 or even 200 miles on a single charge in the next two-to-four years, GM's CEO said Thursday.

Speaking at an employee meeting, CEO Dan Akerson said the company, Newark, Calif.-based Envia Systems, has made a huge breakthrough in the amount of energy a lithium-ion battery can hold. GM is sure that the battery will be able to take a car 100 miles within a couple of years, he said. It could be double that with some luck, he said.

"I think we've got better than a 50-50 chance," Akerson said, "to develop a car that will go to 200 miles on a charge," he said. "That would be a game changer."

GM's current electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, goes about 35 miles on a charge and has a small gas motor that generates power to keep the car going after that. Few competitors have electric cars with more than 100 miles of range. Tesla Motors' Model S can go up to 300 miles, but it has a much larger battery and can cost more than twice as much as a Volt. Nissan's Leaf and Ford's Focus electric cars both claim ranges of around 100 miles, but that can vary with temperature, terrain and speed.

Envia said earlier this year they have developed a high energy density Li-ion batteries using nano silicon-carbon composite anodes and high capacity layered-layered manganese composite cathodes offering an energy density of 400 Wh/kg which could lower Li-ion cell costs to $180/kWh.

GM Ventures LLC, the automaker's investment arm, put $7 million into Envia in January of 2011.

The GM meeting, which was broadcast on a conference call to employees, lasted about an hour. A participant allowed a reporter from The Associated Press to listen.

"These little companies come out of nowhere, and they surprise you," Akerson said in response to a question about GM's strategy on gas-electric hybrid vehicles.

Akerson said the company is looking at hybrids, all-electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and natural gas vehicles, as well as developing more efficient petroleum-powered engines.

"We can't put all of our chips on one bet," he said. "We've got to look at them all."

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