Big Oil Sees Good Business in Hybrids

There are no shortage of conspiracy theories about the role of big oil companies in keeping hybrid and electric cars off our roads. Ironically, Exxon Mobil could play a part in ushering in the next generation of hybrids.

The oil giant has dedicated 14 Ph.D.s in Japan, New Jersey and Texas to furthering the development of a plastic separator film needed for the lithium ion batteries, which could significantly boost energy storage and the power capabilities of future hybrids.

The company plans to break ground soon on a $300 million manufacturing facility in Gumi, South Korea. “We’re going to put our corporate muscle behind this and make it a reality,” said Jim Harris, senior vice president of Exxon’s chemical company. “We are interested in good business opportunities, and that is what this is.”

Exxon’s separator film was used in the first commercially produced lithium ion batteries for Sony cell phones. Today, its separators are used in about 35% of the lithium ion batteries used in electronic devices.

Exxon is by no means the only company working on lithium battery components, chemistries, and systems cars. The market for automotive lithium ion batteries could become a multi-billion dollar industry. The separator-film component will represent about 12% of the total battery-pack cost.

Lithium ion batteries, which may be introduced in hybrids as early as 2009 or 2010, are expected to supplant the nickel metal hydride batteries found in all hybrid cars today. One of the major players in the design and manufacturing of nickel metal hydride batteries is Cobasys, which—you guessed it—is half-owned by oil-giant Chevron.


  • Boom Boom

    Any smart oil company is going to be diversifying at this point. They’re making money hand over fist on oil and gas right now, but know that it is temporary thing.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter who develops batteries for cars, it just matters that they get developed.

  • Paul Rivers

    “In the end, it doesn’t matter who develops batteries for cars, it just matters that they get developed.”

    I think technically you should add “and are widely available for a fair price” on the end of that.

  • Armand

    Hmmm…a whole 14 PHD’s…wow…that’s alot of people…NOT.

    I wonder how many PHD’s they have working for them trying to find oil?

    I’d say at least in the hundreds.

  • Boom Boom

    True, True, Paul. Hopefully once they get developed, they’ll become affordable.

    And Noz has a point, that a $300 million manufacturing facility and 14 phds isn’t much for a company the size of Exxon Mobil. (But one must not look a gift horse in the mouth, even if the horse is small and weak.)

  • jack r

    At leas they have people working on electric cars, it’s a step up that an oil company is working on fuel efficient cars.

  • Wetdog

    Computer manufacterers didn’t wait for the “perfect” battery to bring out laptops—why all the foot dragging?

    Hybrids now have the same guarrantee or longer than conventional cars have ever had. That doesn’t mean they cann’t be improved in the futue also.

    Ethanol combined with hybrid technology and plug in capability have the possibility to make the most far ranging versitile and innovative changes in automotive design since they were first invented over 100 years ago.

    Ask me how on my new forum “Breaking the Chains”

    http://groups.msn.com/BreakingTheChains/_whatsnew.msnw

  • Wetdog

    BTW——

    “And Noz has a point, that a $300 million manufacturing facility and 14 phds isn’t much for a company the size of Exxon Mobil. (But one must not look a gift horse in the mouth, even if the horse is small and weak.)”

    Did you even notice that they aren’t even building the plant or employeeing people in the US to do this?

    That’s not a gift horse—it’s a trojan horse—for us!

    They are making the highest corporate profits in history selling you oil, and taking the manufacturing capability to replace it overseas. Some gift!

  • Boom Boom

    Wonder accrues agglomerate hearts.

    That hurts my brain just to try to figure out what that means.

    Eschew obfuscation.

  • Anonymous

    Noz:

    “Hmmm…a whole 14 PHD’s…wow…that’s alot of people…NOT.”

    Not? You really think that 14 PhDs — undoubtedly part of a much larger team (PhDs are not going to do a lot of the “grunt work” involved in this type of R&D project, they’re just going to be leading the effort) all working on a single aspect of a larger project is NOT a lot of people?

  • Anonymous

    “There are no shortage of conspiracy theories about the role of big oil companies in keeping hybrid and electric cars off our roads.”

    The fatal flaw in most such conspiracy theories is that it is not in the financial interest of “big oil” companies to interfere with transitions to alternative energy sources, because almost all alternative energy R&D is being funded by “big oil” (or more accurately, “big energy”).

    A transition from gasoline to solar or wind derived electricity, for example, means that Exxon-Mobil gets to sell more electricity, which it generates itself meaning a higher profit margin, and less oil, which it has to buy from other countries. The problem with buying from other countries means that the profit margin is lower than it would otherwise be.

    Supply also causes a problem for “big oil” because, while it inflates price, it also curtails usage. Yes, I know, petroleum usage has continued to increase even as prices soar, but not as quickly as it would be increasing if gas was still $1/gallon.

    It is not helpful to berate those doing the most to break oil’s almost exclusive lock on automotive energy supply.

  • AP

    Wetdog said “Computer manufacterers didn’t wait for the “perfect” battery to bring out laptops—why all the foot dragging?”

    The foot dragging is exactly because of what happened when the computer manufacturers didn’t wait for the perfect battery: fires! If you think a battery weighing several ounces catching on fire caused a PR nightmare for Dell, what would happen if a 300 pound battery caught fire in a car? The resulting loss of consumer confidence and barrage of (America’s favorite pastime) lawsuits would bankrupt the supplier and probably the car manufacturer.

  • ANOM

    Enjoy paying big bucks for gas for the rest of your life.

  • Richardf

    Any smart oil (energy) company is going to be diversifying. True. Not just to prepare for the day when oil is played out. But to control other markets to prolong oil’s reign.

  • Anonymous

    i look forward to the day when my grangchildren ask ,how was it when cars BURNED GAS ,and why for soooooo long,also who was exxon, mobile and why do they still BURN GAS in china and india??? dont they care aout the health of those people too?