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New Lithium-Metal-Polymer battery factory

- By Christin Nilsson

$120 million upgrade: Bollore Group opens lithium-metal-polymer battery factory near Montreal to supply electric vehicles made by Italy's Pininfarina and France's Gruau Group.

France's Bolloré Group has unveiled its $120 million upgrade to a lithium-metal-polymer battery factory in Québec, Canada, that the company took over in 2007.

French billionaire and Bolloré Group CEO Vincent Bolloré told the Cleantech Group that the expansion is part of his company's $1.5 billion initiative to have two facilities with a total production capacity of 30,000 solid-state batteries per year to supply makers of electric vehicles with an alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

Bolloré said the overheating problems associated with lithium-ion batteries in laptops and mobile phones will prevent major automakers from using them to power vehicles (see ReVolt plans for zinc-air battery to trump Li-ion with $13M in funding).

"Lithium ion is very dangerous," he said. "The safety of the polymer lithium is so much better than lithium ion, the top producers will be obliged to go to polymer lithium."

Bolloré Group recently completed a facility in western France with current production capacity of 5,000 batteries. The company plans to spend about $100 million to add a second building to expand the capacity to 15,000 by 2011.

The newest facility in Boucherville, Québec, is expected to produce 5,000 batteries annually by the end of 2009. Bolloré Group plans to expand the capacity to 15,000 within 18 months.

Bolloré Group took ownership of the Québec facility when it acquired French-Canadian battery maker Avestor, which was the only company other than Bolloré Group to hold patents on lithium-metal-polymer batteries, the company says. Avestor went under in late 2006 (see Italian fashion, the military, sea snakes and failed cleantech startups).

Bolloré Group combined the expertise of the two companies, including its knowledge of extrusion and Avestor's work with iron phosphates to produce batteries with improved cyclability, Bolloré said.

Bolloré Group subsidiary BatScap developed the battery, which is made of four films: the anode is a metallic lithium film; the electrolyte is a polymer film with additives that allow lithium ions to cross; the cathode is a polymer film with insertion compounds that capture and discharge the lithium ions; and a metal film that collects the currents.

Read more: Vestas secures service renewal in Canada

BatScap also developed supercapacitors to quickly absorb and deliver large amounts of electric power. A pack of supercapacitors combined with the lithium-metal-polymer battery can recover energy when a vehicle brakes and feed the energy back to the system (see Shares of Maxwell rise on Chinese ultracapacitor deals).

Bolloré Group already has two joint ventures to use the batteries and supercapacitors in vehicles expected to go to market in June 2010.

The company is working with Italy's Pininfarina to supply batteries for the compact La BlueCar, which is expected to go 250 kilometers (155 miles) on a full charge. Bolloré said a full charge will take about five hours when using 220-volt chargers in Europe and eights hours in North America using 120-volt chargers. The companies have taken orders for 6,5000 cars across the globe, including about 500 in North America.

Bolloré Group also plans to supply batteries to France's Gruau Group for a small electric bus capable of holding about 20 people. Bollore said he expects the JV to produce 100 a year, with each using three batteries and selling for about $150,000—a less-than 10 percent premium on traditional buses, Bolloré said.

"The price of the battery is important, but the price of the electric engine is quite low and you have no gearing," Bolloré said. "A normal engine is quite expensive, and gearing is quite expensive, so in the end the electric car will not be a luxury product. It will be for everybody."

Read more: Aluminum industry must think beyond cars for long-term growth - Demographer

Bolloré noted, however, that he thinks electric cars will make up 5 percent to 10 percent of the market because of the limitations caused by charge times. Although little infrastructure exists now, Bollore said he expects charging stations to be readily available in restaurants, gas stations, and workplaces.

"In the beginning of course, our first clients will be pioneers because they will have no infrastructure," he said. "But all the governments in developed and emerging countries are developing charge places. … The problem of infrastructure will be solved."

A number of companies are scoring government contracts to install charging stations for electric vehicles, including Coulomb Technologies in Germany and the Netherlands, and ECOtality in China and the U.S. (see Coulomb launches EV charging stations for Germany’s Bochum and ECOtality pulls $15M to build EV charging network in China).

Meanwhile, Better Place is deploying battery-swap stations for electric vehicles in Israel, Denmark and Japan.

Source: The Bollore Group & CleanTech.com

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