LG Chem CEO Denise Gray Looks at the Future of Lithium-Ion

Lithium-ion chemistries haven't hit full maturity yet. Several generations of improvement are coming.

When the Chevy Bolt reaches full production in 2017, it is expected to offer an all-electric range of 238 miles, despite its relatively low cost when compared to previous generations of EVs. The key to achieving the combination of performance and cost is a nickel-rich, lithium-ion battery design from LG Chem Power Inc. In providing the battery, LG Chem was more than a supplier. It partnered with GM on the design of the battery cells, pack, cooling, and powertrain of the car.

Denise Gray, LG Chem, EV, electric vehicles, Chevy Bolt, battery
                        Denise Gray

To learn more about how battery technologies like LG Chem’s will affect the future of the auto industry, Design News talked with Denise Gray, CEO and president of LG Chem Power Inc. Gray is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an engineer who previously served in the design of electro-mechanical systems, powertrain software and transmission controls with General Motors. Here, she offers her view on the future of lithium-ion battery technology.

Design News : GM’s Bolt is reportedly getting 238 miles of range per charge. What’s that mean for the future of lithium-ion batteries? Will they keep getting better, or is it time to start looking at new chemistries?

Gray: When GM introduced the (Chevy) Volt a few years ago, people asked if lithium-ion was even ready, because most of the technology was nickel metal-hydride. And the answer was a resounding yes. We’re now in the second generation of lithium, and the question is whether there will be a third generation.

I still think there is room for optimization -- optimization of the cell itself, the chemistry, and the secret sauce inside. Also, the whole powertrain, the whole vehicle needs to be optimized for increased performance.

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DN: A few years ago, some experts were saying that we need to move to lithium-air or lithium-sulfur chemistries to get to the next level. Is that still the case? Or is the performance of lithium-ion pushing those technologies farther out on to the horizon?

Gray: I don’t think anyone has moved completely away from those technologies. The reason people are looking at lithium-air and lithium-sulfur is they offer a level of energy density that’s favorable. But putting them together in a package has been an issue. The problem is, how do you put the right combination of materials together -- the anode materials, the cathode materials, the electrolytes, and additives? It’s something we won’t see in the next five years. Fifteen years? Twenty years? Maybe.

DN: GM has said it expects cell costs to be $145/kWh by 2017. That’s a surprising number. Can cell cost drop even lower in the next few years?

Gray: Price depends on performance -- whether you want power or energy. I can’t agree or disagree with

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