DETROIT – The development of the hybrid-electric vehicle took another step forward Monday (Oct. 16) when Compact Power Inc. announced a $6.3 million contract awarded by the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) to develop lithium-ion battery technology for HEV applications.

Lithium-ion batteries, already used extensively in consumer electronics applications such as laptop computers, are widely believed to be the next technological jump to enhance the performance of HEVs compared with current nickel-metal hydride batteries.

The contract will focus on lithium-ion battery cell and module development, including improving life cycle, abuse tolerance and low-temperature performance, as well as creating designs for a new cell pouch and separator.

Despite the promise of the technology, lithium-ion literally has been under fire recently after several widely publicized incidents of laptop batteries catching fire, prompting massive recall campaigns.

However, CEO Prabhakar Patil says CPIs “large format” battery cells are designed far differently than the “small format” cells used for consumer products and do not pose a similar risk.

Patil says CPI’s large-format batteries feature safer, manganese-based cathode chemistry and special high-temperature separator membranes between battery electrodes that are mechanically and thermally superior to commonly used separators in lithium-ion cells.

The better separators prevent the possibility of electrical shorts, and the different chemistry reduces the possibility of chemical reactions that could create oxygen and fuel for a fire, Patil says.

The CPI batteries also feature a pouch designed to be more forgiving than a metal container under abuse conditions and one that does not lead to explosions, Patil says.

Headquartered in Troy, MI, CPI is a North American subsidiary of LG Chem, a $12 billion chemical company based in South Korea. It is one of the world’s largest producers of lithium-ion batteries for HEVs and non-automotive markets.

USABC is an organization composed of the three Detroit-based auto makers and the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Its mission is to develop battery technologies that support commercialization of fuel-cell, HEV and full-electric vehicles.

Prior to joining CPI in 2005, Patil was chief engineer for Ford Motor Co.’s hybrid technologies during 2003 and also served as chief engineer for the Ford Escape Hybrid from 1998 to 2003.

With the support of a Michigan state tax credit of $3.8 million, CPI moved its headquarters in 2005 from Colorado to Michigan to provide a local source for the research, engineering and production of lithium-ion battery packs for the automotive industry.

dwinter@wardsauto.com