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Engineering challenges are like a siren's call to Neal Saiki. Since leaving Zero Motorcycles in early 2011, the company he co-founded with his wife Lisa, he's spent lots of time and effort wrestling with the human-powered helicopter conumdrum. As engaging as that might be, however, he still hasn't been able to keep himself from considering how to build a better electric motorcycle; work that has, it seems, proved slightly less Sisyphean as he has just announced a pretty cool battery pack breakthrough.

His approach tackles the big battery drawbacks of cost and energy capacity head on by employing the same "18650" cylindrical cells that Tesla Motors so successfully uses. Then, to get around the labor intensive connection method of welding thin strips of nickel to each one, he has devised a way to mechanically connect the cells with enough pressure to keep the current dependably flowing through them.

This configuration makes it easy to replace a single cell if it goes bad – each one is thermally monitored for signs of failure – and also makes it super easy to upgrade when new, better cells become available. What's not to like?

Saiki calculates a 200-pound pack will hold a nominal 16.1 kWh of energy using 1440 individual cells. That, he says, should provide for a real-world, driving-down-the-highway, 100-mile range. By contrast, the "100-mile" bikes by Zero Motorcycles and Brammo hold around nine kWhs.

The system can also be adapted to four-wheeled vehicles. In that application, the pack would be arranged as a three-inch thick plate holding 26.6 kWh of energy per square meter (22.2 kWh per square yard). It's too soon to say whether or when the pack will be commercially available. Saiki's new company, NTS Works, is currently looking to work with "select OEM's on custom battery pack design and licensing." Scroll down below for the official press release for more details.
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NTS WORKS EV BATTERY BREAKTHROUGH

SANTA CRUZ, CA., (May 17, 2012) - NTS Works Inc has revealed details of a revolutionary electric vehicle (EV) battery technology. The "NTS" in the company name is the initials of Neal Tate Saiki, founder of the leading electric motorcycle company, Zero Motorcycles Inc. After retiring from Zero last year, Neal has formed the new company in Santa Cruz, California which focuses strictly on technology development. The new battery technology will allow many EVs to double their range at the same battery cost that they have now. More importantly, the new batteries are easy to disassemble and repair. This is an important feature for consumers that want to get the full lifespan out of their expensive electric vehicles.

Electric vehicles have had sluggish sales primarily due to their limited range and high cost. This new technology addresses both of these shortcomings. The battery technology is a method of connecting extremely high energy lithium ion battery cells into larger sized battery packs suitable for EVs. Although these battery cells have been on the market for a couple of years, it is very difficult to inexpensively connect them together without causing them to overheat. A leading electric car company also uses these cells in their cars, but there have been concerns regarding the high cost of replacing the battery pack. Replacing a few bad cells out of thousands is not easy to do when they are connected together by welding. Welding is the traditional way these small cells have been connected together.

The NTS Works battery pack is composed of small cylindrical lithium ion cells called 18650 cells. They were originally developed for laptop computers and the standardized size and shape has become the most popular in the lithium battery industry. The popularity of tablet computers has caused sales of laptop computers to stagnate. This has produced an oversupply of the lithium ion 18650 cells. The price for the cells has been steadily decreasing over the years while the energy capacity has been increasing. According to Neal Saiki, "Everyone in the EV industry has wanted to use lithium ion 18650 cells because they are light-weight and inexpensive, but figuring out how to build packs from thousands of these cells has stymied all the smaller companies in the EV industry. Only the biggest car companies have been able to do this up until now."

The breakthrough in connecting the cells together was solved with an entirely different way of mechanically connecting cells together with pressure. "It's similar to the way a flashlight battery is held in place by a spring, however, if you used a spring in an EV battery it would quickly melt due to the enormous energy in an EV battery. It has been incredibly difficult to come up with an inexpensive solution." says Neal Saiki.

There is one important technical limitation to the NTS Works battery technology. It isn't as well suited to extremely high powered bursts of energy. For this reason, it probably will not be applied in hand power tools or high performance vehicles. These vehicles can use all of their battery energy in less than an hour. NTS Works does not have any plans to use the technology in electric car or motorcycle racing. This new technology, however, is well suited for transportation EVs where consumers generally want to be able to ride scooters and motorcycles for at least an hour. For electric cars, consumers generally want to be able drive two or more hours between charges. In these applications, the batteries can be smaller, lighter and less expensive.

The first application example from NTS Works is for an electric motorcycle with a 15 kilowatt hour (kwh) battery pack. This battery has 67% more range than the best electric motorcycle on the market today. It is also shaped in a thin package that allows a motorcycle to have a very low aerodynamic drag at freeway speeds. This will give freeway commuters the ability to ride for an hour on the freeway at 70 mph. For other applications such as cars and ATVs, it is very desirable to have the battery in a thin sheet. The thin sheet of batteries can easily be built into the floor of the vehicle thus leaving generous room for passengers and cargo.

ABOUT NTS WORKS: NTS Works Inc is a product development company that is in the process of licensing the battery technology to several manufacturers in the EV industry. Consumers will see vehicles that use this technology as soon as next year. The NTS Works battery technology is patent pending.

For more information on NTS Works Inc or to learn more about the battery breakthrough technology visit: http://www.ntsworks.com.


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  • 23 Comments
      Edge
      • 3 Years Ago
      Add quotes around "breakthrough". Seems to be a questionable breakthrough. Battery type, and packaging goes through years of testing, before being determined to be practical. Wondering how they are cooling their batteries? No mention of that, when Tesla using these type of batteries uses liquid cooling. I will give it to them, for ABG to run this story, the company sure knows PR. NTS Works needs a better looking website, other than the amateurish designed website they have now.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is actually really, really smart. The 18650's end up being compressed down like AA cells. Since they have such a low C rating ( 0.5 - 2C ), each one individually only flows 1-8 amps, which is totally doable with something that is spring loaded or whatevers. This is a good idea if you want to go down the Tesla road - oversize your pack dramatically to get super long range, getting the best watt hours per KG.
        Edge
        • 3 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        So your saying that Tesla has this breakthrough first, and not these guys. Smirk. I agree!
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 3 Years Ago
      try box tubes instead. naturally places them in parallel and series with only one pressure required
      Greg
      • 3 Years Ago
      Considering that the Leaf & eFocus have batteries around 24 kWh, this design would duplicate that at only 300 lb.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Greg
        Actually, not really.. You'd need a hell of a lot more battery to get the power output that the car like the Leaf or eFocus needs. 24kWh would only output 48kW, realistically.. but you really need a bit over 80kW of engine power. it would have to be oversized to 40-60kWh to output the power that the car needs. *however*, the advantage over the cells that Ford and Nissan are using is that these weigh significantly less and are significantly smaller per kWh.. i believe the end result ends up being cheaper too.. since the Panasonic cells are made in such high volume that they're actually cheap compared to most lithium batteries if you buy them in real large quantities.
          Timo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          Tesla Roadster manages to squeeze out around 250kW out of 56kW. That's then around 125kW out of 24kWh. You underestimate the power density of ordinary 18650 batteries.
      Herm
      • 3 Years Ago
      The battery factory can weld a tab to the cell and the pack manufacturer can use a screw to finish the connection at the board level. I like the idea, laptop cells are at the $100-$200/kWh level for large quantities. Life is a bit marginal. If you notice your power going down just shake the battery box a bit, just like a flashlight :)
      Roy_H
      • 3 Years Ago
      How is copying Tesla a breakthrough?
      goodoldgorr
      • 3 Years Ago
      These batteries are not good, are costly, are not distributed well, are just pr fraud while hydrogen fuelcell cars and suv are around the corner and ready for succesful commercialisation till 1998. Only the fraud of big oil, banks, goerge bush and friends, stefen harper from canada, toyota, us military and some bloggers are hiding hydrogen commercialisation. I said to put for sale for cash one hydrogen fuelcell car near where i live at approx 50 000$. This will put big oil in a ridiculous pr situation and will permit to a compagny to begin to market a new product.
        Edge
        • 3 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        > "Only the fraud of big oil, banks, goerge bush and friends, stefen harper from canada, toyota, us military and some bloggers are hiding hydrogen commercialisation." You forgot the governments and corporations of France, Germany, England, Japan, Korea, China, Brazil, and basically any other country with the means to pull off your dream. That's one vast conspiracy you got going there.
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Edge
          Gorr and Dan are the most consistent. PR has been called a corporate shill and I have been called a hippie, but Dan and Gorr are the most unbreakable...
          Dave D
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Edge
          gorr is an equal opportunity conspiricist! He didn't forget them, he just ran out of time to type in all the people involved. He even thinks the big oil companies are part of the conspiracy to stop him from getting hydrogen LOL Forget that fact they're the only people in the world who wins if H2 succeeds. And never mind that George W was the one who pushed the H2 economies for his friends at big oil. But you have to admit, gorr is entertaining with his rants.
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Edge
          I especially like the George Bush dig...
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Edge
          Bush must throw up his hands sometimes. 'I ask for more drilling and it is to help my buddies in big oil. Then I push for alternative fuels, and it is to help my buddies in big oil.'
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        The oil companies are actually very interested in seeing hydrogen succeed. They are having a hard time finding oil these days but they have oodles of natural gas that can be easily converted into hydrogen. And using the hydrogen keeps you addicted to them and makes you keep returning to their service stations. The oil companies were instrumental in killing the CARB ZEV program back in 2000 when the EV-1 got killed. They helped push hydrogen cars as an alternative instead of EVs. Well, it has been 12 years since then . . . where are those hydrogen cars? (2015! Yeah, sure.)
          Jesse Gurr
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Why not just use natural gas directly and skip the conversion to hydrogen? Automakers already have an engine that can do natural gas, with a few tweaks. That would be the fastest way and to go 'green'. I think each automaker should have at least one car that can run on natural gas. They also qualify for the carpool sticker so they should sell fairly well.
      methos1999
      • 3 Years Ago
      I wouldn't call a new packaging concept a "breakthrough" especially when the press release admits limits on being able to deliver less power than conventional packaging...
      skierpage
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Replacing a few bad cells out of thousands is not easy to do when they are connected together by welding." yeah, those dummies at Tesla sure weren't thinking. Wait, maybe Saiki should read Tesla's own explanation of the Roadster battery: "Sixty-nine cells are wired in parallel to create bricks. Ninety-nine bricks are connected in series to create sheets, and 11 sheets are inserted into the pack casing. In total, this creates a pack made up of 6,831 cells." I'm pretty sure Tesla can replace a failing sheet, I suspect they can replace individual bricks as well. I don't know to what level (sheet/brick/cell) Tesla monitors electrical and thermal performance. Has Tesla published similar details for the Model S pack?
      Rotation
      • 3 Years Ago
      First, ABG, take the quotes off 18650. http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/ Second, this idea doesn't seem like a good one to me. Welding the bars on the batteries is not labor intensive, there are machines to do it, they are employed by the battery makers if you buy batteries with strips on them already. Second, connecting batteries with a physical fit only is running a risk because the batteries swell and contract noticeably during use and charging. Then of course any kind of vibration and you also run the risk of disconnect. I wonder how much easier it is to make the surface that connects to the cathodes on these batteries bumpy enough to contact the slightly recessed buttons on the cells than it is just to weld bars on.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        You can buy batteries with strips on them already, but you still have to weld. The problem is when you have to test and replace some cells down the line. That is not a fun job to break them all apart, test them, then weld them all back together - that's a pain in the butt that i don't even see the hobbyists doing. 18650's do not swell or contract. You're referring to pouch cells. 18650's just vent and/or explode but do not change in phyiscal size. You may have a point about vibration, and also spring wearing over a super long period of time ( 10 years+ ). But we'll see how it goes.
          Rotation
          • 3 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          Yes, you still have to weld. But you can use the same welders that the battery makers do if you want, it doesn't have to be "labor intensive" as mentioned here. Of course, many companies will find that using labor is cheaper than using the machine, but in that case they are low volume, so there isn't much money to save anyway. I agree about taking them apart being a hassle. And hobbyists can't do it because you need a spot welder to attach them. You can solder to the terminals, but it isn't nearly as good mechanically and honestly, it's bad for the batteries to heat them up for that long. Every battery swells and contracts. You're right that one with a casing is supposed to have some space inside so that the swelling and contracting does not change the external dimensions. But even steel isn't immovable, and the cell itself can swell up almost 20% over its lifetime. That extra size has to go somewhere, if the cell maker didn't leave enough space inside... I admit I am generally skeptical of mere physical proximity as a connection method. Every time I see a wirenut splice I wonder if this is really the best way to do things.
      PR
      • 3 Years Ago
      Has anyone ever seen a specification given on a 18650 battery for how much compression force an individual battery is rated for? I just don't know what pressures the manufacturers build these to handle, or if they even consider this at all in their design. I don't think the manufacturers even design to this, I think they design to the batteries being non-load bearing. And what are the acceptable height tolerances between batches of batteries? The all the manufactures stick to very tight standards, or is there variance that might affect how tight they fit? If there isn't a specification or a standard for how much force the batteries can sustain over time, then I personally wouldn't want a pack that applied a force in a direction that the battery wasn't rated. Not to mention the design problems of accounting for expansion and contraction and height variances in different individual batteries. Especially when he talks about easy battery replacement. Then again, maybe he's got something truly brilliant that solves for all these issues, and he's got access to battery specifications that I don't?
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