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Car batteries: R&D accelerates with government support

State initiatives to encourage domestic adoption of HEVs and AEVs are fueling the creation of more efficient power sources.

The development of traction or electric vehicle batteries is on a fast track, driven mainly by strong domestic demand. Currently, about 60 percent of output in the line is sold within China.

Car battery
  The CBP1230 model from CENS is a 24V 100Ah battery with an LiFePO4 formulation.
Consumption is fueled by state support for the adoption of clean energy technologies, which is being implemented under efforts to reduce carbon emission. Among the incentives provided by the central government are tax rebates equivalent to nearly $9,000 for the purchase of an all-electric vehicle and $7,000 for a hybrid. In 13 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, a subsidy of more than $8,000 is given to taxi fleets and local agencies buying electric cars or buses.

Further, infrastructure to support usage of AEVs and HEVs is being put in place. Charging stations, for instance, have been constructed in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing. These are expected in Jiangsu, Henan and Anhui provinces within the next two years.

In November 2009, the US and China announced the Electric Vehicles Initiative, which includes the development of common design standards and test protocols. It also involves joint demonstration programs, technical roadmapping and public education projects.

With such measures expected to increase uptake of AEVs and HEVs, battery makers are expanding selections to include models for more vehicle types. Of these, companies that used to target primarily e-bike applications are now developing variants for other powered two-wheelers, passenger cars and buses.

For these new products, as well as existing lines, greater efficiency is a priority. In line with this objective, suppliers of lead-acid batteries, which account for 80 percent of output, are releasing more gel models.

Priced 20 percent higher, such designs have a service life that is 50 percent longer than absorbed glass mat or AGM types. They also have slow discharge rates and high ambient operating temperatures.

Li-ion batteries, specifically those with LiFePO4 chemistry, are also gaining ground. Considered more environment-friendly than lead-acid variants, these have higher energy densities, which means they can be made in smaller, lighter sizes and still provide the same capacity. Further, they can be fully charged in as short as one hour to support a running distance at least 50 percent longer.

Product development, however, remains limited to large and a few midsize suppliers due to high manufacturing outlay. In electric bikes, an Li-ion pack can account for two-thirds of the unit cost, while lead-acid versions constitute only one-third.

Even so, a number of companies expect Li-ion types to be mainstream in coming years. Chaowei Power Co. Ltd is among those expanding their selections of the line. In cooperation with Xiamen University, the maker is developing a series for release in one or two years.

Products & prices
Industry overview
Products & prices

Models for ATVs, bicycles, scooters and motorcycles account for the majority of traction batteries exported from China. Overseas-bound units are typically certified compliant with CE, UL and RoHS.

Lead-acid variants range from 6 to 25V, while those with Li-ion chemistries are between 12.8 and 25.6V. As regards their capacity, the former can deliver 12 to 180Ah, while lithium-based types are capable of 20 to 100Ah.

Unsealed lead-acid batteries for electric bikes can be found below $20. When fully charged, these can provide power for less than 20km.

Prices of AGM and gel sealed lead-acid batteries start at $20. The selection includes models for a wider range of vehicles, including scooters, motorcycles and golf cars. Running distance per charge is between 20 and 80km.

Li-ion batteries, which can support passenger cars and buses, are more than $60 each. A full one enables the vehicle to cover at least 80km.

Industry overview

Mainland China hosts more than 1,000 manufacturers of traction batteries. Local, privately owned companies make up 90 percent of the supplier base and the rest consists of Taiwan- and Hong Kong-invested ventures.

Large and midsize businesses dominate the industry. The former accounts for 10 percent, while medium-scale entities constitute half.

Large enterprises generate an annual revenue of $50 million. With over 1,000 workers and 20,000sqm of production area, these carry out 80 to 100 percent of manufacturing processes in-house. QC is conducted by a group of at least 50 personnel.

The sector is the one most active in R&D, with each company maintaining a department of 50 or more specialists. Collaborations with academic and research institutions are also common.

At midsize operations, annual sales reach $5 million or more. These enterprises have 200 to 1,000 employees, including at least 10 in R&D and another 10 in QC.

This article "Car batteries: R&D accelerates with government support" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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