A New Power Duo: Ford & U-M Team Up to Test Electric Batteries

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30998987@N03/

As the major U.S. automakers continue to churn out electric, fuel-efficient vehicles, they recognize the need to develop cheaper power for their electric offerings so they can lower the cars’ price tags and make them more accessible to consumers. That’s what Ford Motors (NYSE:F) will specifically work toward at its $8 million lab that it announced the creation of Monday, and the facility will also serve to benefit other automakers, battery makers, and individual researchers with the same genre of goals.

According to The Detroit News, the University of Michigan will be responsible for the construction of the lab, and it will receive funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Ford, and the U-M College of Engineering. There, automakers and researchers will be able to test battery cells prior to their production — deviating from the current testing process of creating product-ready battery cells and then testing them — and will thus be able to save themselves time and money as they race to keep up with the ever evolving auto industry and its advance toward electric car technology.

Ted Miller, manager of Ford’s battery research explains, “We need to be able to test hundreds of chemistries and cell designs, but they have to be tests that can translate from the lab to the production line. Ford has battery labs that test and validate production-ready batteries, but nothing this far upstream.”

The lab is expected to open next fall at the U-M Energy Institute, and it will not only be available to to automakers, but also to any other firms interested in the electric battery industry which may wish to employ the lab’s battery prototyping and lab equipment to test battery life cycles and improve their design.

The new lab will especially be useful for Ford and other interested automakers though, because it will help them keep up with the current electric battery technology, and offer them ways to test new advances in their very own vehicles. Affordable electric cars are currently at the top of many automakers’ to-do lists because more and more consumers are expressing interest in the fuel-efficient vehicles, but are not as willing to pay the high price tag that usually accompanies them. That is where U.S. automakers, like Ford, lose profit, and where there is room for improvement.

Costs of the hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electrics still vary considerably depending on the power train and how many batteries are produced. But while they still fly high above those of traditional gas-powered vehicles, carmakers are slowly but surely developing technology that allows them to lower the cost of those new efficient batteries, and the next step is allowing the products’ price tags to follow suit.

According to The Detroit News, Ford will specifically test factors such as temperature and strain at the new U-M lab to see how they affect the longevity of performance of a battery cell, and the automaker will also be able to use the facility to simulate the condition of the batteries after 150,000+ driving miles.

Ford’s U.S. rival, General Motors (NYSE:GM), has also already worked to develop a $20 million Global Battery Systems Laboratory in Warren to test similar technologies, but both facilities employ different testing procedures, and it’ll be interesting to witness which Michigan labs’ testing facilitates the best results.

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