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 one.
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.