Johnson Controls jumping further into hybrid-vehicle battery world

Johnson Controls jumping further into hybrid-vehicle battery world

Glendale, Wis. — Johnson Controls Inc. has created an advanced lithium-ion battery development laboratory at its global headquarters here to create advanced power-storage solutions for near-future, hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs), the company announced Wednesday.
The new lab comes amid the rising interest in hybrid vehicles that are powered by batteries and gasoline. With Japanese automakers in the lead in hybrid vehicle development, Japanese electronics companies Panasonic EV Energy and Sanyo Electric Co. have been the main battery providers for such cars. The Panasonic company is a joint venture of Toyota and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.
Johnson Controls has been laying the groundwork to capture a share of the market, which is expected to expand dramatically over the next several years. Johnson Controls is the world’s largest manufacturer of automotive original equipment and aftermarket batteries. It operates battery technology centers in the United States and Europe.
The new laboratory facility and development equipment were installed at a cost of approximately $4 million, the company reported.
The facility — located at the company’s Battery Technology Center adjacent to its corporate headquarters in this Milwaukee suburb — features a “dry room” and an array of highly specialized tools and equipment for designing, developing and testing power-storage and power-management concepts based on lithium-ion technology.

Focus is on lithium ion

Johnson Controls supplies nickel-metal-hydride batteries for hybrid-powered buses in Europe through technology developed by a German company it acquired several years ago. The company believes lithium ion technology is likely to replace nickel-metal-hydride as the battery technology of choice in hybrid-electric and electric vehicles in the future.
“We continue to develop our technological capabilities for creating the power-storage solutions of tomorrow, approaches that will be innovative, cost-efficient and environmentally friendly,” said Gregg Sherrill, group vice president and battery general for the Automotive Group of Johnson Controls.
The global market for HEVs has increased steadily during the past year, fueling demand for enhanced power-storage and power-management technologies for such cars and trucks, the company noted.
According to industry projections, sales of HEVs in the U.S. and European automotive markets could reach 6 million units within a decade. HEV sales currently account for about 0.5 percent of total world vehicle production. A report earlier this year by J.D. Power & Associates predicted that the number of hybrid-powered vehicles in the U.S. would increase significantly in the coming years, and that the number of powered-powered vehicle models would rise from the current 10 to 44. Seventeen models are expected to be available next year.
Nearly 88,0000 hybrid-powered vehicles were sold in the U.S. in 2004, accounting for 0.52 percent of the market. More than 200,000 are expected to be sold this year. J.D. Power & Associates sees the market penetration rising to 3.5 percent by 2012.

Rising gas pricing fueling change

“Higher gas prices are acting as a catalyst for automakers and consumers to find alternatives to the traditional gasoline internal combustion engine,” said Anthony Pratt of J.D. Power & Associates. He also noted that while hybrid-powered vehicles are rising in popularity, so, too, are diesel-powered vehicles.
Most hybrid vehicles currently rely on nickel-metal-hydride batteries. Lithium-ion batteries have significant potential for near-future HEV applications, because they have the capability of offering major advantages in power- generation, size, weight, cycle life and cost.
The new laboratory in Glendale supports Johnson Controls’ plan to create and sustain a global “center of excellence” for lithium-ion battery development, the company said. Current company research and development efforts on lithium-ion technology focus on cathode materials, new cell designs for better thermal management, modular designs that enable the integration of safety technologies, and cell balancing to ensure safe operation as well as extended performance and cycling.
“We believe that lithium-ion batteries will be the wave of the future, and we’re excited to be a leading organization in helping to drive this battery technology forward,” said Sherrill.
In 2004, the company was granted a contract for lithium-ion battery development by the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC). In that program, Johnson Controls has been tapped to develop an abuse-tolerant, lithium-ion battery offering extended life and significantly improved power- to-weight performance vs. current hybrid-battery technology. The USABC, which includes the U.S. Department of Energy, DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors as members, supports research and development for advanced energy systems to power future HEVs.
Johnson Controls has 118,000 employees worldwide, including about 2,500 in the Milwaukee area. It had 2004 annual revenue of more than $25 billion.

David Niles is senior contributing editor for WTN. He can be reached at