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Conti’s lithium-ion cell to power Mercedes hybrid

Mercedes-Benz will launch an S-Class hybrid next year equipped with a lithium-ion battery supplied by Continental AG in what Mercedes owner Daimler said on Friday was a crucial technological breakthrough.

Carmakers have been competing fiercely to be the first to market with a gasoline-electric hybrid powered by a lithium-ion battery, which can store more energy in less space but has been a safety concern after recalls involving overheating laptops that burst into flames. “The Stuttgart-based automaker is the world’s first manufacturer to have succeeded in adapting lithium-ion technology to the demanding requirements of automotive applications,” it said in a statement. Daimler AG said the main advantages of the newly developed lithium-ion battery were its very compact dimensions and far superior performance relative to conventional nickel-metal hybrid batteries, such as those powering the Toyota Prius.

Conti also supplies an inverter to control the flow of energy between the electric motor and the hybrid battery as well as a voltage converter that links the hybrid battery to the car’s standard electric system, eliminating the need for a conventional generator. “This marks an important breakthrough for Continental as supplier of battery systems. In the next few years we will be launching production of further lithium-ion energy storage devices for mild and full-hybrid and electric-powered vehicles,” its executive Karl-Thomas Neumann said in a separate statement. A mild hybrid is a car that has an electric motor, but always requires a combustion engine to work with the electric motor for the car to move.

Diesel hybrid a year later
The S 400 BlueHYBRID is powered by a 299 horsepower engine that enables it to sprint from 0 to 100 km per hour in 7.3 seconds. It would consume on average 7.9 liters of gasoline per 100 km and emit 190 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, compared with 10.3 liters of gasoline and 247 grams of CO2 in a comparable conventional S-Class. Daimler said this would make it “the world’s most economical luxury sedan -- unrivaled by any gasoline, diesel, or hybrid drive system offered by any competitor.” The power-to-weight ratio of the battery is 1,900 watts per liter. It has a high ampere-hour efficiency, long service life, and is reliable even at very low temperatures, the company said, adding its safety is the equal of that provided by today’s auto batteries.

A spokesman for the company said the vehicle, which has not yet been priced, could possibly hit the market in the middle of next year. Mercedes will launch a diesel hybrid using the same technology in 2010 that consumes on average 5.4 liters of fuel and emits 142 grams of CO2 per kilometer. “Even more potential is offered by the combination of clean BlueTec diesel technology with a hybrid module, a duo that is featured in the S 300 BlueTec HYBRID, for example,” it said.

Continental volt
California-based Tesla Motors has said it plans to build this year as many as 600 fully electric Roadsters. The sports car can drive, on average, about 220 miles on one charge of its lithium-ion battery and has a base price of $98,000. The company has said annual production is unlikely to surpass 2,000 units due to limited demand. Should Mercedes be the first to go into large scale production of lithium-ion hybrids, Continental could gain an important edge over Korean battery maker LG Chem in the race to supply General Motors with battery packs for its Chevrolet Volt electric car due to come toward the end of 2010. “Whoever gets it done first at this point has the best chance to get the contract," said industry analyst Stephanie Brinley from AutoPacific. The battery pack Continental is developing for the Volt strings together cells that generate power using a nanophosphate chemistry while LG Chem will employ one based on manganese, both of which claim to be more chemically stable than the cobalt oxide lithium-ion batteries often used in consumer electronics.

A spokesman for GM said the Mercedes S-Class hybrid demonstrated Continental’s cutting-edge technology but declined to say whether it gives it a leg-up on LG Chem’s competing battery pack. “We have tested both and are encouraged by both.” (Reuters)