A123 Systems Sees Future In Lithium-Ion Starter Batteries

MAY 20 2015 BY MARK KANE 36

Cutaway Of A 2014 Spark EV

Cutaway Of A 2014 Spark EV

Several years ago, A123 Systems was considered a company with great battery products for electric cars.

Sadly, things didn’t work out too well; they lost a bidding war with LG Chem for the Chevrolet Volt, the Fisker Karma went over like a lead balloon, and Chrysler’s multiple EV vehicle “ENVI” lineup (of which A123 was selected to supply) was dissolved when Fiat took control of the company. The company eventually filed for Chapter 11.

After the bankruptcy, A123 assets were acquired by Wanxiang, and today there is no more production of EVs with A123 Systems batteries. Probably the 2014 Chevy Spark EV was last automotive battery line before it switched to LG Chem for 2015.

The direction now pursued by A123 Systems (besides energy storage systems) are 12-volt lithium-ion starter batteries. Recently, the company announced a breakthrough new UltraPhosphate technology with “25% greater” cold cranking power.

A123 Systems has supplied starter batteries since to 2011 and now has five carmaker customers in Europe that seem to like those batteries in micro-hybrid application. Demand for the new Li-Start Battery is strong enough for A123 to expand it current production line, although production numbers weren’t disclosed.

Will A123 System come back to EVs, maybe with new Fisker Karma?

“A123’s 12V starter battery utilizes advanced chemistry and system design to not only offer outstanding cranking power but also enable world-class brake energy recuperation, increased cycle life, and charge acceptance, providing the micro-hybrid market with a progressive solution. Micro-hybrids can be defined as vehicles that require advanced 12V batteries to power start-stop systems and store electricity from regenerative braking. These systems offer fuel economy and emissions gains at modest incremental cost and are steadily migrating from performance and luxury vehicles to the mainstream market, particularly in Europe. In addition, the battery weighs half as much as a comparable lead-acid battery thereby supporting OEM light-weighting goals, further contributing to achievement of fuel efficiency and emissions regulations globally. In total, the system can.”

Primary Applications:

  • Standard lead acid replacement for all vehicle types
  • Enables mild hybridization for start-stop and micro hybrid battery systems
  • Optimized 12V power net system for improved fuel economy (disable alternator under certain conditions)

Key Benefits over Lead Acid:

  • Cold Temperature Performance: Outstanding cold crank power that outperforms lead acid on industry standard tests
  • Dynamic Charge Acceptance: Accepts high rates of charge and captures more energy from regenerative braking for improved fuel economy
  • Lighter Weight: up to 60% lighter than comparable lead acid batteries
  • Extensive Life Cycle: More than 4X longer life than lead acid provides lower total cost of ownership
  • Reliability: Real-time data and diagnostics protect the battery and prevent premature failures, reducing service and warranty costs

Product Specifications
Capacity     60 Ah
Cold Cranking (-18ºC)     900 A
Weight     10 kg
Voltage, Nominal     13.2 V
Operating Temp     -30ºC to 50ºC
Storage Temp     -40ºC to 60ºC
Dimensions (LN3)     278 x 175 x 190 mm

A123 Systems Li-Start cycle life test results

A123 Systems Li-Start cycle life test results

Categories: General


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36 Comments on "A123 Systems Sees Future In Lithium-Ion Starter Batteries"

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Sounds good.. Now how much are they and are they available at any retail outlets?

Sometimes I like to operate my ham radio from my bicycle and am looking for a large (60 ampere-hours would be perfect) 13 volt battery to run off of…. Too bad they didn’t list the charge/discharge characteristic, but they did mention ampere-hours, a rarity these days.. I assume the time in question is 20 hours.

(Its like pulling teeth these days trying to get a decent list of battery characteristics. ‘Reserve Capacity, and CCA’ are usually the only figures they give you, and it rather leaves you in the dark about how the battery performs at low discharge rates.

How big is your ham rig? My neighbor uses a small ham rig with a little pack from his cordless drill, while riding his bicycle. That battery would run an e-assist bicycle for 40 miles with no pedaling!

I use the “Armstrong” method with my bicycle (should I say ‘legstrong’?).

I hope it is flat where you live. Talking, and pedaling while hauling a 22 pound battery up a hill will be a real workout. 🙂

For Ham Radio, try out Bioenno Power’s LiFePO4 batteries. I have been using them for my rigs for a couple years now and they are awesome in terms of power output and response. I have used the BLF-1206W (12V, 6Ah) LiFePO4. Their website is http://www.bioennopower.com

What’s the price?

That’s the key question. Given they are promoting the micro-hybrid angle, it must be expensive.

It’s hard to beat a $79 lead acid starter battery.

It’ll definitely be more expensive, but will the longer life make it worthwhile? You’d have to own that car for a very long time to just break even. The Li-ion starter battery will still be going strong when the wheels fall of car it’s installed in.

Amp hours x voltage / 1000 = kWh

60 Ah x 13.2 V / 1000 = 0.792 kWh

If the cells cost $199/kWh, then 0.792kW would cost $158. Add to that the cost of packaging, the cost of an integrated charger, and a profit margin. But the Li-ion battery will last 4x as long as a lead acid battery, and you get a very minute increase in gas mileage from the lower weight.

This is a high power battery, and higher cost than high energy designs – price is $600, with a target of reaching $300 from improved low temperature performance to achieve CCA at smaller capacity.

These are prices to the car companies – will be more for retail.

I’ve been expecting this for some time. The weight savings will make them attractive for more expensive cars, and as the volume goes up the price will go down; eventually lower than lead acid, I think.

Maybe Tesla should contact them about replacing their own 12V batteries? Make it all Li-Ion!

Yes. This could also easily be another “Tesla Energy” product from the GiFa portfolio…

Someone on here says they are $600 to OEMs. Tesla is offering batteries for $350 a kWh now with the Powerwall. Why on earth would they pay A123 $757 per kWh?

Lead Acid is well proven, in other words, low risk. OEM cost is about $15. Lithium ion will cost many times more. Previous Li-ion batteries would fail in very cold temps -40 were lead acid would work.

Lead Acid is proven alright. It is proven to be unreliable. I’ve never had a lead battery last more than 5 years. 3 is more typical. And I also know that most lead batteries will NOT start a car at -40. I have tried. In fact, when it has hit -40, there was hardly car on the road because practically NOBODY could start theirs. I’m sure regions that regularly see temps that low are full of better Lead batteries, but that’s just it – they would know from the start to make sure they have the right battery.

Yeah, now for my usage, since I’d be basically backpacking the battery on a bicycle, the light weight/high capacity is something I’d pay some $ for.

So when are we doing lunch with Cote?

I do lunch with Cote every other week. You are always welcome to join 😉

Time and place please Brian… I’ll email you. As regards ‘automotive’ lead acid batteries, I found that late-model DELCO batteries were the worst (as has been proven with the DELCO EV1 batteries – they were such an embarrassment that that is when GM put out the contract for new batteries). I’ve had up to 8 years with car batteries and as few as 2. Commercially, there is the category ‘medium life lead’ for 15 years, and ‘long-life lead’ for 25 years, for more money obviously. But automotive lead acid batteries have ANOTHER disadvantage in that they have to be designed physically small, and lightweight – which apparently does nothing to their longevity. And, of course if you get a car with a crappy alternator, that just throws that monkey wrench into the works. What with today’s “Integrated Regulator”, such that a inadequately designed overheating alternator melts the ‘integrated regulator’ along with it and makes the voltages go nuts, it gives your battery just another reason to prematurely die. A friend had an old Oldsmobile Silhouette. The ‘100 ampere’ alternator was just slightly bigger physically than the old bicycle headlight generators. The thing was so dinky that 100 amps of output… Read more »

“I’ve never had a lead battery last more than 5 years. 3 is more typical.”

It must be you or your electric system… =)

I have never had a Lead Acid battery fail before 5 years.

They usually fail between year 6.5 to year 7 for me. Maybe it is just me and my cars.

The usual problem is that battery/alternator combo. A slow dying battery will kill an alternator, a slow dying alternator will kill a battery. So people often get into this cycle of changing one and then the other without ever getting their combo system checked….

People who seem to be familiar with battery manufacturing have been saying for some time, possibly a few years now, that li-ion batteries were close to the tipping point of being as cheap or slightly cheaper than lead-acid, for use as a car starter battery.

Frankly, I’m surprised it has taken this long for a battery maker to start offering a li-ion battery for general use as an ordinary car starter battery.

I do expect the initial product will be somewhat more expensive than standard lead-acid starter batteries, but of course that price will drop in years to come as production is ramped up and competition appears.

Braille has been selling Lithium ion starting batterys for years-


their quite popular in the racing world

Patrick, please explain Braille’s specs… THe LAH is triple the AH.

I assume ah is ampere-hours.

So what is LAH?

How does the battery handle the extreme heat inside the engine bay?

Even Lead Acid battery has this issue these days with high temperature of the engine bay…

Combined with high temperature and engine bay temperature, I would imagine that those battery needs to have better heat resistance.

My last three cars all had the battery in the trunk versus under the hood. That seems to be coming more prevalent. Should make the battery last longer?

It helps.

For both temperature and weight distribution.

But you would need thick and long copper cable.

If the price and the deep-cycling-capability is right, converters will love these. 200$ or less will be a deal – you have to realise that some kind of BMS must already be inside. All you need is a cheap Lead-Acid charger and your E-Motor plus electronics/inverter (depending on AC or DC Motor).

I really like people like that that can restart anew after losing a battle. Their 12 volt battery is very interesting especially in hybrids and ev. I had a Prius stranded 3 times because the 12 volt lead acid battery was not able to give the power to switch on the main battery. There is exactly the same in the Model S. A lithium battery has a longer lifetime than a Lead acid battery so it would prevent such brick problems. In more it is also lighter which is better as well. The price is likely higher but for such a small battery it should not be too bad in absolute numbers.

It is depressing to see A123 reduced to this.

But there probably will be a decent 12 Volt market. It would be nice to
-Not have to swap out batteries as frequently
-Reduce weight.
-Reduce space/volume taken up by the battery.
-Improve performance.
-Get rid of that toxic lead.

I’m thinking a conversion done right will involve relocating the battery to the trunk and cabling it back. -For those in the know. Need to get it away from the engine bay heat.

I see a comment “get rid of that toxic lead”. Actually, the hexafluorophosphate which is inside these types of batteries is quite a bit more toxic than lead. It is also not recyclable whereas lead is 100% recyclable an infinite number of times. Where does all this stuff go when this “green” battery is spent? Here’s an MSDS http://www.prochemonline.com/upload/MSDS/2339.LithiumHexafluorophosp.pdf

Really ?

Look at what happen when it sees water:

LiPF6 + H2O → HF + PF5 + LiOH

HF + LiOH → H2O + LiF

PF5 + 4 H2O → 5 HF + H3PO4

All the byproducts are reusable and in any case benign salts or acids that can be neutralized with chalk.

You should look up HF before you make claims about its “benign” nature.

HF is no problem to neutralize, just don’t touch it before it is neutralized.

2 HF + Ca(OH)2→ 2 H2O + CaF2

how start i the battery ??

what makes the single pin ??