Ricardo Inc. Opens a $2 Million Battery systems development center in Van Buren Township, MI, a facility the engineering firm considers state-of-the-art for the burgeoning research field.
“We think the linchpin to electric vehicles and hybrids is batteries, and that's what this lab is all about,” says Ricardo President Dean Harlow.
The 2,650-sq.-ft. (246-sq.-m) center will provide Ricardo customers with the industry's most comprehensive and integrated range of capabilities for developing high-voltage batteries and battery-pack systems for hybrid, plug-in electric hybrid and fully electric vehicles, Harlow says.
The development center also represents one of the many foundational businesses government officials have been calling for through lucrative incentives to push the U.S. to the forefront of advanced-battery research and manufacturing.
A 10-year, $991,000 tax credit from the state of Michigan, as well as an 8-year tax abatement worth $74,200 from local government, helps finance the center.
It opened in January after Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed legislation providing $335 million in tax credits over five years to companies locating battery research and manufacturing in the state.
Washington included $2 billion worth of grant money for advanced battery development in the economic stimulus package that passed Congress, which President Obama considers a “down payment” toward his goal of putting 1 million electric cars on U.S. roads by 2015.
Harlow says Ricardo, which in the last year has placed a significant emphasis on winning business related to advanced propulsion and alternative-fuels technologies, will pursue additional government money to strengthen its position.
Ricardo's newly opened battery facility will service cell suppliers, pack integrators, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. It can accommodate testing and development for nickel-metal hydride, lithium-ion and ultra-capacitor battery technologies.
Customer industries could include the automotive, agricultural and military and commercial on- and off-road segments. During a media tour of the facility, employees stand guard in certain areas to protect top-secret military work.
Ricardo claims only the facility's level of safety can match the comprehensiveness of its capabilities. Built like high-tech bunkers, the center houses three 12-ft. by 12-ft. (3.7-m × 3.7-m) temperature-controlled Li-ion development chambers.
Karina Morley, Ricardo vice president-controls and electronics, says the dedicated chambers allow engineers to work on battery systems without “doghouses,” or small housings many of its competitors place over the packs for safety.
Advanced safety items within the chambers include infrared flame detectors, carbon-dioxide deflamer systems, floor-mounted water sensors and rapid-exhaust systems. A software package manages the safety systems and can shut down a room quickly, if necessary.
Morley estimates the fast-growing battery industry, backed by venture capital, includes at least 50 cell developers. “So there are a lot of uncertified cells and packs out there,” she says.
Although officials stress the facility is about developing batteries, rather than just testing them, the star of the show is an AeroVironment Inc. AV900 cycler. The 3,500-lb. (1,600-kg) heavy-duty tester offers power up to 250 Kw, allowing it to prove a range of hybrid systems from automobiles to military vehicles.
Ricardo combines the cycler with a virtual vehicle-development system to simulate vehicle integration in a controlled and less costly environment, compared with hardware.
The center's virtual vehicle-development system is one of the few available in the battery development field in the U.S., the company says.
A hybrid transmission in the facility's dynamometer cell allows customers to hook up their batteries for testing under more realistic conditions.
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