Battery Expert Casts Doubt on Plug-in Hybrid Future

In the quest for a solution to the growing global transportation energy needs, plug-in hybrids have recently taken center stage. Plug-in hybrids, unlike the gas-electric hybrids currently on the market, can travel for extended ranges without using any gasoline. Yet, the emergence of plug-in hybrids depends on the viability of mass-manufactured lithium ion battery technologies. That technology may not be available for a decade or more, according to Dr. Menahem Anderman, a leading expert on advanced automobile batteries.

Speaking at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2007 Hybrid Symposium in San Diego in February, Dr. Anderman said, “The reliability of lithium ion technology for automotive applications is not proven.”

In a briefing to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January 2007, Dr. Anderman said the commercialization of plug-in hybrids with a gas-free range of 20 miles faces a long list of obstacles, including battery performance, longevity, reliability, and cost. “Pending significant improvements in battery technology, plug-in hybrids could possibly start making an impact in about 10 years,” he said.

The tentative quality of Dr. Anderman’s words—“could possibly start”—suggested that development of lithium ion batteries suitable for plug-in hybrids could require well more than a decade. However, many industry observers expect a much shorter timeframe for lithium ion batteries to show up in today’s hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, which do not allow drivers to recharge batteries via the electric grid.

In Washington, Dr. Anderman characterized the primary differences between today’s hybrid batteries, and the next-generation battery technologies required for plug-ins:

  • The plug-in battery will be about three to five times the size of today’s conventional hybrid batteries, essentially filling the cargo space of an average sedan. (Dr. Anderman described the space issue as a “showstopper” for plug-in application for sedans, unless the vehicle was “built from the ground up” to accommodate the extra batteries.)
  • The weight of this battery will add 200 to 300 pounds to that of the car, which will adversely affect vehicle performance and efficiency.
  • If the plug-in battery vehicle contains a lithium ion battery, to be given a full charge every night in a residential garage, there is a much more serious concern about hazardous failure than with the smaller batteries of conventional hybrids, which are always kept at an intermediate state of charge.
  • The life of either battery technology, nickel metal hydride or lithium ion, in the plug-in application is not known. There is a significant risk that its life will be shorter than that of conventional hybrid car batteries.
  • The cost of this plug-in battery (when assembled into packs) to carmakers, using present technology, will be three to five times the average cost of today’s hybrid batteries—around $5,000 to $7,000 per pack.

In an interview for HybridCars.com in January, Dr. Anderman also called into question the ability for battery makers to predict the performance of batteries over time. Tests can simulate the repeated charging and discharging of batteries, however, “you are trying to guess impact of calendar life,” he said. “To do 10 cycles per day for one year is not the same as one cycle a day for 10 years.” This uncertainty adds to the risk and cost that carmakers must be willing to accept before bringing a plug-in hybrid to market.

In the Senate briefing, Dr. Anderman once again emphasized the cost factors. “The manufacturing of high-volume, low-cost, and high-reliability lithium ion batteries for the portable [device] market is challenging, and established producers have paid dearly to move up the learning curve and down the cost curve,” he said. “The manufacturing of low-cost, high-power lithium ion batteries for hybrids is considerably more demanding.”


  • Felix Kramer

    Not to minimize Dr. Anderman’s points, you’ll hear very different comments from GM engineers who say they have batteries they already believe at the cell level do the job; from the Electric Power Research Institute, which says from a technical and economic perspective, batteries are sufficiently good to proceed; and (of course) from battery makers who cite rapid progress.

    At CalCars.org we keep making the point that auto-makers need to get started with “version 1.0″ PHEV demonstration fleets, knowing that the batteries will continue to improve as they ramp up. “Good enough to get started” is the message for a world that can no longer act as if it’s business as usual. The opportunities, including for distributed energy storage for renewable power, are simply too great. And the possibility of third-party warranties for batteries, and substantial incentives to car-makers, also need to be factored in.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Dr. Anderman and his company Total Battery Consulting seem to derive a lot of sponsorship from companies who have track records of irrationally destroying battery powered vehicles. Their top sponsors are Toyota, Nissan, and Honda.
    Granted, these companies have done some good things, including the hybrid vehicles on the market today, however, all of these hybrids minimize the use of the battery and maximize the use of the ICE.
    I think that Dr. Anderson’s excuses could easily be used to justify the automanufacturers with their status-quo policy.
    It may well be up to the likes of Tesla, Phoenix, ACP, Commutercars, or Calcars who really want to make the battery powered automobile a reality – again.

  • PHEV Costing Less

    It used to be a $10,000 added cost now it is around $7,000. this has happened in less than three years, and these are small grassroot copnaies doing this. what will happen when an internationl corporatiion gets involved. I am thinking a cost of $2,000 in just another three years. The future is waiting, take a risk

  • netshooper@cox.net

    The Dr. is just what this country can do without. Along with government efforts to encourage more car unions.

    We need innovation, A balanced playing field and all the new types of vheicle power plants we can get. This guy is biased.

  • Bill C

    I question all his statements:
    1) ‘The plug in hybrid battery will be 3 to 5 times the size of today’s hybrid battery for a full plug in.’ Doesn’t AC propulsion have a replacement lithium pack that is the same size as the Prius’s existing pack giving the Prius a 25 mile all electric range? What about the Tesla, Phoenix or Zap battery pack that still gives you plenty of passenger room and luggage space? Even the Chevy Volt concept showed the full size trunk equivalent to the Malibu/Cobalt with the same passenger room and GM claims it will be available in 3 to 5 years.

    2) ‘The extra 200 to 300 pounds will make the car unstable to drive’. So having another adult male in the car (avg weight of 225) will make driving my car unstable??? What a joke. According to GM specs, the ‘safe’ passenger weight is 1200 pounds for my family sized car. So I can safely add almost another HALF TON of passengers without affecting the stability of my GM car. If I take the ICE engine out and replace it with an electric motor and batteries, I could add another 600 pounds of batteries and still haul my entire family of 4 and not exceed the weight specifications of my car.

    3) ‘There is a serious concern about the lithium batteries charging in the garage.’ These issues have been addresses by all companies making battery packs for BEVs. I could say the same thing about the 2 laptops, 3 MP3 players, 3 digital cameras and 4 cell phones that have lithium batteries. These are the old style lithium batteries that could short out like the Sony laptop batteries that were recalled. Why aren’t these same battery experts worried about all these other devices too ? (This issue is raised over and over again but only when it relates to electric cars)

    4) ‘The life of NIMH or Lithium Ion is not known’. What about the remaining Toyota Rav E’s with over 100,00 miles on them with the original battery pack (NIMH type) and what about the thousands of miles that GM EV1 owners put on the EV1 -rev2 battery packs (NIMH)? What about the NIMH that run most electric forklifts today? Doesn’t the longevity of these NIMH batteries count? I will agree that the use of Lithium Ion batteries in a BEV/PHEV application is relatively new but Tesla and Phoenix have tested their battery packs to 10,000 plus charge/discharge cycles to show that they will last the lifetime of the vehicle and offer the safety features that this article claims is not yet available. (overheating – cell shortout)

    5) ‘The cost of the battery packs are between $5,000 and $ 7,000 per vehicle.’ The cost of the Phoenix battery packs run around $ 30,000 (they paid 15 million for 500 packs – you do the math). The cost of the Tesla battery pack has to be around $45,000 (cost of a gas powered lotus is $60,000 – pull out cost of the engine for about $10,000 deduction and add the cost of the battery pack. You have a car cost of around $100,000 which is what they are being sold for). I’m sure mass production will bring that cost down but let’s look at a real cost analysis of a battery pack for a real BEV not ‘Well it may be this size vehicle with that size motor’. This is too much conjecture to make a real case for the cost of the battery pack.

    For someone as highly regarded as Dr. Anderman in the battery industry, you have to question his motives for concluding that this technology is still 10 years away from reality when you can purchase a highway capable all electric car in 2007.

    The pioneers will show us that electric cars are a reality today and not waiting for some ‘new’ technology that still another 10 years away. Once these vehicles are on the road, we will see the cost drop dramatically. I expect Toyota to be the first to release a series hybrid in the cost range of the general public by the end of 2008.

  • John Utter

    I find it interesting that I owned a 1977 Citicar for a few years that worked great for in-town use and needed no gas whatsoever. Now, there’s a Dr. saying that plug-in hybrid use is 10 years out. Go check out the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” if this article does not creep you out.

  • Andrew Harmsworth

    A most curious announcement. Surely the fact of the matter is that with electric sports cars available now, the technology is available now? I simply don’t believe these sound-bites when people are already driving cars with the needed technology in them!

  • DAVE

    NICE ARTICAL, manufactures can do it if they want, and do it right now, why arent we making our voice heard. If the american people demand it someone will build it to our specs. There is already 2 co.s that I know of that build a plug in that uses a regular outlet.. 10 years away, good one.

  • Jerry

    I just watched a show called Future Cars on the discovery channel. They have already made a car that can travel 300 miles on one charge and is faster than a Porsche. So like the other commentators the tech. is available today, not ten years into the future.

  • Don

    who are the primary lithium ion battery prducers for cars?

  • Danny Kirk

    The future batteries are being fabricated now. They are 3 times lighter and twice as powerful as the lithium batteries, and they are fire resistant to puncture, unlike the lithium batteries presently made. They are being fabricated by http://www.A123systems. Proving this Dr.Kook wrong. How is this possible? NANO Technology, all the main companies are investing in this company.

  • Dave

    It seems pretty obvious that the technology exists now to put a usable & practical PHEV or BEV on the road, with decent performance.

    I am waiting for the first company to step up to the manufacturing plate with a PHEV that uses ethanol — I think they would be shocked at the response the public would have.

  • Titanic Jack

    Who can do battle with the beast? The Washington lobby that is. Shame on you Dr. Anderman

  • Carkington

    Watch the movie “Who killed the electric car”.

    The technology exists with many miles on it. Follow the money and ask yourself of anyone who claims expert status “who sign that guy’s pay check”.

    We have done plug in cars. The people who used them loved them. The infrastructure was easily installed. They were a threat to the Status Quo of oil industry profits.

  • netshooper@cox.net

    They said “Safety will never Sell” I personally had Henry the Duce say that to me when I made a presentation in the glass house on Air Bags 30 (thats right 30 ) years ago. Now it the same thing 10 years for the Li-Ion bateries and poo poo on the plug ins. Pleeze someone kick these so called experts off the stage their bias is showing on the dias.

  • TRU Group Inc – trugroup.com

    There are safe quite simple lithium based cell technologies out there but investors are looking for what they consider break-through battery technology. Li-Fiber batteries will also replace conventional Li-Ion rechargeable and other batteries because all of the weaknesses of these batteries are resolved with the new technology. The current need is filled with Pb-acid batteries for automobile starting-lighting-ignition, Ni-Cd and Ni-MH batteries for aerospace and military, and Ni-MH and lithium-ion batteries for portable electronics applications such as laptop computers. The main problem with the present lithium-ion batteries is their safety and related capacity restraints. Ninety per cent of the material cost for Li-ion cells is associated with five cell components – overcharge / over-discharge protection circuit, cathode (LiCoO2 or LiNiCoO2) and anode (MCMB carbon) materials, electrolyte (LiPF6), and separator. The need for over-charge / over-discharge protection circuits or devices contributes significantly to the cost of lithium-ion batteries. See http://trugroup.com/Lithium-Battery.html for more information.

  • Sheldon

    All batteries have their issues with the environment, some types more than others. It starts from manufacturing to recycling to landfills. I would think if we switch to lithium based cell technologies that we can at lease let the drug industry recycle the lithium and reduce the amount that goes into the landfills. Okay, it was just a joke.

  • David

    I expect to put 235,000 miles on my 2005 GMC Sierra V6 five-speed over the course of seven years.

    Including gasoline/oil, tires, insurance, vehicle purchase, and nominal maintenence, my expenditures will be just over $47,000, or about 20 cents per mile.

    With an expected life cycle of 100,000 miles, each Tesla battery pack will cost about $45,000. Given my current transportation requirements, the Tesla vehicle and battery purchases will cost about $342,000 — or at least $1.45 per mile.

    If the battery packs cost only twice as much as the gasoline, or if gasoline costs would increase by at least 3 times, I would be quite tempted. But it appears the cost of an adequate electric car will continue to be waaaaay outta line for the next decade.

    Maybe I can build a local commuter electric, but it’ll still set me back at least 10 grand + insurance and batteries. Looks like a no-win situtation.

  • fooljoe

    first off, why are you comparing ownership of some dime a dozen truck to an incredibly high-performance limited production sports car? but just for fun, let’s take a look at a more reasonable version of the numbers.

    ok, $47,000??? ru kidding? figuring your sierra gets 15 mpg, with gas at $4/gallon, that means 235,000 miles are going to cost you $63,000 in gas alone. and that assumes gas stays at $4 for 7 years, which seems highly unlikely. more likely that total will be $100,000+. Electricity, on the other hand, will cost you about 2 cents a mile, so that’s less than $5000 to get all those miles.

    Of course, electric rates could go up too; but if you get to own an electric car you’ll soon find it makes a lot of sense to use the money you’re not wasting on gas anymore to finance a rooftop photovoltaic system. $20,000 or so after rebates will give you plenty for all your driving needs plus all your residential electric, and you’re protected against future rate hikes. oh, and that $20k spent is going to depreciate a hell of a lot slower than a car – the panels will work at least 30 years, probably much more. so a worst case 7 year figure is about $5k, about the same you’d pay to the utility anyway. with an EV and PV on your roof you pay a lot up front, but your money is invested in assets that retain their value or even appreciate; while with an ICE car and gasoline your money just floats away to oil tycoons and saudi princes and the like.

    then there’s the cost of the truck, which will surely depreciate to about zero after 7 years, so factor in $25k or so right there. the tesla, on the other hand, is sure to be a collector’s item, and may even be worth more than you paid for it after 7 years. take a past EV, for example. the 2002 Toyota Rav4-EV sold for $42,000, and 6 year old ones with ~50,000 miles now sell on ebay for $50,000-60,000. 0 is a pretty good cost of ownership over 7 years, I’d say.

    and I don’t know what figures you used for all the maintenance that truck will need to get to 235000 miles, but given that it’s made by GM I’d expect you might even pay for the cost of the car again to drive that many miles. electric cars, on the other hand, require almost no maintenance. the only thing you’d have to do is replace the tires. even the brakes hardly wear at all thanks to regenerative “engine” braking.

    so far it’s looking like the Tesla is much more economical with a possible life cycle cost as low as 0, more likely $10,000 or so, while the Sierra cost may be as high as $150,000, but I’ll grant you that the batteries are a big unknown. using lithium batteries in cars remains unproven, so only time will tell just how long they’ll last and how much the replacement cost will be. the NiMH batteries in the Rav4-EV, on the other hand, have demonstrated near perfect reliability over the millions of miles driven in those cars. many of them have topped 100,000 miles driven and shown no sign of range degradation. it’s quite plausible that those Rav4-EV battery packs will keep on delivering 100+ miles range upwards of your 235,000 miles figure. to make a more fair comparison with an EV you’d have to look at this example, as it’s the only production EV that’s been driven any significant amount.

    nobody knows how much it’d cost to replace those Rav4 batteries, because nobody sells them. Toyota/Panasonic originally produced them, but our friends at Chevron bought the NiMH patent rights from GM/Ovonics and kindly slapped Toyota with a lawsuit to put a stop to the batteries and the Rav4 EV. Chevron’s battery company, Cobasys, also refuses to make any of its own NiMH large enough for EVs. and so you see the real problem with getting EVs on the road today, and why so many automakers blather on about how we “need lithium” to do it. NiMH is clearly the best choice, but nobody will stand up to Chevron.

  • OldFred

    fooljoe: I have purchased my last drop of Chevron gasoline…thanks for the info.

  • Ryan

    “Professor Cho Jae-Phil and his team at Hanyang University have replaced the graphite in lithium batteries with a certain kind of silicon, which we’re told can store eight times the power.”

    http://www.crunchgear.com/2008/11/11/new-battery-technology-lasts-up-to-7-times-as-longer-than-traditional-batteries/

    http://www.engadget.com/2008/11/13/korean-geniuses-invent-lithium-batteries-with-eight-times-the-ju/

  • jl

    Is there enough lithium around to fire up the whole world?
    There are probably over 100,000,000 vehicles in the USA alone.
    Regardless of lithium technology, there doesn’t seem to be enough lithium to go around.

  • palanivelraja

    i want more deteil about lithium batteries in future