Ford has set up a new battery facility with the University of Michigan that it says will facilitate collaboration with battery cell manufacturers, suppliers, university researchers and start-ups to “test new battery concepts on a small scale that could be replicated for full production”.

Ford is the only automaker to invest in the new battery lab facility. Ford hopes the new facility will help Ford develop batteries that are smaller, lighter and less expensive to produce. 

The lab is a battery manufacturing facility designed to support pilot projects that will typically involve the manufacture of test batteries that replicate the performance of full-scale production batteries, allowing for faster implementation in future production vehicles.

“We have battery labs that test and validate production-ready batteries, but that is too late in the development process for us to get our first look,” said Ted Miller, who manages battery research for Ford. “This lab will give us a stepping-stone between the research lab and the production environment, and a chance to have input much earlier in the development process. This is sorely needed, and no one else in the auto industry has anything like it.”

The lab is the result of collaboration between Ford, battery suppliers, the University of Michigan, and the state and federal governments, and it holds the potential for major advancements in extending battery life and durability, Ford claims. 

Ford is the only automaker to invest in the facility and has contributed $2.1 million. Other investors include the University of Michigan, Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the US Department of Energy.

“It is way too early in the battery race to commit to one type of battery chemistry,” said Miller. “In the span of 15 years, the industry has gone from lead-acid to nickel-metal-hydride to the lithium-ion batteries used in Ford C-MAX and Ford Fusion hybrids on the road today. Others in the auto industry have placed their bets, but we are convinced a better solution will require input from a multitude of partners.”

Miller said locating the lab on a university campus will be a draw for battery suppliers to work on complex problems in a common environment. “We need to work on these problems together in a neutral lab setting,” he said. “This way, we all win. I think you are going to see a lot of companies in the battery supply chain come to Michigan to use this facility, in very short order.

“This is important for the state of Michigan, too,” Miller added. “Previous investments have been focused on battery production, and now our state becomes a research core for batteries. The University of Michigan benefits, because the best and brightest from car companies, suppliers and academia will come here. In turn, that will attract the best students. We need to nurture the next generation of battery scientists, and it helps Ford that the campus is less than 40 miles from Dearborn.”