Makers of LiFePO₄ batteries are aiming R&D and production at models that can suit various applications and meet environment guidelines.
China suppliers are developing LiFePO₄ batteries with improved precision and consistency to meet a growing application base and spur the young line further. The product is increasingly used in notebook PCs, consumer electronics, hybrid cars and electric bicycles, thanks to its long life span and high charge and discharge rates.
LiFePO₄ types are likewise preferred in lithium power batteries as they can last seven to eight years compared with sealed lead acid kinds, which work for only 1.5 years. Under standard charging conditions, the former has 2,000 service cycles as opposed to more than double sealed lead’s 300.
Because they use less hazardous materials, LiFePO₄ variants are safer to use than LiCoO₂ and LiMn₂O₄. The last two have a greater chance of exploding in a strong collision. In addition, the first type can operate in very high temperature, reaching 350 to 500 C as opposed to just 200 C for LiCoO₂ and LiMn₂O₄.
Increased capacity, no-memory effect and “green” attributes are the other factors that help broaden the chemistry’s market base.
To yield high-precision models, makers carry out advanced production methods. Enterprises, for instance, add organic carbon source and united doped high metal ion to boost conductivity. Doing this increased the latter by seven orders of magnitude, putting the category on a par with LiCoO₂.
Manufacturers are upgrading the electrolyte system, anode formula and cell structure design to improve operation in low temperatures. They also ensure that releases comply with green standards. Zhejiang GBS Energy Co. Ltd has patented an eco-friendly solvent binder in place of PVDF. It has also developed a scalable battery cell configuration and models with single-cell capacity ranging from 20 to 400Ah.
China suppliers, however, are still working on accelerating lithium ion diffusion. Some companies have started to nanometerize the LiFePO₄ particle. The technique reduces the diffusion distance of Li-ion in grain. Nevertheless, only a few have so far pursued the technology.
Enterprises likewise aim to raise tap density from the current 0.8 to 1.3, which has hindered LiFePO₄ application in mobile phone batteries. Another reason for the slow penetration in miniature devices is the larger size compared with LiCoO₂ and LiMn₂O₄ of the same capacity.
As for cells and packs, makers implement strict regulations in acquiring raw materials and conducting production to ensure better consistency. Suppliers control the temperature, humidity and working environment, and automate processes to reduce defects.
China’s manufacture pool consists of more than 200 operations, 30 of which engage in commercial production. The key hubs are Guangdong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Anhui and Hubei provinces, and Tianjin and Shanghai. These areas capitalize on their consumer electronics, EV and IT industries to grow LiFePO₄ batteries and packs. The majority of enterprises accept OEM and ODM orders.
The country turned out 100 million LiFePO₄ single cells in 2010, most of which were made into lithium power battery packs. About 50 percent of output was exported.
Overall, China’s LiFePO₄ industry is divided into anode materials, and cell and pack manufacture. For the first, makers are strengthening R&D. For cells, the production costs remain higher than LiCoO₂ and LiMn₂O₄, although the outlay will drop in the next three years on the back of a mature technology. Despite elevated expenditure, some enterprises remain keen to boost output. Hipower New Energy Group Co. Ltd plans to raise output and export volume in coming years. The supplier provides hybrid batteries to carmakers in North America and Germany. Hipower has also undertaken OEM projects with BestBuy of the US.
In both cell and pack lines, China continues to trail Japan, but manufacturers are gearing up to boost competitiveness.
The popular cell variants are the 18650 and 26650. The former has a diameter of 18mm and a height of 65mm, while the 26650 version measures 26 and 65mm. The two have a nominal voltage of 3.2V and an impedance of less than 50ohm.
Based on capacity, there are 1,100 and 1,400mAh for 18650 single cells. They have a maximum discharge rate of 15 and 2C, and a weight of 37 and 39g, respectively.
Manufacturers also offer 26650 cylindrical cells with a capacity of 2,500 and 3,000mAh. They weigh 76 and 78g and have maximum discharge rates of 15 and 2C. The variant is commonly used in electric vehicles, backup power supplies, power tools, laptops and consumer electronics.
As for LiFePO₄ packs, mainstream models feature a nominal voltage of 12 to 48V, or even higher. They deliver 3.5, 10, 12, 20, 24, 150 or greater than 200Ah, and can come in metal or plastic housings.
Targeted at communication equipment, street lamps and EVs, the packs boast 95 percent efficiency, more than 2,000 cycles life span and up to 60 C operating temperature.
Anode materials are the key component in manufacturing LiFePO₄ batteries, taking up more than 40 percent of outlay. There were about 100 makers of the input in 2010, with 20 of them having a combined annual capacity exceeding 15,000 tons. The key providers are local enterprise Tianjin STL Energy and foreign vendors Valence and A123.
The cost of the material has remained stable, thanks to abundant supply.
At present, China makers are level with their foreign counterparts in terms of anode material research. Although patent disputes are uncommon, enterprises are finding ways to avoid potential risks.
Cathode, which is typically graphite and solid carbon, accounts for 5 to 15 percent of total expenditure. Manufacturers source the component locally.
Separators and electrodes are also used in production. The first is usually acquired from overseas companies because of limited domestic supply.
LiFePO₄ battery prices are forecast to decrease further in coming years as material costs continue to stabilize. This will be supported by an increase in yield of components as upstream providers begin mass production in preparation for a 30 percent increase in demand.
Some manufacturers forecast LiFePO₄ battery quotes will slide to $551.5/kWh by 2015. The drop will broaden the application base to industrial, commercial and alternative energy. With this, Toptech Battery (HK) Ltd expects sales to rise by 30 percent this year.
Prevailing trends for environment and energy conservation are driving Hong Kong makers to gear LiFePO₄ battery production toward eco-friendly and high-density models. Suppliers forecast steady growth in coming months as lithium types continue to find wider adoption in the automotive and wind and solar power markets. To meet rising demand, many are building new plants and expanding manufacturing lines.
To cater to requirements in the automotive sector, companies improve energy density per weight and volume to roll out lighter, slimmer and higher-capacity units that can suit various applications. Some provide batteries for vehicles in electric car races to establish product reliability.
Suppliers likewise engage in company acquisitions to earn licenses for key patents in lithium battery manufacture and foster technological exchange with learning institutions.
As a means to ensure efficiency, a number of enterprises, including EEMB Co. Ltd, produce components in-house. This strategy allows them to control quality and reduce costs.
The maker, which was established in 1995, churns out batteries for electric vehicles, emergency lamps, UPS and medical equipment.
Hong Kong has a relatively small manufacture pool for LiFePO₄ batteries consisting of about 10 suppliers. This is due to a lack of design and production experience on the part of most lithium battery specialists for this segment.
Thunder Sky Battery International Sales Ltd offers Li-ion batteries for solar and wind power generators, mobile communication base stations and other applications. It has also developed high-capacity LiFeYPO₄ types with a self-discharge rate of less than 3 percent per month.
LiFePO₄ power batteries, battery packs and materials constitute the selection of Heter Electronics Group. Its products target mainly light to heavy EVs, energy storage systems, UPS, medical instruments and communication base stations. The company also offers LiFe primary batteries and ultracapacitors.
Suppliers of LiFePO₄ batteries in Taiwan are exploring ways to boost the industry. The line is in the development phase because most enterprises, usually those belonging to a larger corporation, regard it as a secondary business.
Although LiFePO₄ batteries are three times more expensive than lead-acid kinds, the former is gaining popularity because of their environment-friendly features. Such types use safer cathode materials, rendering them less likely to explode. They also boast faster charging periods and last five times longer than lead-acid counterparts.
Recognizing the automotive sector as a major growth booster, Taiwan suppliers are cooperating with carmakers in mainland China to establish market presence. Lanyang Energy Technology Co. Ltd Lyno Power, for instance, has an associate operation in Dongguan, Guangdong province.
The island’s manufacturing base constitutes 10 companies, including key players Lanyang Energy, Lifetech Energy Inc., Phoenix Silicon International Corp. and Pihsiang Energy. Others are engaged in pilot projects and therefore do not generate revenue.
Pihsiang Energy, which is under Pihsiang Machinery, and Lifetech Energy, a subsidiary of the Panjit Group, are among the suppliers that have invested in LiFePO₄ technology. They are optimistic of the category’s potential, given its application in electric vehicles, energy storage equipment, and solar and wind power systems.
To avoid copyright issues, Taiwan manufacturers source materials from foreign providers and concentrate on battery cell and pack production. US-based companies A123 and Valence own patents for LiFePO₄ technology.
Dongguan Victory Battery Technology Co. Ltd
Model: VB-LiFePO₄-Single Cell
EEMB Co. Ltd
Heter Electronics Group
Model: LiFePO₄ Batteries
Model: CAN Pack Series
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