Auto manufacturer Chrysler said this week it has chosen A123Systems, a Watertown
company based on technology developed at MIT,
to make batteries for its new Envi line of electric and hybrid cars.
A123Systems was co-founded in 2001 by Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor
of Ceramics in MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Several
of the company's key early employees also came from MIT.
The company's batteries are a variation of the lithium-ion technology that
has become a standard for many applications including many laptop computers.
They use a novel nano-structured iron-phosphate material for the electrodes,
in place of the cobalt-oxide used in most lithium-ion batteries.
Batteries made with the new material, initially developed by Chiang, are considered
much safer than older lithium-ion batteries, some of which overheated and even
occasionally burst into flames -- a problem that led to massive product recalls.
The Watertown company's batteries are also expected to be much longer lasting,
unlike today's laptop batteries that must be replaced every few years.
The A123Systems battery will power Chrysler's new Envi line, which is initially
expected to be made up of a two-seater sports car, a minivan, a luxury sedan
and two Jeep wagons. Some of these will be pure electric cars, rechargeable
overnight through a standard household outlet, and some will be hybrids that
could travel 40 miles on battery power alone. The first of the five models is
slated to go on sale next year, though the automaker has not specified which
GM had previously announced that it was considering A123Systems batteries for
its electric car, the Chevy Volt, but then selected the Korean company LG Chem
Ltd. instead. It is considering A123 for a later version of the car.
MIT has a license agreement with A123Systems, which includes a royalty arrangement
as well as shares in the company. The Institute also made a small initial investment
in the company in 2001.