In an effort to develop batteries that are smaller, lighter, and less expensive to produce, an $8 million battery lab has recently opened at the University of Michigan. Ford, the only automaker to invest in the facility, contributed $2.1 million to accelerate the development of battery-powered vehicles that are more efficient, more affordable, and can go farther on a single charge, compared to current models.
The lab is essentially a manufacturing facility designed to support pilot projects; a place where battery cell manufacturers, suppliers, university researchers, and startups can test new battery concepts on a small scale that could then be replicated for full production. The facility will also make it possible for Ford to build on 20 years of battery research, as well as the ability to test experimental battery chemistries while reducing the risk and cost to suppliers. The lab will act as a sort of “stepping-stone” between the Ford research lab and the production environment.
In the last year alone, Ford has invested $135 million in the design, engineering, and production of key battery components and has doubled its battery testing capabilities. Battery development, however, is still in its infancy. In just 15 years, the industry has gone from lead-acid to nickel-metal-hydride to the lithium-ion batteries that are currently used in hybrid vehicles today. Ford’s current electrified vehicle lineup includes five models equipped with advanced lithium-ion batteries, which are about 25-30% smaller and can provide about three times the power per cell than previously used nickel-metal-hydride batteries.
The location of the lab on a university campus provides a neutral environment for battery suppliers to work on complex problems in a similar environment. Other investors include the University of Michigan, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Energy.