That said, A123's new batteries may first find use in automobiles not in all-electric cars but in micro-hybrids, which automatically shut down at a red light and start up again when the light turns green to save fuel, powered by batteries recharged by braking. Current lead–acid batteries can do the job, but would need to be replaced every few years whereas A123's new lithium ion batteries might last as long as the car. A123's batteries are slightly more expensive (roughly $250 more per battery), but also half as heavy and 30 percent smaller. According to Borgasano, an unnamed German automaker has already committed to using the batteries in a forthcoming micro-hybrid, to be manufactured in 2013, and A123 Systems also hopes to compete as a starter battery for traditional automobiles.
Cars are not the only application, however. The 20 ampere-hour cells soon to be churned out of A123's Michigan manufacturing facilities may provide battery backup power for the electric grid or run cell phone towers, on account of their long-life, small size and lack of a need for active cooling systems. The company plans to begin selling the cells in 2013.
First the firm will have to survive, as its financial reports reveal a company spending its cash reserves and reporting large losses, in part due to woes at the electric carmaker Fisker, which employs A123 technology. Those woes have been compounded by the fact that A123 had to recall defective cells used in the Fisker Karma and manufactured in its Livonia, Mich., facility. "The proof is in the pudding," Chamberlain says. "I hope this is real and I hope they start selling cells in the spring."