The University of Michigan will announce today the creation of an $8 million lab that will focus on making electric vehicle batteries cheaper and longer-lasting.
The lab, which received funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the U-M College of Engineering, will allow automakers, battery makers and individual researchers to test battery cells, and save significant time and money as they race to create more efficient battery packs.
“We need to be able to test hundreds of chemistries and cell designs, but they have to be tests that can translate from the lab to the production line,” said Ted Miller, who manages Ford’s battery research. “Ford has battery labs that test and validate production-ready batteries, but nothing this far upstream.
“This is sorely needed, and no one else in the auto industry has anything like it.”
Consumers have been slow to latch on to electric cars — which include hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electrics — partly because the technology remains expensive relative to traditional gas-powered vehicles. Costs vary, depending on the power train and how many batteries are produced, said Jim Hall, analyst at 2953 Analytics LLP.
The lab should open by next fall, said Mark Barteau, DTE Energy professor of advanced energy research and director of the U-M Energy Institute, where the lab will be housed. It will be accessible to any automotive or non-automotive firm, and will protect a firm’s or individual’s intellectual property.
Barteau said several suppliers and battery producers have expressed interest in using the lab. The university expects battery prototyping will be a major draw but that many firms will use lab equipment to test battery life cycles and to improve design.
Factors such as temperature and strain can affect the longevity and performance of a battery cell. The lab will allow simulation of the wear and tear of 150,000 driving miles over a decade.
General Motors Co. in September showed off a $20 million expansion of its Global Battery Systems Laboratory in Warren. The 85,000-square-foot facility allows GM to mimic real-world driving and determine how its battery cells and packs perform.
Here’s how the testing process usually works now: Suppliers create production-ready battery cells. Only then do carmakers test them at their own facilities.
The new lab will allow for testing prior to the battery cell production process.