Lithium-ion battery maker A123 Systems is officially unplugging from the grid. The company, which was acquired by Wanxiang Group last year, is selling its grid-storage business to Japan-based NEC Corp. The company's Massachusetts and Missouri facilities are going along with it.

A123, whose production and engineering operations are now in Hangzhou, China, is instead making a big bet on micro-hybrids and will focus its efforts on making and marketing 12-volt batteries for three unnamed automakers. The company is also expanding its production and selling of cell products for industrial and commercial uses and wants to make batteries for hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure EVs from whatever automakers will have it.

A123 went bankrupt in 2012 and was acquired last year by Wanxiang Group, which agreed to pay $257 million for A123's automotive battery business and related assets in a bankruptcy auction. A123's customers had included General Motors, BMW and the pre-bankruptcy Fisker Automotive. The latter company, whose battery recall was particularly costly for A123, is also an area of focus for Wanxiang, which won a bankruptcy auction for Fisker last month for $149.2 million. Wanxiang officially just took ownership of the old GM plant in Newport, DE, with visions of restarting production for the extended-range plug-in vehicle. You can check out A123's press release about its grid-division divestment below.
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A123 Systems Divests of its A123 Energy Solutions Business Unit

Transaction with NEC Represents Increasing A123 Focus on Transportation Applications

March 24, 2014 08:15 AM Eastern Daylight Time

LIVONIA, Mich-- A123 Systems LLC, a developer and manufacturer of advanced Nanophosphate® lithium iron phosphate batteries and systems, today announced an agreement to divest of its grid storage business and other assets related to energy storage for telecom and IT data storage applications. A123 is increasingly focused on the transportation market with a particular emphasis on micro-hybrids. This rapidly growing application segment is attractive because automotive OEMs around the world are steadily turning towards simpler forms of electrification in their mainstream high-volume vehicle lines to address the ever-increasing regulatory requirements of lower emissions and better fuel economy around the world. A123's battery technology is very well suited to the requirements of this market and the company is currently producing 12-volt micro-hybrid batteries for numerous programs across three vehicle manufacturers.

A123 also continues to actively serve and grow its customer base in the fields of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles globally. With the recent integration of battery production and engineering facilities in Hangzhou, China, which were previously under the management of Wanxiang EV, A123 has expanded its battery technology portfolio to include additional products well suited to the requirements of electric cars and buses.

"Our move to sharpen focus on current and future customers in the global transportation market demonstrates strategic clarity in our business. Our customers and partners around the world will benefit from the organization focusing its R&D strength and system engineering capabilities on clear priorities" said Jason Forcier, CEO of A123 Systems. "We look forward to continued growth as a provider of leading-edge energy storage technology to the world's vehicle manufacturers as they continue to develop the most economical forms of electrification."

The divested businesses are being sold to NEC Corporation of Japan which intends to incorporate them into its Smart Energy Business Unit. The former A123 Energy Solutions facilities in Westborough, Massachusetts and Chesterfield, Missouri are included in the deal. As part of the transaction, A123 will retain all of its cell manufacturing locations globally including those in Michigan and China and become a key cell supplier to NEC.

In addition to the transportation business, A123 intends to expand its marketing and distribution of cell products for commercial and industrial applications. The company has formed a new commercial products business unit and will retain its relationships with existing distributors, integrators and value-added resellers of lithium-ion battery cells. A123 already enjoys considerable brand strength in this market and additional investments are planned.

The third pillar of A123's future is its Venture Technologies unit. Last year, A123 Venture Technologies was introduced to offer a new model for cooperative development and commercialization of innovative battery technologies by drawing on the considerable R&D resources and experience of the company. A123 Venture Technologies has already become successful in establishing strategic relationships with battery start-ups who are in early phase development. The unit has also developed an impressive performance record in motorsports and other high performance applications.

About A123 Systems

A123 Systems LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wanxiang Group, is a leading developer and manufacturer of advanced lithium-ion batteries and energy storage systems for transportation and other commercial and industrial applications. The company's proprietary Nanophosphate® lithium iron phosphate technology is built on novel nanoscale materials initially developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is designed to deliver high power and energy density, increased safety and extended life. A123 leverages breakthrough technology and expert system integration capabilities to enable next-generation products for its customers globally. For more information, please visit www.a123systems.com.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 25 Comments
      BipDBo
      • 1 Year Ago
      Lithium batteries would make a great application for all cars for their 12v starter batteries. A typical wet lead acid battery weighs about 40 lbs, but an equivalent Li-ion would likely weigh around 4 lbs. 12v Li-ion starter batteries do currently exist, mainly marketed to race cars. They aren't cheap, but expanding the market past EVs would increase volume and drive down the price even more quickly. Auto manufacturers are spending a lot of R&D & material money to shed weight lately. It won't be long before it will be cheaper to shed 35 lbs by buying a Li battery than by other means. Here's an existing race car battery that claims to have A123 cells. It only has 390 cold cranking amps, but only weighs 1kg. http://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-Super-Lightweight-Battery-ONLY-2-2-Pounds-Modlite-Dwarf-Car-Drag-Race-NHRA-/181162569380?pt=Race_Car_Parts&hash=item2a2e216ea4&vxp=mtr
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          I agree with that.... given time... it will get cheaper, and then we can revisit the idea of these for the mass market vehicles. Sorry for the ad nausem... the commenting has been jacked up, thought it was dropping my comments.
          BipDBo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          You have made the point, adnauseum, that Li-ion are too expensive for most cars as a starter battery. I agree. The thing is, cost will go down. Right now, a Li-ion starter battery that would do the job for a retail car costs around $500. Would a company add $500 to their economy car to save 35 lbs? No. A Corvette, a GTR, Lamborghini? You bet that's worth an extra $500. They just need to work out the kinks, like making sure they aren't going to catch fire, that they will start the car in below freezing, etc. Really, these kinks are pretty much already worked out. We will see lithium ion's use in high end performance retail cars, I guarantee. As cost comes down and pressure for further light-weighting goes up, they will trickle down to the cheaper cars. It's inevitable.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          So basically, not worth the cost in regular cars. But maybe in race cars where conditions are optimal, and drivers would pay lots of money to shave every pound.
        Rotation
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        Nope. Porsche offers lithium 12V starter batteries. If you buy the option, it comes with the lead-acid one and a trickle charger to keep it charged. Because you cannot rely on the lithium battery being able to crank the car below about 40F. So you are expected to swap the lead-acid back when it is cold out. Race cars are on tires that don't work below 40F (heck, they don't work at room temperature) so they use Li-Ions already.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal. So basically, not worth the cost in regular cars. But maybe in race cars where conditions are optimal, and drivers would pay lots of money to shave every pound.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal. So basically, not worth the cost in regular cars. But maybe in race cars where conditions are optimal, and drivers would pay lots of money to shave every pound.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal. So basically, not worth the cost in regular cars. But maybe in race cars where conditions are optimal, and drivers would pay lots of money to shave every pound.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal. So basically, not worth the cost in regular cars. But maybe in race cars where conditions are optimal, and drivers would pay lots of money to shave every pound.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal.
          BipDBo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          I'm sure that is a problem that can be worked out with existing EV know-how. If Li batteries can be used to power an EV in cold weather, then I'm sure they can be used to reliably start an ICE.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal. So basically, not worth the cost in regular cars. But maybe in race cars where conditions are optimal, and drivers would pay lots of money to shave every pound.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal. So basically, not worth the cost in regular cars. But maybe in race cars where conditions are optimal, and drivers would pay lots of money to shave every pound.
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        35 lbs of saved weight is usually not worth the extra cost. That will need a bit more cost reduction
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal.
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal.
        SteveG
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        Cost is just one issue. Another is temperature. Lead acids are very tolerant of abuse and extreme environments.
          2 wheeled menace
          • 1 Year Ago
          @SteveG
          A123's cells can handle those extreme environments better; and newer cells even better still. I've seen a truck started by a little 1/2 pound RC car pack. Pretty awesome, no? Easy 30-50lb. weight drop on a car. No need to check the battery acid levels from time to time.. space freed up in the engine bay.. lithium battery starters = awesome.
          DaveMart
          • 1 Year Ago
          @SteveG
          Lithium chemistries vary wildly in performance in different temperatures. A123's lithium iron phosphate chemistry, especially in its new Ext-Nanophosphate form, is exceptionally tough and should do just fine in low temperatures - and in high ones: http://www.greencarcongress.com/2012/06/ext-20120612.html 'CAR has also starting testing the cold temperature performance of Nanophosphate EXT, which A123 expects will deliver a 20% increase in power at temperatures as low as -30 °C. '
          BipDBo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @SteveG
          True. Durability will definitely need to be addressed to go mainstream for starter batteries. Under the hood won't be the best place for a Li-ion battery. Fortunately, they could more easily be moved to someplace like the trunk or even into the center console because of no acid or off-gassing worries and smaller physical size. The current location for lead batteries isn't exactly great. The heavy block sit in the front and kind of high, bad for the car's CG. I just recently had to replace the starter on my Sienna which sits right under the battery. The battery, which I replaced, was obviously low on water, and when I pulled it out, there was corrosion all over the aluminum bell housing and on the starter. That battery leaked acid all over the place, and may have been the cause of my starter failing. Another durability issue that may need to be addressed is charge control. If controls can keep a Li-ion starter battery's charge level in the middle, say between 20%-80%, rather than constantly topping it off, the batter should last longer. If these issues addressed and the battery is slightly oversized, I'd bet that lithium starter batteries could prove to be longer lasting than lead batteries have been.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @SteveG
          But what are the costs for those high tech Ext-Nanophosphate batteries? Nobody is arguing that Li-Ion starter batteries would not be better than Lead acid batteries, assuming one has unlimited cost to add to a car. The original claim was, "would make a great application for all cars". And the rebuttal is that it is not cost effective for the minor gains of weight saving.
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        Much of a Lithium Ion battery's "Power" to run an EV, is due to it's large size. The smallest Li-Ion battery that can move an entire vehicle on its own (without the need of an ICE)... is still a fairly expensive battery. One of the biggest reasons why Tesla's have so much range, is because they sized the pack to have lots of power. So, to size a Li-Ion starter battery to achieve a good amount of cold cranking amps, in all conditions... is expensive. And would likely leave 80% of the capacity with nothing to do. Great for Lead Acid, since they don't like to to be deep cycled and low capacity is not a big deal.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      Damn US car makers should have bought from A123. They had a good product. I guess they didn't have low enough prices. BMW did almost nothing with their batteries, Fisker went bankrupt (though partly the fault of A123 but mostly Fisker's own fault), and GM only put some batteries in a compliance car that took a long time in coming.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        Having your battery simply not work when Consumer Reports tests your car is a problem directly related to the battery supplier. Having to recall *all* your cars because the battery supplier screwed up is a pretty big issue.
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