NOVI, MI – Our Next Energy says its new Aries II lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery packs, built with materials from a North American supply base, are moving closer in range and mass to the benchmark nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) batteries widely used in the auto industry’s existing crop of battery-electric vehicles.
Mujeeb Ijaz, the former Ford researcher who founded Our Next Energy (ONE) in 2020, says LFP batteries developed by the Michigan-based start-up also are safer than NCM batteries because they don’t catch fire. Li-ion battery fires and range depletion are two significant barriers to wider BEV adoption.
If BEVs powered by NCM batteries approached the 20% penetration rate predicted by some analysts, Ijaz says, “You would see car fires on the news every day.” A constant flow of news about battery fires would undermine public confidence in BEVs, he tells reporters during a press conference at the company’s headquarters outside Detroit.
Once a BEV with an NCM battery does catch fire, it can spread to adjacent vehicles very quickly, which is why the recent fire on a freighter carrying BEVs was so difficult to contain when it caught fire in the North Sea off the Netherlands coast.
Ijaz says LFP is a safer chemistry because it avoids “self-oxidation” when a cell is crushed or shorted, while NCM batteries are far more prone to thermal runaway.
“LFP batteries have many advantages over NCM batteries, including cost and durability, while using safer and more abundant materials,” Ijaz says. However, up until now key shortcomings have been range and energy density, or the amount of power that can be stored in cells, he says.
NCM batteries have been viewed as the best path forward to providing consumers with long-range electric vehicles. NCM chemistry also has some powerful advocates, notably Tesla, the world’s leading maker of BEVs.
However, by engineering a battery pack with energy density similar to that of NCM, ONE has made LFP a sustainable alternative, Ijaz (pictured, below left) says.
Reaching near-“energy-density parity” with NCM is a significant milestone for ONE, which expects to open a pilot plant in Romulus, MI, capable of building its LFP batteries by the end of 2023. Automotive companies such as Ford are adding LFP batteries to the powertrain mix of their BEV products, and ONE also has a long-range development project with BMW as well as with several Class 8 truck makers.
Since the company was founded, ONE has worked on closing the energy-density gap with NCM. The effort not only has closed the gap but also has shown a 20%-30% energy density advantage over rival LFP battery systems, says Ijaz. LFP batteries ultimately are more durable, he adds, because they do not degrade over time like NCM batteries do through repeated cycles of depletion and recharging.
NCM batteries will degrade if they are constantly recharged to 100%, whereas with an LFP battery it doesn’t matter, Ijaz says: “It’s like your cell phone; you can plug it in every night.”
ONE engineers also have made progress in lightweighting the overall pack design. By employing more abundant and lower-cost raw materials in the cell, the start-up was able to use more-advanced materials at the pack level, reducing overall weight. The combination of lightweighting and increased energy density allows the Aries II battery to provide more than 350 miles (564 km) of range for a typical passenger BEV.
“When the team took on the challenge of achieving energy parity with NCM batteries, we looked at everything from improving cell chemistry to redesigning the inside of the pack,” says Chris Hughes, chief battery engineer at ONE. “Ultimately, it was the durability and safety of LFP that led to our novel pack and cell design that boosted Aries II’s energy density.”
The market for battery-driven trucks, both long haul and short haul, is developing very quickly, Ijaz notes. ONE’s strategy calls for first selling batteries to the makers of big trucks, then working on storage batteries to supplement the electric power grid before moving on to the passenger-vehicle market.
The company’s first plant should be operational by the end of 2025, and ONE plans to announce the site of a second plant by the end of 2023.