Craig Rigby

Craig Rigby

Johnson Controls' battery operation falls under the auspices of its Power Solutions business, serving both automotive OEMs and aftermarket. In this interview, Matthew Beecham spoke to Craig Rigby, Advanced Market and Technology Strategist, Johnson Controls Power Solutions about the company's technologies for stop-start applications, EVs and PHEVs.

In what ways do your lead-acid batteries for stop-start vehicles differ from conventional batteries?

Johnson Controls offers customers two battery technologies to enable start-stop functionality in vehicles - Enhanced Flooded Battery (EFB) and Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM). Both of these products provide significant performance improvement over conventional batteries with respect to performance robustness in cycling and charge acceptance.

EFBs provide twice the cycling performance and can be discharged more often without any loss of functionality. Johnson Controls manufactures more than one million EFBs every year in our European facilities located in Burgos, Spain and Hannover, Germany. We will expand our global footprint to make these products as this technology is adopted.

AGM batteries have four times (or more) the cycling durability of a conventional battery and efficiently manage high accessory loads such as heated seats and personal devices, as well as electronic systems such as brakes, steering and HVAC. A glass mat separator in the battery, in combination with a high degree of compression, consistently maintains the electrolyte around the positive plate to extend the battery's life and reduce the effects of vibration. We have the world's largest production facility for AGM batteries in Zwickau, Germany and also make them in Hanover; Toledo, Ohio and St. Joe, Missouri. Annually, Johnson Controls produces more than 8 million AGM batteries.

Could you explain a little more about how your battery management systems have developed and its unique features?

The Battery Management System (BMS) has two roles. First, the BMS monitors the function of the battery and communicates to the vehicle about the battery's ability to provide power and energy at any given time. Second, the BMS monitors the condition of the battery to anticipate and act on any vehicle conditions which have the potential to create a safety situation. At Johnson Controls, we have developed BMS technologies that provide these functions in a proven, reliable way. Specific features include monitoring of cell voltages and temperature; measurement of battery current; periodic balancing of cells to maintain battery life; and calculation of the key attributes required by the vehicle to function. Our strategy has been to create a BMS architecture that provides the flexibility and efficiency to be used cost effectively across multiple applications.

It appears that lithium-ion batteries are well suited to electric vehicles in respect of high energy content. What further advances could we expect with this technology for automotive applications?

Johnson Controls was first in the world to produce Lithium-ion batteries for mass production hybrid vehicles and we continue to serve global automakers with batteries and systems made in our Holland, Michigan facility. To enable sustainable growth for xEVs, we have formed global R&D partnerships with academic institutions and National Laboratories to overcome the key Li-Ion performance challenge, around cold temperature capability.

In terms of battery configuration, what conversations are you having?

There is a lot of variety in the market regarding format and configuration of Lithium-ion cells and systems. While there are trends emerging, the reality is that the choice of chemistry is largely dependent on the needs of the application. The application can drive the requirements toward a certain power or energy level, or even a specific operating voltage range. Different Lithium-ion chemistries will align better than others depending on these requirements. Flexibility is required to serve the full market.

If the cost of battery packs can be significantly reduced, where will the cost reduction come from?

We will only see a compelling value proposition for EVs and PHEVs when we see breakthroughs in not only the battery but also in other areas such as power electronics and electric motors.

That said, I would break down the cost reduction opportunities for the battery into two different categories. First, the cost associated with the basic component materials and manufacturing technologies needs to come down, both in terms of unit cost and equipment cost. Second, the cost of re-engineering large, high-voltage battery systems is prohibitive for large-scale adoption. Today, these systems are almost always unique to a specific vehicle or platform. The cost to adapt to new vehicles puts a tremendous burden on growing the market. As an industry, we need to look at how standardisation can be used to enable lower re-engineering and other fixed costs. Our approach is to leverage our very successful lead-acid battery model, whose foundation is built around standardisation and scale, and apply this in the low-voltage space (<60v), a very promising application segment.

I guess that once the price falls, the emphasis will be on delivering higher energy density which could lead to smaller batteries?

Greater energy density is definitely a primary goal, but not the only one. The charging rate of the battery is also a significant challenge to try to achieve "parity" with current vehicles which can be refueled in a matter of minutes.

Whichever way you look at it, EVs remain expensive and give motorists range anxiety with just 100 miles between charges. What needs to happen to EV batteries to improve this situation?

Adoption of EVs and PHEVs will increase in the long term. But at the moment, adoption is slow because the consumer economic equation and performance vis-à-vis a conventional vehicle, just doesn't work. If we assume that the general public's attitude toward EVs and PHEVs is neutral, there is no real financial benefit to owning one. Johnson Controls' primary research has highlighted that once consumers' basic needs of safety and comfort are met, the purchase decision is largely economic and heavily influenced by the purchase price. Consumers need to see the overall value proposition of EVs and PHEVs. Unless the total cost of ownership and supporting infrastructure is right, we won't see mass-market adoption.

We believe there are some electrification strategies that can help bridge that gap and provide reasonable economic trade-offs for consumers. Specifically, the use of smaller Lithium-ion batteries to capture power during deceleration and help manage energy in existing combustion engine vehicles will be coming to market in the next few years. Combining low voltage electrification with start-stop capabilities will be the lowest cost way for automakers to meet fuel and emission reduction regulations. It is also likely to be the most acceptable to the consumer because there is no major impact to the driving experience.

What do you think EV range could be by 2020?

I think we will continue to see the range of EV's increase but there will also continue to be a wide variety of performance. The range necessary for an EV will depend on the value proposition for that specific vehicle. Consumers looking for a dedicated commuter car will be less sensitive to the overall range and more sensitive to prices. On the other hand, consumers looking to replace a primary car with an EV will have to seriously consider the range and the time required to recharge during longer drives.

Could you tell us your predictions for the proportion of hybrid and EVs in Europe and North America by 2020?

Current industry forecasts predict hybrid and electric vehicle sales will remain low, around five percent of total new vehicles for the next several years. Forecast % of total OE units globally:

2015 xEV - 3M units, 3.3%

2020 xEV - 7M units, 6.5%

As we understand it, the Chinese government is making a strong push for full electrics. I guess that is putting pressure on the market to drive consumers to move to EVs. What's your view?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE Global light vehicle OE batteries market- forecasts to 2030