Massachusetts Battery Firms A123Systems and Boston-Power Taking Different Roads to Auto Market

The automotive segment of the battery market is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, as eco-friendly vehicles that rely heavily on battery power hit the road in greater numbers than ever before. And Massachusetts advanced battery developers A123Systems and Boston-Power are among many firms eying this lucrative market. But the two companies are at very different stages in their efforts to enter it, analysts tell Xconomy.

Watertown, MA-based A123 is already making millions of dollars from its lithium iron phosphate (or what the company calls nanophosphate) battery systems in automotive applications, and it has secured agreements with Auburn Hills, MI-based Chrysler and others to supply batteries for more than a dozen vehicle models at various stages of commercial readiness, according to the company and industry sources.

Though arriving to the auto segment later than A123, Westborough, MA-based Boston-Power expects to provide its lithium cobalt-manganese batteries for an unspecified number of vehicles in China and Taiwan in the near future, CEO Christina Lampe-Onnerud tells Xconomy. Yet the company has not yet announced a deal with a major automaker like A123 has.

Lithium ion batteries—the kind that both A123 and Boston-Power produce—are attractive for use in hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles in part because they have greater power density than traditional lead-acid auto batteries, meaning they can produce more kilowatt-hours of electricity per kilogram. They do cost more than lead-acid batteries, but A123 says its batteries are worth it since they deliver higher voltage than standard lithium-ions. Boston-Power’s lithium vehicle battery, called the Swing, is priced competitively with other lithium-ion batteries, Lampe-Onnerud says. Its Swing battery is also manufactured using the same environmentally friendly techniques that have earned the company Nordic Ecolabel accreditation for its laptop batteries.

But one of the Bay State companies appears to be taking the lead over the other. A123 earlier this month scored … Next Page »

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