Toy­ota says new bat­ter­ies are safe enough

The Witness - Wheels - - TRENDS - AL­WYN VILJOEN

IT is not just Shaun Abra­hams who made a sharp U-turn this month.

Toy­ota now says it can make elec­tric cars that will last al­most as long as its in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines.

Koji Toyoshima, the chief en­gi­neer for the lat­est Prius, told Reuters at the launch of the new Prius in the U.S. that the Ja­panese car gi­ant has now tamed the volatile lithium-ion bat­tery tech­nol­ogy to pack more power safely at no sig­nif­i­cant ex­tra cost.

Reuters quoted Toyoshima as say­ing: “De­vel­op­ing lithium-ion bat­ter­ies for both hy­brids and plug-ins will en­able us to also pro­duce all-elec­tric cars in the future.”

Ri­vals like Tesla Mo­tors and Nis­san, who adopted lithi­u­mion bat­tery tech­nol­ogy nearly a decade ago, will be very in­ter­ested in Toyoshima’s use of the lit­tle word “will”.

As a very con­ser­va­tive com­pany, Toy­ota has to date pre­ferred to fo­cus on hy­dro­gen as a source of power, de­spite this boil­ing down (pun in­tented) to mak­ing elec­tric­ity to store hy­dro­gen to make elec­tric­ity, be­cause of con­cerns over the cost, size and un­proven safety lev­els of bat­ter­ies.

Reuters re­ports that lithium-ion bat­ter­ies can be un­sta­ble and they have been blamed for in­cen­di­ary Sam­sung smart­phones and smok­ing Dream­liner air­planes.

Hav­ing Toy­ota en­dorse lithium-ion will be a fil­lip for the de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy and it gives the au­tomaker the op­tion to pro­duce for an al­l­elec­tric pas­sen­ger-car mar­ket, which it has avoided, pre­fer­ring to put its heft be­hind the hy­dro­gen fuel-cell ve­hi­cles (FCVs).

Toy­ota says its Prius Prime, a soon-to-be-launched plugin elec­tric ver­sion of the world’s top-selling petrol hy­brid, will use lithium-ion bat­ter­ies with enough en­ergy to make the car go about 60 kms when fully charged be­fore the petrol en­gine kicks in. Be­cause of dif­fer­ent method­ol­ogy in measuring a car’s elec­tric mode range, the Prime’s 60 km range will be listed in the U.S. as around 40 km.

“It’s a tall or­der to de­velop a lithium-ion car bat­tery that can per­form re­li­ably and safely for 10 years, or over hun­dreds of thou­sands of kilo­me­tres,” said Toyoshima.

“We have dou­ble braced and triple braced our bat­tery pack to make sure they’re fail­safe ... It’s all about safety, safety, safety,” he said.

Toy­ota’s con­fi­dence in its bat­tery’s safety and sta­bil­ity comes from im­proved con­trol tech­nol­ogy that mon­i­tors pre­cisely the tem­per­a­ture and con­di­tion of each of the 95 cells in its new bat­tery pack.

Work­ing with bat­tery sup­plier Pana­sonic Corp, which also pro­duces Li-ion bat­ter­ies for Tesla, Toy­ota has also im­proved the pre­ci­sion in bat­tery cell as­sem­bly, en­sur­ing the bat­tery chem­istry is free of im­pu­ri­ties.

Bat­tery ex­perts say in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated sys­tems that can track in­di­vid­ual cell con­di­tions are be­com­ing closely held trade se­crets.

Lower bat­tery prices, which have fallen by about 60% in five years to around $145 (R1 958) per kilo­watt hour, have also en­abled Toy­ota to de­velop its more com­pact, ef­fi­cient bat­tery, while adding more so­phis­ti­cated con­trols to its bat­tery pack, Toyoshima said.

Toy­ota de­clined to say more on its costs. — Reuters.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

The new Prius her­alds a move by Toy­ota to­wards elec­tric cars and their bat­ter­ies.

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