Lithium Iron Phosphate - Properties of LFP and Development of The Industry

Properties of LFP and Development of The Industry

That being said, the market of hybrid vehicles is the determinant. It is the stable and safe olivine structure of LFP material that makes LFP favorable in lithium batteries. Different from other cathode material like Li-Co of layered structures and Li-Mn of spinel structures, LFP of olivine structures has strong oxygen covalent bonds and does not explode upon the short-circuit of lithium batteries. This feature might not be the most important for other mobile IT products but it is for lithium batteries installed on vehicles.

According to US AABC’s statistics, one out of 70,000 hybrid vehicles (PHEV, HEV, BEV) using batteries containing cobalt or manganese will explode if they have the same incidence rate as the lithium batteries of notebooks and cell phones. This number is beyond the wildest estimation of automakers. What they give top priority is safety rather than capacity. The reason is simple: It is too expensive to recall automobiles, tens of thousands of times more expensive than recalling notebooks. Therefore, safety has to be weighed against battery life.

Although LFP has 25% less capacity than other lithium batteries due to its material structure, it has 70% more performance than nickel-hydrogen battery. LFP’s improved capacity and stability draw automakers’ interests. For them, LFP can meet both the requirements of safety and battery life. Hence, hybrid vehicles are the critical market.

According to statistics, HEV, PHEV, and BEV would have, in 2008, a market of at least 7 hundred million US dollars worldwide, and at least 5 billion US dollars by 2012. From 2008 to 2015, the sales of hybrid vehicles worldwide will increase by at least 12%. In 2012, the sales of hybrid vehicles in the US will exceed 1 million. Production of hybrid vehicles in Japan will increase 6.6% from 2008 to 2011. Over all, the market for hybrid vehicle batteries for will expand 10.4% from 2010 to 2015 and the markets of hybrid vehicle parts will increase 17.4%.

In addition to compact vehicles, bus makers will also try to incorporate LFP batteries into their products. BAE has announced that their HybriDrive Orion 7 hybrid bus will use about 180KW LFP battery cells. Power plants are also using LFP now. AES in the US has developed multi-trillion watt battery systems that are capable of subsidiary services of the power network, including spare capacity and frequency adjustment.

A major competitor to LiFePO4 is lithium manganese spinel, which GM has chosen to use for the Chevrolet Volt, a gas-electric hybrid vehicle.

Before this new generation of materials can be used as the power source for electric bicycles, gas-electric hybrid vehicles and automation vehicles there lies one large obstacle: patents. Many of the companies that entered the field in the early stages have already received patents, which may result in other companies entering the market at a later time running into legal trouble.

At present, the root patents of the LFP compounds are held by the three professional material companies: Li1-xMFePO4 by A123, LiMPO4 by Phostech and LiFePO4 • zM by Aleees. And these patents have been developed into very mature mass production technologies. The largest production capacity is up to 250 tons per month. The key feature of Li1-xMFePO4 of A123 is the nano-LFP, which converts the originally less conductive LFP into commercial products by modification of its physical properties and addition of noble metal in the anode material, as well as the use of special graphite as the cathodes. The main feature of LiMPO4 of Phostech is the increased capacitance and conductivity by appropriate carbon coating; the crucial feature of LiFePO4 • zM of Aleees is the LFP with the high capacitance and low impedance obtained by the stable control of the ferrites and the crystal growth. This improved control is realized by applying strong mechanical stirring forces to the precursors in high oversaturation states, which induces crystallization of the metal oxides and LFP.

These breakthroughs and fast development in upper source materials, has drawn the attention of lithium battery factories and the automobile industry. It has led some to surmise that this technology when applied to lithium batteries and gas-electric hybrid vehicles will give lead to a bright future for hybrid vehicles. LFP batteries and ordinary lithium batteries are both environmentally friendly. The major differences between these two are that the LFP batteries do not have such safety concerns as overheating and explosion, that the LFP batteries have 4 to 5 times longer cycle lifetimes than the lithium batteries, that the LFP batteries have 8 to 10 times higher discharge power than the lithium batteries (which can produce an instant high current), and that the LFP batteries have, under the same energy density, 30 to 50% less weight than the lithium batteries. The development of LFP battery is highly valued in the industry, and has been developed for the United States Department of Defense's gas-electric hybrid tanks and Hummers, General Motors, Ford Motor, Toyota Motor and so on.

From a development point of view, the U.S. auto industry estimates that by 2010, there will be over four million gas-electric hybrid vehicles on American roads. General Motors of the United States has decided to work towards the "large-scale production of electric cars" to break the domination of Japanese manufacturers. As U.S. consumers are under the extremely high pressure of skyrocketing oil prices, General Motors believe that the future auto market must be able to use all kinds of energy, and the electric car will be the key to success. Therefore, at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, GM unveiled the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle(PHEV) concept car "Chevrolet Volt Concept" and with the development of new GM hybrid system ( E-FLEX), one ordinary household power supply can be connected to the car for charging the lithium iron phosphate battery. When the Volt Concept reaches mass production, each car will able to reduce 500 gallons (1,900 liters) of gasoline consumption each year, and will reduce carbon dioxide output by 4400 kg.

Facing such strong and unstoppable development, some industrial banks, venture capital funds and investment companies, have focused on the overall arrangement on the upper source material companies. In addition to the above-mentioned three companies, besides A123 in the United States, ActaCell Inc. just received 5,800,000 U.S. dollars funding from, Applied Materials (AMAT) Venture Capital and other venture capital firms. ActaCell’s main focus is to carry out the study outcome of University of Texas to the market. Professor Arumugam Manthiram has done a long-term study of development of spinel-based structure and superconducting materials. He served as a research assistant at UT, and then was promoted to professor. In recent years he discovered that when adding the expensive conductive polymers in the lithium iron phosphate (LFP), the grams capacity 166Ah/g of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) can be made in the laboratory, and then applied the microwave method to speed up the ceramic powder process of lithium iron phosphate (LFP). As to whether or not to circumvent the lithium iron phosphate (LFP) patents of A123, Aleees and Phostech by adding the conducting polymer, it is unclear at this current stage.

However, the pace of the lower source industry is not slowing down at all, in Europe, BOSCH committed to the public by continuously expanding the automation and electric powered vehicle development in 2008. Some people in Europe believe the applications of the technologies are very limited. The traditional reciprocating engine may still have an advantage of 20 years, but eventually the vehicle electric vehicles will be able to catch up.

BOSCH has a proud history of automotive technology research and development, and their own R&D department, which as a result of not looking to purchase technology from other corporations has been busy developing its own anti-lock brake and TCS tracking control system. They will be redesigned with a gas-electric hybrid computer program and will be featured in the VW Touareg and the PORSCHE Cayenne hybrid from BOSCH which will be on the market in 2010.

BOSCH was one of the first companies that decided to focus and maintain a leading edge in fuel technology. Finally, others in the industry are beginning to wake up as the automotive safety becomes concerned about safety and now that alternative forms of energy are beginning to try to catch up. BOSCH believes they need to deeply explore the field of electric power, as it is going to be widespread technology worldwide.

BOSCH and South Korea SAMSUNG are cooperating to develop lithium batteries and carry out mass production at a cost of about 4,000,000 U.S. dollars. Although it is predicted that it will take about four to five years to move into the matured stage, BOSCH in any case will continue to invest in this effort in order to maintain its position as the top leader in the automobile technology.

Another European automotive components assembler Continental, announced that their lithium iron phosphate (LFP) partners are A123 Systems and Johnson Controls-Saft. Continental will supply the batteries for Mercedes Benz. For dealings with Bosch, they may consider doing it themselves or purchasing from A123. For the security of the supply chain, they bought stocks from a small battery factory Enax in Japan, but the company is only capable of producing small voltage products.

GS YUASA in Japan is a rising company that has announced the result of their work on the application of the anode of large-scale battery unit with its independently developed carbon-load of lithium iron phosphate (LFP). The tests results for external size of 115mm × 47mm × 170mm square shaped "LIM40" industrial battery unit indicated that even with the 400A large current discharge, the capacity is nearly not reduced. The original products without using the carbon load, had a 400A discharge unit that actually only had half the capacity of a 40A discharge. In addition, the trial product was usable in temperatures as low temperature as -20℃.

In China, the two heavy-weight lithium battery manufacturers: BAK and Tianjin Lishen, also announced their building plans of the special LFP factories, which will have annual outputs of 20,000,000 lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, will be completed at the end of 2008 and early 2009 respectively. The total amount of investment in their construction is 600million dollars. As for the upper source cooperative companies, they have yet to be found in the newspaper; the speculation is that they will be cooperating with one of the three lithium iron phosphate (LFP) vendors which has a production factory in Asia.

As a result, by 2010, the competition landscape of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) industry in Europe, Asia and the United States, seems to have been decided more or less. With the high safety and stability of lithium iron phosphate(LFP) materials, the level of technology from each factory seems to be less important. The only decisive factor is the market price. According to general estimates, the union of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) will be able to lower battery price to 0.35 U.S. dollars per watt hours by 2010, will be able to take the lead in the rapid development of gas-electric hybrid vehicles and lithium battery bicycles, coming out as the ultimate winner.

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