Still, A123's downfall isn't deterring another small company from staying in the race. Envia Systems, based in Newark, California, funded by the DOE and GM, makes electrodes from a mixture of nickel, cobalt and manganese developed by Khalil Amine and other materials scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. The material packs a record-setting energy density, the company claims — potentially allowing the batteries to be smaller, and thus cheaper, than those based on other lithium-ion technologies.
“Our guess is that by 2015, the first cars with our technology should be coming out,” says Atul Kapadia, Envia's chief executive.
Johnson Controls (JCI), based in Glendale, Wisconsin, has made an offer to purchase A123's assets, including the Michigan factories. JCI, which makes products for automobiles and buildings, has received about $5.5 million from the USABC to develop lithium-ion batteries. But the company isn't saying whether it will stick with A123's approach or try another technology.
Ultimately, the fate of US battery makers will remain tied to that of the electric car itself. And for now, no battery technology can compete cost-wise with the internal combustion engine.
“The outlook in the near future for electric cars does not look that promising,” says Daniel Scherson, an electrochemist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. “They are still just too expensive.”