EnerDel's Fisher, IN facility – Click above for high-res image gallery
Enerdel's announcement of a big investment to make more lithium-ion batteries in Indiana – $237 million for the company's third site in the state
– gave Governor Mitch Daniels a chance to explain how his state can go through the same transformation on the advanced powertrain front that he himself has. "I've always been an internal combustion guy," he said, "but I have been converted in every way to electric vehicles
. They drive great, by the way." The Governor was also confident that, "Indiana can be the capitol of this new industry."
Yes, the city that is home to the Indianapolis 500 is getting a lot of plug-in vehicle attention. On top of EnerDel's announcement yesterday, partner Think announced an expansion in nearby Elkhart, IN
recently. Bright Automotive
are also located not too far away. What is EnerDel's expansion all about? We were part of a media tour of the company's facility in Fishers, IN (right next door to Indianapolis) to learn about how lithium battery packs for plug-in vehicles are made. Follow us past the jump to find out what happens there.
In Indiana, EnerDel makes lithium-ion prismatic cells, which means that the insides are basically like a stack of papers smashed together and floating in a liquid. The papers are alternating layers of anodes (the battery's negative terminals), separating layers and cathodes (the positive terminals) and the liquid is an electrolyte (an electrically conductive substance that contains free ions). EnerDel makes the anodes, cathodes and electrolyte in the plant using materials supplied mostly from Asia. Currently, Asia is the supply base for these materials but we were told that as production ramps up, more and more materials could be sourced domestically. EnerDel can make lithium cells using difference chemistries depending on what the packs will be used for. Right now, the company has three different chemistries
, including hard carbon and mixes oxide for pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, hard carbon and lithium manganese oxide for standard hybrids and lithium titanate oxide and lithium manganese oxide for use in the future. The batteries leave the factory with a 60 percent state of charge. Learn more by clicking through the slides below:
Here are a few terms that EnerDel uses to describe their batteries (some of the terms can be used to talk about other advanced battery cells in the automotive industry, too):
- Cell – the smallest unit of the batteries that EnerDel makes. These are layers of anodes, cathodes and separators sealed with an electrolyte in a pouch.
- Module – a collection of cells wired together with communication protocols and thermisters (basically, there are wires that check on each cell to make sure it working and not getting too hot).
- Sub-pack – a wired box that contains two modules
- Pack – the final battery, the dimensions of which depends on the vehicle it's going into.
In the Think City, for example, the pack uses eight sub-packs, which in this case is 16 modules and approximately 400 cells. This provides 350V and 70 amp hours, and a total rating of 24.5 kWh. The Think City pack is simple and square
, but that's only because the car was designed to be purely electric and the shape works well there. For the Volvo C30 Electric
, the pack is made up not only of a long rectangle that fits down the center of the vehicle, but also a secondary pack that sits just in front of the rear wheels. You can see both, and the cord that connects them, in the picture below.
As we know, battery performance is greatly affected by temperatures. For the Think City, EnerDel discovered that they did not need to use the heating option to warm the batteries and that the packs would perform as expected down to around -10º Celsius. The pack is also good on the hot end of the spectrum until around 55º C. Basically, if a person is comfortable, then a lithium battery is comfortable. For colder climates, there are other options
What's unusual about the EnerDel facility is that they coat their own anodes and cathodes there, and so can take the raw materials and produce entire packs in house. Sort of. There are eight to 10 "key suppliers" and a couple dozen more standard part suppliers that provide some of the pieces that Enerdel doesn't make themselves. The chemical slurry, coating the anodes and cathodes and putting the cells together into packs? That's all EnerDel.
Once the pack is in the car, a battery management system (BMS) is used to coordinate performance with energy supply and to potentially relay that information outside the vehicle. We know that General Motors plans to use OnStar
with the Chevrolet Volt
. EnerDel discusses the pack's communication ability with each automaker that it deals with individually, so there's no standard way that every pack tells every vehicle (or the OEM, or EnerDel) how it's being used.
The BMS is also responsible for the battery's safety features, which include shutting down in the event of a crash
. The BMS can get data from the vehicle's crash sensors and, in the event of a collision, shut down the energy flowing out of the pack so that there's zero danger (we were told) of occupants or anyone else being electrocuted.
All in all, Ener1 CEO Charles Gassenheimer (right) led the media day with an air of confidence and hope. Expanding the company's manufacturing ability in the American heartland is not a Democratic or Republican issue, he said. Instead, he called it good business, a move that means his company is poised to take advantage of what he (and many others) expect will be a huge growth in vehicle electrification in the coming years. All those plug-in vehicles will need packs, and that means more packs need to be build. To put just 100,000 electric cars
on the road would take all the 18650 cell (common laptop battery) capacity available today, he said. Tesla Motors
uses these packs for the Roaster, but most automakers are looking at using large-format packs, like the ones that EnerDel makes, for their plug-in vehicles. If the auto industry as a whole meets Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn's 10 percent plug-in mark by 2020
, Gassenheimer said it would mean that lithium batteries for cars will be a $70 billion industry in ten years. This could explain why Gassenheimer smiles a lot when talking about his company's future.
EnerDel is not solely focused on cars, with projects for grid-connected stationary batteries (i.e., in Portland, OR
and Tokyo, Japan
). Gassenheimer said that these developments and the secondary markets they create for large-format batteries are the best way to bring vehicle battery costs down. The take-away point is that economies
of scale will only get you so far. There's a lot of value to these packs that don't involve moving cars down the road.