Lithium iron phosphate (molecular formula is LiFePO4, also known as LFP), is used as cathode material for lithium-ion batteries (also called lithium iron phosphate battery). Its characteristic does not include noble elements such as cobalt, the price of raw material is low, and phosphorus, lithium, iron are abundant on Earth, which means there is no supply issue. It has a moderate operating voltage (3.2V), good electric capacity (170mAh/g), high discharge power, fast charging and long cycle life, and its stability is also high when placed under high temperatures or in a high thermal environment.
This lithium battery’s cathode material of olivine composition is already being mass produced by several up source professional material manufacturers. It is expected to widely expand the applications in the field of lithium batteries, and take it to the new fields such as electric bicycles, gas-electric hybrid vehicles and automation vehicles; In Tokyo Japan, a research group led by Professor Atsuo Yamada of Tokyo University of Technology, published a report on August 11 2008 issue of “natual materials” which included the following statement: the lithium-ion iron phosphate battery will be used as the power source for environmental-friendly electric cars, which have great future prospects. The Tokyo University of Technology and North East University research group is led by Professor Atsuo Yamada. The group uses neutron irradiation phosphate iron, and then analyzes the interaction between neutron and materials to study the motion status of lithium-ion in iron phosphate. The researchers concluded that in the lithium iron phosphate, lithium-ion extended in accordance with a certain straight direction, has a different motion pattern with the existing lithium-ion electrode materials such as cobalt. This is a coincidence with the original assume theory, the analysis results with the use of neutron diffraction, confirms that lithium iron phosphate (molecular formula is LiFePO4, also known as LFP) is able to ensure the security of large input/output current of lithium battery.
The GM CHEVROLET Volt is the first gas-electric hybrid vehicle to use these lithium battery materials. This Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) which highlights the performance of fuel-efficient and comfort of driving will be officially go on the market in 2010,. Nearly 40,000 people in the United States have preordered this car; which will be able to run 60 km on one charge. It will also have a small gasoline engine which will be used to recharge the battery, so that the Volt can run longer during long-distance journeys. GM believes this PHEV will have an exceptionally high fuel economy, getting 150mpg. In Japan and mainland China, more and more lithium battery factories are joining this new type of lithium battery production, the goal being that eventually electric bicycles and buses using such batteries will be introduced onto the market.
Before this new generation of materials can be used as the power source for electric bicycles, gas-electric hybrid vehicles and automation vehicles there lies one large obstacle: patents. Many of the companies that entered the field in the early stages have already received patents, which may result in other companies entering the market at a later time running into legal trouble.
At present, the root patents of the LFP compounds are held by the three professional material companies: Li1-xMFePO4 by A123, LiMPO4 by Phostech and LiFePO4 • zM by Aleees. And these patents have been developed into very mature mass production technologies. The largest production capacity is up to 250 tons per month. The key feature of Li1-xMFePO4 of A123 is the nano-LFP, which converts the originally less conductive LFP into commercial products by modification of its physical properties and addition of noble metal in the anode material, as well as the use of special graphite as the cathodes. The main feature of LiMPO4 of Phostech is the increased capacitance and conductivity by appropriate carbon coating; the crucial feature of LiFePO4 • zM of Aleees is the LFP with the high capacitance and low impedance obtained by the stable control of the ferrites and the crystal growth. This improved control is realized by applying strong mechanical stirring forces to the precursors in high oversaturation states, which induces crystallization of the metal oxides and LFP.
These breakthroughs and fast development in upper source materials, has drawn the attention of lithium battery factories and the automobile industry. It has lead some to surmise that this technology when applied to lithium batteries and gas-electric hybrid vehicles will give lead to a bright future for hybrid vehicles. LFP batteries and ordinary lithium batteries are both environmentally friendly. The major differences between these two are that the LFP batteries do not have such safety concerns as overheating and explosion, that the LFP batteries have 4 to 5 times longer cycle lifetimes than the lithium batteries, that the LFP batteries have 8 to 10 times higher discharge power than the lithium batteries (which can produce an instant high current), and that the LFP batteries have, under the same energy density, 30 to 50 % less weight than the lithium batteries. The development of LFP battery is highly valued in the industry, and has been developed for the United States Department of Defense's gas-electric hybrid tanks and Hummers, General Motors, Ford Motor, Toyota Motor and so on. A123 even obtained several ten million dollars in government grants, the purpose is to support the U.S. industry of lithium battery, use the development of gas-electric hybrid vehicles to stroke the leading Japan Automobile industry.
From a development point of view, the U.S. auto industry estimates that by 2010, there will be over four million gas-electric hybrid vehicles on American roads. General Motors of the United States has decided to work towards the "large-scale production of electric cars" to break the domination of Japanese manufacturers. As U.S. consumers are under the extremely high pressure of skyrocketing oil prices, General Motors believe that the future auto market must be able to use all kinds of energy, and the electric car will be the key to success. Therefore, at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, GM unveiled the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle(PHEV) concept car "Chevrolet Volt Concept" and with the development of new GM hybrid system ( E-FLEX), one ordinary household power supply can be connected to the car for charging the lithium iron phosphate battery. When the Volt Concept reaches mass production, each car will able to reduce 500 gallons (1,900 liters) of gasoline consumption each year, and will reduce carbon dioxide output by 4400 kg.
Facing such strong and unstoppable development, some industrial banks, venture capital funds and investment companies, have focused on the overall arrangement on the upper source material companies. In addition to the above-mentioned three companies, besides A123 in the United States, ActaCell Inc. just received 5,800,000 U.S. dollars funding from Google.org, Applied Materials (AMAT) Venture Capital and other venture capital firms. ActaCell’s main focus is to carry out the study outcome of University of Texas to the market. Professor Arumugam Manthiram has done a long-term study of development of spinel-based structure and superconducting materials. He served as a research assistant at UT, and then was promoted to professor. In recent years he discovered that when adding the expensive conductive polymers in the lithium iron phosphate (LFP), the grams capacity 166Ah/g of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) can be made in the laboratory, and then applied the microwave method to speed up the ceramic powder process of lithium iron phosphate (LFP). As to whether or not to circumvent the lithium iron phosphate (LFP) patents of A123, Aleees and Phostech by adding the conducting polymer, it is unclear at this current stage.
However, the pace of the lower source industry is not slowing down at all, in Europe, BOSCH committed to the public by continuously expanding the automation and electric powered vehicle development in 2008. Some people in Europe believe the applications of the technologies are very limited. The traditional reciprocating engine may still have an advantage of 20 years, but eventually the vehicle electric vehicles will be able to catch up.
BOSCH has a proud history of automotive technology research and development, and their own R&D department, which as a result of not looking to purchase technology from other corporations has been busy developing its own anti-lock brake and TCS tracking control system. They will be redesigned with a gas-electric hybrid computer program and will be featured in the VW Touareg and the PORSCHE Cayenne hybrid from BOSCH which will be on the market in 2010.
BOSCH was one of the first companies that decided to focus and maintain a leading edge in fuel technology. Finally, others in the industry are beginning to wake up as the automotive safety becomes concerned about safety and now that alternative forms of energy are beginning to try to catch up. BOSCH believes they need to deeply explore the field of electric power, as it is going to be widespread technology worldwide.
BOSCH and South Korea SAMSUNG are cooperating to develop lithium batteries and carry out mass production at a cost of about 400,000,000 U.S. dollars. Although it is predicted that it will take about four to five years to move into the matured stage, BOSCH in any case will continue to invest in this effort in order to maintain its position as the top leader in the automobile technology.
Another European automotive components assembler Continental, announced that their lithium iron phosphate (LFP) partners are A123 Systems and Johnson Controls-Saft. Continental will supply the batteries for Mercedes Benz. For dealings with Bosch, they may consider doing it themselves or purchasing from A123. For the security of the supply chain, they bought stocks from a small battery factory Enax in Japan, but the company is only capable of producing small voltage products.
GS YUASA in Japan is a rising company that has announced the result of their work on the application of the anode of large-scale battery unit with its independently developed carbon-load of lithium iron phosphate (LFP). The tests results for external size of 115mm × 47mm × 170mm square shaped "LIM40" industrial battery unit indicated that even with the 400A large current discharge, the capacity is nearly not reduced. The original products without using the carbon load, had a 400A discharge unit that actually only had half the capacity of a 40A discharge. In addition, the trial product was usable in temperatures as low temperature as -20℃.
In China, the two heavy-weight lithium battery manufacturers: BAK and Tianjin Lisen, also announced their building plans of the special LFP factories, which will have annual outputs of 20,000,000 lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, will be completed at the end of 2008 and early 2009 respectively. The total amount of investment in their construction is 600million dollars. As for the upper source cooperative companies, they have yet to be found in the newspaper; the speculation is that they will be cooperating with one of the three lithium iron phosphate (LFP) vendors which has a production factory in Asia.
As a result, by 2010, the competition landscape of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) industry in Europe, Asia and the United States, seems to have been decided more or less. With the high safety and stability of lithium iron phosphate(LFP) materials, the level of technology from each factory seems to be less important. The only decisive factor is the market price. According to general estimates, the union of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) will be able to lower battery price to 0.35 U.S. dollars per watt hours by 2010, will be able to take the lead in the rapid development of gas-electric hybrid vehicles and lithium battery bicycles, coming out as the ultimate winner.