Are Lithium Car Batteries Overhyped?

Toyota believes that lithium batteries do not justify the higher cost, and that current hybrid battery technology—nickel metal hydride—is best suited for conventional hybrids. The company came to that conclusion after conducting three years of “secret tests” on 126 Toyota Priuses equipped with lithium ion batteries, according to Bloomberg.

The road tests in the US, Japan and Europe, which ended last month, showed “durability, stability and safety are assured for a conventional hybrid,” said Kazuo Tojima, the carmaker’s senior staff engineer for batteries.

Toyota Prius battery pack

Nickel metal hydride battery pack in 2010 Toyota Prius.

Menahem Anderman, president of Calif.-based consulting firm Advanced Automotive Batteries, told Bloomberg, “We now know that a lithium ion battery can work. That’s not really the question.” He added, “Cost is critical, and we still don’t know enough about long-term durability.”

Anderman’s comments echo the sentiment of former Honda president Takeo Fukui. “Lithium ion batteries are still not usable from our perspective,” Fukui said last year in an interview with Automotive News. “In terms of reliability and durability, I must say there still remain some concerns. I don’t think they are necessarily best suited for mass-produced vehicles.”

Most automakers see lithium ion batteries as the next step because they are smaller, lighter, and can produce more power and store more energy. Toyota, Nissan, Ford, and General Motors are expected to begin selling plug-in cars with lithium batteries in the coming years. Mercedes will introduce the first production hybrid, the S400 mild hybrid, which uses lithium batteries, later this year. Christian Mordieck, the Mercedes-Benz engineer who led battery development for the car, admitted that, ““the cost is much higher than we would like.”

Toyota apparently is hedging its bets. Last month, Nikkei reported that Toyota will start buying lithium batteries from Sanyo, which currently supplies hybrid batteries to Ford, General Motors and Honda. Sanyo signed a deal with Volkswagen to produce lithium ion batteries for vehicles to be introduced in 2010.

“The problem with lithium is that it was overhyped and brought to market in the minds of the engineers and marketing guys way too soon,” said Jack Lifton, an expert in the raw materials that go into batteries. In an interview with HybridCars.com, he said, “It’s been oversold. It is nowhere near ready. It’s still in development.”


  • sean t

    This explains the Article titled: “Toyota explains its position on Electric cars.”
    Toyota don’t want to burn their reputation by prematured Lithium Ion batteries.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    I hate to say this but this is no surprise to me. This is something that I have been saying all along. Although a little heavier, the metal halides can hold approximately two thirds the energy of the same size lithium battery. And metal halides have fewer problems. The lithium silicon battery may be an exception to this. But it is still a developing technology and is not ready for mass production yet.

  • Dan L

    The only advantage the lithium has over other battery technologies is its energy density. But lack of batteries with adequate energy density is the only thing preventing electric vehicles from replacing fossil fuel vehicles.

  • Roland

    Here is a thought, Toyota is the 800 lbs gorilla of hybrids with gauranteed delivery of the most nickelhydride batteries. Other car companies are having problems getting into or producing hybrids because Toyota has first dibs on these batteries. Along comes mention of Lithium batteries, a alternative to nickelhydride and the hybrid market is no longer cornered by Toyota if GMC, Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes to name a few pursue this technology. Of course Toyota to protect its beloved Prius would naysay the Lithium battery and any other form of power producing agent as long as profitably feasable.

  • BTW

    Roland- You just do not know what is Li-ion battery and what problems they have….

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Li-ion batteries are a lot superior to NiMH and Pb-A batteries for electric and hybrid vehicle applications because of their high specific energy (Wh/kg) as well as their lack of ‘memory’ issues.
    However, as we saw with the GM EV1, Toyota RAV4EV, and Honda EV+; with sufficient charging infrastructure, Pb-A and NiMH are sufficient for most of most people’s usage. They will enable vehicles to go 80 to 140 miles on a charge.
    Other battery intense industries such as the laptop computer and cell phone businesses have proven this and proven that the Li-ion battery can be reliably and economically mass produced for consumer applications.
    I suspect that Toyota’s reluctance to go with the Li-ion battery is because they don’t want to kill their current Prius business and they’ve already invested a huge amount of money perfecting the NiMH batteries used in the RAV4EV and their hybrids.
    By claiming that Li-ion isn’t ready yet, they create questions in the minds of consumers and, more importantly, the financial community, as to the viability of competitors to their dominant hybrid vehicle business.

  • Shines

    Umm, Roland and ex-EV1 maybe you should re-read the article.
    It is not just Toyota that questions the Lithium Ion batteries – it inlcudes, Honda, Mercedes, an independent consulting firm and a raw materials expert. The article does not say Lithium Ion is overhyped, it asks the question. Even though the Mercedes engineer says the batteries are more expensive than they’d like, Mercedes is going ahead with them anyway. GM has commited the Volt to use Lithium Ion so you’d think they expect the cost to come down. I am sure that Toyota and others will quickly switch to Li when they determine the price/power/durability advantage switches to Li. No reason for Toyota to switch when the competition (Volt) isn’t ready yet anyway.

  • DC

    Of course Li-ons have been over-hyped. So has hydrogen, ethanol and host of other so-called alternatives. Of course its of little value to say why this is case without understanding the underlying reasons. It all comes down to preserveing the oil-monolopy. Oil and auto-makers know that high initial costs alone would put most people off EV’s and for that reason alone, LI-ON fits the bill prefectly. Its basically 10x the cost for maybe? 20% more power. The cost alone of these unproven batteries is enough to delay (again) anything other than a token few EV’s, thus makeing the world safe for the ICE and its red-headed step-child, the ICE-Electric hybrid. With Toyota allready haveing a lock on the hybrid market, it makes little sense for them to pursue expensive li-ons that would only serve to make an allready successful product more $$$, when they know full well that nimh is by many metrics, a far superior(and far cheaper) battery. More than sufficent for the weak EV characteristics of the prius or similar vehicles.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    ex-EV1 driver, you are correct about lithium batteries as far as the energy density and that it is a proven technology. But the lithium technology is not nearly as a refined technology as the metal halide technology right now. The Chevy Volt lithium battery will not be discharged more than approximately 50% because of the battery degrading if it is discharged past that point. The present lithium silicon technology allows the battery to be discharged only approximately 15% (85% remaining charge) before starting to degrade the battery. But the 10% storage of the lithium silicon battery is more than the 50% storage of the lithium iron phosphate battery. And then there are charging issues for these lithium batteries. The lithium batteries for watches, cell phones, and computers are one thing, but the lithium batteries for cars will be something totally different.

  • Mr.Bear

    I’m guessing there’s a “point of diminishing returns” issue with the lithium ion batteries and hybrids. The hybrid batteries are supposed to run with a half charge all the time. More battery storage in the same physical size of the battery won’t help much unless you plan to change the design to complete charge and discharge. Having the same battery storage in a smaller physical size won’t reduce very much weight when compared to the rest of the car.

    I think it makes more of a difference for the complete electric cars. Those are operating more on a complete charge and discharge cycle. Therefore more battery charge storage equals more miles drivable.

  • Octavius

    I think Toyota is crazy like a fox on this.

    The first time a car burns up on network TV because *somebody* didn’t do quite enough work making sure their lithium battery technology was totally bullet-proof, it’s going to trash the reputation not only of the guilty party, but probably lithium batteries in general, which are probably already suspect in the public mind due to self-igniting laptops.

    And *yes*, I know gas-powered cars burn down every day, but people are less likely to fear familiar problems, and more likely to fear unknown ones.

    Toyota got where it is today with hybrids because it knows when and how to push the envelope without the envelope pushing it back into a corner.

  • Anonymous

    how about hybrid batteries for hybrid cars? Mix of Li Ion and NiMH packs :-)

  • JJspawn

    Dan, that sounds more like an argument for Li+ batteries. Yeah it may be a bit early but someone has to push for it. In this article, Toyota says it works.

    It just sounds like to me that they just need to do the research to get them in.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Jjspawn, you are right. Lithium batteries for cars really still need more research and technology advances. Nissan will be selling people the Leaf EV with a leased lithium battery. The question is: Why would one sell the car but not the battery? Although research so far shows that the present lithium battery technology is robust enough to work under normal conditions and testing, the real world will be a different story. Before Toyota released their second generation Prius, there were numerous articles and commentary about how the metal halide batteries would not last more that a year or two. But my best friend, owner of a first generation Prius, pointed me to an article where Toyota stated that their second generation Prius metal halide batteries, if only kept charged between 25% and 80%, “would last the lifetime of the car”. This has proven, for the most part, to be absolutely true. My experiences in our Prius show that the system is setup to try and keep the car’s metal halide battery in that 25% to 80% charged range. There are rare occasions that it goes out of that range, but the key word here is “rare”. The Toyota metal halide batteries are robust enough to survive those rare occasions. My other associate told me that with the present lithium silicon technology, if one would discharge such a battery fully five to seven times, one would no longer have a viable battery that would hold much of a charge. Although total discharge will not be good for a metal halide battery, it would survive where the lithium silicon battery would not at this time. This is why all the car manufactures want lithium batteries for their energy, but they are hesitant about their real world usage.

  • John K.

    EEStor, where are you?

  • Anonymous

    I guess Tesla and the other all-Electric Car makers putting LIPO batteries in their vehicles will be the true test bed here.

  • RKRB

    -Lithium ion batteries have another potentially significant advantage over Ni-MH batteries. They reportedly maintain their charge better, so if you do not use your battery over several days you have a better chance of keeping the battery “topped up,” and even if you don’t run the car for a couple of days, you will have a more efficient battery because you’ll have less power loss.
    -Lithium ion batteries can also explode in a fire, which may be a significant issue for responders to fires in individual cars or fires in places like parking lots or wooded areas, or for people who live or work above covered parking lots.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Anonymous, you are right. Tesla’s lithium batteries will be the best of technological design and somewhat expensive compared to what is expected for a mass production battery. Their car will control how the battery is being recharged. And the Tesla will be a terrific car for those people whose needs are met by it and can afford the car. I will be surprised if the batteries fail during the lifetime of the car given the price of the car and battery. But it will still be a test bed of how robust the lithium battery technology is right now. The Chevy Volt will be more interesting to watch. If the Volt batteries are not discharged below the 50% mark, they should last the lifetime of the car. These will be mass production batteries. And it will be interesting to see how well they survive if discharged below that 50% during real world “testing”.

  • J-Bob

    LITHIUMS are over-hyped for good reason, their only downfall right now is price. More density, more recharge cycles, lighter and take up less space. Are they ready for mass production? For cars that’s still getting itself sorted out, but for other mediums such as ebikes and R/C technologies, these batteries are the sh@t!

    Had a pain of nickles for my bike the past two years and finally made the switch to Lithium, I cannot tell you how much BETTER these batteries are. I get better range, higher top speed, and they are not nearly as badly depleted following a ride as the nickles were.

    These puppies are hyped for good reason, they blow most other battery tech out of the water! That’s my opinion (after practical application, not just cause I read a lot of articles) and I’m sticking to it! ;)

  • smartalec44

    The Ni-Mh batteries were used successfully in the all-electric EV1 and RAV4 in 1996. The RAV4 owners who leased the vehicles from Toyota were delighted with the 125 mile range and lifetime durabilty of the battery pack.

    Why were most of the vehicles confiscated and diliberately destroyed.Because the oil companies felt threatened by their success.

    Why did GM Ovonics(owners of the Ni-Mh technology) sell the company to Chevron?And why did Chevron forbid the use of Ni-Mh batteries in all-electric vehicles(hybrids allowed).

    Why did Chevron stop Toyota from producing RAV4′s with the Ni-Mh battery pack with a 30 million dollar lawsuit if the batteries were inferior.

    The auto companies are trying to develop the expensive lithium ion batteries since 1996 because they weren’t allowed to go ahead with the implementation of Ni-Mh batteries.
    Fourteen years later ,the oil companies are still trying to slow down the implementation of cheap dependable all-electric vehicles.

    If the American people want to drive around with house sized vehicles,let them be all electric.

  • smartalec44

    The Ni-Mh batteries were used successfully in the all-electric EV1 and RAV4 in 1996. The RAV4 owners who leased the vehicles from Toyota were delighted with the 125 mile range and lifetime durabilty of the battery pack.

    Why were most of the vehicles confiscated and diliberately destroyed.Because the oil companies felt threatened by their success.

    Why did GM Ovonics(owners of the Ni-Mh technology) sell the company to Chevron?And why did Chevron forbid the use of Ni-Mh batteries in all-electric vehicles(hybrids allowed).

    Why did Chevron stop Toyota from producing RAV4′s with the Ni-Mh battery pack with a 30 million dollar lawsuit if the batteries were inferior.

    The auto companies are trying to develop the expensive lithium ion batteries since 1996 because they weren’t allowed to go ahead with the implementation of Ni-Mh batteries.
    Fourteen years later ,the oil companies are still trying to slow down the implementation of cheap dependable all-electric vehicles.

    If the American people want to drive around with house sized vehicles,let them be all electric.

  • smartalec44

    The Ni-Mh batteries were used successfully in the all-electric EV1 and RAV4 in 1996. The RAV4 owners who leased the vehicles from Toyota were delighted with the 125 mile range and lifetime durabilty of the battery pack.

    Why were most of the vehicles confiscated and diliberately destroyed.Because the oil companies felt threatened by their success.

    Why did GM Ovonics(owners of the Ni-Mh technology) sell the company to Chevron?And why did Chevron forbid the use of Ni-Mh batteries in all-electric vehicles(hybrids allowed).

    Why did Chevron stop Toyota from producing RAV4′s with the Ni-Mh battery pack with a 30 million dollar lawsuit if the batteries were inferior.

    The auto companies are trying to develop the expensive lithium ion batteries since 1996 because they weren’t allowed to go ahead with the implementation of Ni-Mh batteries.
    Fourteen years later ,the oil companies are still trying to slow down the implementation of cheap dependable all-electric vehicles.

    If the American people want to drive around with house sized vehicles,let them be all electric.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Lost Prius to Wife,
    Why do you say that “Tesla will …”? There’s nothing conceptual about what Tesla IS doing. I’ve got over 8000 blissful miles on a Tesla to date to prove it.
    I also have to take issue with your statement that “Tesla’s lithium batteries will be the best of technological design and somewhat expensive compared to what is expected for a mass production battery”. Tesla is using cheap, mass-produced Li-ion batteries that are produced for laptop computers today. They are not the highest in performance but were chosen for an optimal price/performance tradeoff.
    Regarding discharge of the batteries:
    With the Tesla, if the average drive is 40 miles, one will only use 20% of the capacity for 95% of ones driving, this helps preserve battery life. Then, if one needs to go a little farther occasionally, one can simply discharge further to use the maximum range of the pack. This is a wonderful way to take advantage of the characteristics of the Li-ion technology. With PHEVs such as the Volt, one will have to carry a battery that would do about 100 miles of range if stretched, even though they limit it to only 40 miles.
    The optimal way to deal with EVs isn’t yet known but research really won’t solve the problem. Pioneers with a little guts just need to start trying things out.

  • hsr0601

    It is firmly believed with the help of “instant remote recharge” , called “revalution” , by Indian EV maker Reva and a pioneer Agassi and so forth, the EV world has dawned a brand new morn for all around the world to live in peace and harmony.

  • pipcecil

    A few misconceptions that need to be corrected. Yes the EV1 and other vehicles went far distances on NiMH batteries, but these were way small vehicles compared to to what we use now (EV1 was a two seater). Even GM admitted adding the 4 seats drastically reduced range. Now add all the addition saftey features and equipment since the 1980′s (plus fancy eletronics we all want in our cars), and weight and size becomes a larger factor.

    NiMH also has problems with heat. Their capacity is extremely diminished in higher heat environments (and somewhat in cold too). Did you know that GM specifically didn’t allow the Arizona leased EV1s to use NiMH for that very same reason…they got less range than Pb batteries!!

    There is a reason why the volt will not deplete the battery down and maintains the 40% charge – acceleration. The car is pure electric driven and runs off the battery. The capacity in the battery is either is current state of charge or being recharged by the gas generator. In inefficiency of the gas generator for “on demand use” means that in high power use instances (like fast acceleration), the generator cannot convert enough gas to electricty to supply the amount of power needed for the vehicle. The remaining battery charge is left as a saftey buffer in case instant prolonged acceleration is needed (like avoiding collisions, up hill driving in the mountians, etc.). This isn’t becase Li-ions suck, its because GM designed it that way.

    Li-ion is OLD technology, yes OLD. Its been around since the 1980′s when it was developed and mass market in the later 1990′s. While there is always inprovements and changes, the chemistry, make and know-how is already there, we are expanding it to larger applications (which can be a difficult feat). Looking at battery innovation, a new, better battery always happens in about 10 year cycles, which means Li-ions should be going away by this method, because they are OLD. The unique chemistry of Li-ions are why we are able to improve them with different variances, other batteries don’t have that option and are set.

    Li-ions are still expensive compared to their other coherts, but capacity, weight, no memory loss, and no memory leak (NiMH are nortorious for this), and greater resilliance to extreme temperatues make this the “go-to” battery. Life cycles and price will be the only hurdles left.

    Besides Li-ions other potential batteries could be used: NiZn and AgZn. NiZn batteries have less capacity and weight more than Li-ions (but still greater capacity and lighter than NiMH) but cost significantly less (cheaper than NiCd). This pricepoint could allow the batteries to jump the hurdle for the EV. AgZn have even greater power denisty than Li-ions and wieght even less. Unfortunately these cost many times more than Li-ions (which are already fighting cost). These could be used for production of top end sports cars.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Pip,
    Great summary of battery technology today. Thanks.
    One real world example (although not necessarily this world:-) of Li-ion capability was with NASA/JPL’s Mars Exploration Rovers. These were designed cautiously using new Li-ion batteries for a 90 day life. Now, they are approaching 2000 days, mainly because the batteries so drastically exceeded expectations.

  • smartalec44

    hsr0601 says:
    It is firmly believed with the help of “instant remote recharge” , called “revalution” , by Indian EV maker Reva and a pioneer Agassi and so forth, the EV world has dawned a brand new morn for all around the world to live in peace and harmony

    I read a little about this revaluation in which electricity is sent over the air via micro-wave antenna or possibly satellite to recharge the car battery. Don’t we already have enough possibly dangerous electro-magnetic radiation bombarding humans via cell phones?

    Radio frequency radiation from wireless technology is a little scary.Didn’t Tesla operate his electric car using this technology or did he just take solar flare energy from the air?

    If it involves an instant,quick charge from an electrical outlet,that’s OK.

  • hsr0601

    @smartalec44 !

    – Don’t we already have enough possibly dangerous electro-magnetic radiation …? –

    Please search http://blog.ted.com/2009/08/wireless_electr.php for an available technology, alongside http://www.inhabitat.com/2009/09/01/japan-plans-21-billion-solar-space-post-to-power-294000-homes/.

    Theme : Addressing Range Anxieties.

    1. The range of noticeable EVs are sufficient to meet the daily driving needs of more than 95% of drivers ((The vast majority of people (95%) drive less than 100/km a day, 82% of the respondents said they drive 40 miles or less a day, with an average daily driving distance of 27 miles.)).

    As for long trip needs, all but Americans and many of developed nations have existing automobiles, in this regard, EVs are best suited to their daily use until the infrastructure comes into wide use. And people are already doing that.

    2. The on-board IT system shows the driving radius on a maximum range display under the current state of charge and calculates if the vehicle is within range of a pre-set destination. And the navigation system points out the latest information on available charging stations within the current driving range.

    3. In 21st century, home, workplace, or stores etc also serve as a charge station as electricity is everywhere. With a long extension code inside, just in case, riders can get help from almost anyplace, not to mention the stores to provide charge service, and many of EVs are equipped with a quick charger.

    4. Unlike fuel price, as time goes by, the price of battery is expected to drop dramatically in the foreseeable future as with computer components, in that case, mounting additional battery might be not a problem. And the EVs that come in a range of 200 to 300 miles between charges are on fast-tract toward mass-market, as Batteries become more efficient.

    5. Indian EV maker Reva said it has also set about addressing anxieties about e-car range, this fantastic wireless electricity/ “instant remote recharge” will be widely available down the line.

    6. The vehicle-to-grid communication technology is helping the battery serve as a storage to prevent the costly blackout standing at about $90 to 100bn per year. That means utilities are shedding cost for additional storage facilities and ratepayers are selling electricity during peak demand so that EVs can make more economic sense, as we know. ((The cost of running the vehicle should be 1 to 2 cents per mile, compared to 10 cents or more per mile to run a gas car. Electric vehicles require little maintenance — no oil changes, for instance –. Better still, they can sell electricity or charge at the stores offering charge service.))

    It is also in the best interest of electricity utilities that EVs are going mainstream, thereby they need to put in charge stands where needed around highways, major roads with card readers or cell phone tech.

    7. I’m hopeful that the charge network will extend the select districts to nation-wide scale throughout the world, and this environment can usher in active private investings in EVs. And I remain confident that investing in charge stands could give rise to multiple times as much investing effect, so to speak, some billions of investing, this simple deployment, could call into the most-sought energy independence and solid recovery around the world.

    Thank You !

  • Anonymous

    Go with the new Silver-Zinc battery technology…

  • Matt25

    Lithium-air batteries hold much more promise for automobile usage and will likely be much cheaper…

    theoretically should be able to get nearly 400 miles per charge versus the 40 miles the lithium-ion batteries currently can get…

  • Consultoria RH

    Este blog é uma representação exata de competências. Eu gosto da sua recomendação. Um grande conceito que reflete os pensamentos do escritor. Consultoria RH