Saturday, January 6, 2007

Will The Real A123 Genius Please Stand Up?

I'm old, I am flat out OLD, remember shows that are long ago past into the ethers of days gone by when you were fortunate to have a black and white TV? There was a show, think it was called, "What's My Line" where a panel of four would try to guess the occupation of the guest. When you start digging into the electric car industry, and the batteries that would, could or should make them go, A123 is the clear LEADER OF THE PACK, the odds on favorite to power the finally blooming electric car industry. Especially after General Motors announced an ALLIANCE between Cobasys , the nickel-metal hydride battery company owned by Chevron, and A123 Systems, the lithium-ion battery company under license by MIT, to produce power packs for a new GM plug-in hybrid Saturn.

I'm sure the electric vehicle industry, and electric car enthusiasts the world over would be, should be leaping and bounding over this news...unless those same people know the dirty little secret hidden between the lines. Back to that old television show, "What's My Line" and the guessing game...who REALLY INVENTED the A123, and is the A123 in this deal truly the best state of the art choice for GM's plug-in hybrid Saturn?

History is important, tends to tell the full story, gives us answers we would not have without it, allows us to draw different conclusions, even question the honor and motives of individuals, universities, even our own governmental agency that often times work hand in hand with universities like MIT (DOE).

Cobasys at one time was Chevron Ovonics, and before that was Texaco Ovonics, and still again before that GM Ovonics...did you follow all that? For those who have followed the epic adventure that is the electric car, you know that Cobasys successfully sued and won their lawsuit against Panasonic, referred to in the EV industry as the Cobasys Ruling...God, did you just hear a shoe drop?

Panasonic was providing Nickel-Metal Hydride power packs for Toyota hybrids, so the Cobasys Ruling in effect successfully restricted Toyota from using what had become the best Nickel-Metal Hydride power pack in the industry, the Panasonic power pack, thus forcing Toyota to obtain lesser quality power packs from China.

Now, A123 Systems obtained its Lithium-Ion chemistry from MIT, and this blogger has heard it through the Grape Vine (loved that song), that the chemistry used by A123 Systems was in fact developed by Dr. Donald Sadoway, currently the head of the MIT battery department. The whispers in the wind have it that said chemistry was removed from Dr. Donald Sadoway's lab by an assistant who then went, on his own, to form A123 Systems to produce the technology. MIT quietly and SUCCESSFULLY sued A123 Systems for licensing infringement, and the case vanished with a secret OUT OF COURT SETTLEMENT.

Now, this would be a very dry old tale, and not near as interesting as it is except for the timing of another news story, and the two key players in this story. You see, Dr. Donald Sadoway, the person responsible for the chemistry behind the A123 in this huge MEGA DEAL just last week was quoted in Forbes Magazine saying that his lab has "solid-state" Lithium Ion chemistry with DOUBLE THE DENSITY. The A123 Systems chemistry remains liquid-based. This reveals one would think, that the protocol used by A123 Systems is outdated chemistry, an interim step Dr. Sadoway never intended for production. His technology was not ripe yet. Dr. Sadoway's chemistry, which was presented at Yale last year, at an event co-sponsored by the Connecticut Technology Council and Electrifying Times magazine, is much more advanced than the chemistry currently in production by A123 Systems.

The solid-state chemistry developed by Dr. Sadoway would double the range of electric cars, making the interim step of hybrids, or even plug in hybrids unnecessary. Now ask yourselves, why would Cobasys, who has over the years, done everything it could to slow down, if not prevent the penetration of hybrids into the automotive market want to partner with A123 Systems, other than to make certain that the next generation Lithium-Ion battery chemistry doesn't have a chance to see the light of mass production? Surely it would make more sense to have Dr. Sadoway's technology in GM's plug-in Hybrid Saturn?

To quote electric vehicle drag racer extraodinaire John Wayland, in a recent issue of MAKE magazine, "Hybrids are training wheels for the masses!", meaning there would be no need for continued investment in hybrids or plug-in hybrids if batteries efficient enough to provide adequate range became commercially available.

This very reality is the promise the head of the MIT battery department, Dr. Donald Sadoway is making. If Dr. Sadoway could find investors to develop his technology, and not a half step stolen from his lab by A123 Systems, we could have affordable 100% pure electric cars NOW, rather than 10, 20 or even 30 years from now. Conveniently, a time just far out enough into the future to give the nuclear industry (NuStart) a chance to position themselves as the great Birth Mother who gave us the new Hydrogen Economy, the savior who finally made the electric car a workable reality.

Let's think about this. Why else would Cobasys go into business with A123 Systems if it wasn't to keep Dr. Sadoway's completely solid-state protocol from entering the mainstream? Why invest millions, if not billions into an already antiquated chemistry? Why not find the best possible battery chemistry in the world and fund THAT TECHNOLOGY? If Global Warming is such a concern, if the automobile industry is in great part to blame for greenhouse gases, then wouldn't it make commercial and environmental sense for both civilian and military industries to seek the state-of-the-art in battery chemistry and rush THAT chemistry into production, rather than continuing to invest in companies that provide old, even antiquated technology?

This question should be put to the folks at the MIT licensing office, perhaps in time that the details of that secret out of court settlement be known to the EV World. Why isn't Dr. Sadoway's best work being put into mass production, rather than his partial battery chemistry technology that was stolen from his lab before he'd had the time to fine tune his invention, to complete the process? A second tier A123 battery will only perpetuate the hold that the Utilities, the oil companies and the automobile industry have on us. Perhaps in this sad reality is a part of the answer, government, MIT and big business dictating the release of technology not for societal good, but based on bottom line business decisions based on profit driven formulas.

Imagine a Tesla Motors automobile with a range of 600 miles, and swap out batteries...such a system would make the need for the internal combustion engine obsolete, a has been relegated to the trash heap of history. Anyone seriously concerned about Global Warming should be asking the right questions, demanding answers from MIT. It is time to free up Dr. Sadoway's complete technology from the clutches of MIT's licensing's the right thing to do, and it is the GREEN THING TO DO.

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1 comment:

JoeGreenCar said...


I'm writing to thank you for being somewhat of an inpiration to me for my own blog

I think that the world needs more people who don't back down.