New battery lab developed by Ford and UM will speed up development of electric vehicles

Automaker Ford and the University of Michigan cement their 60-year history of collaboration by creating a new kind of battery laboratory that promises to speed up the development of electrified vehicles.

The $8 million battery lab that opened on Monday at the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus, just 40 miles from the global car company’s base, will help Ford produce lighter and cheaper batteries.

Ford is not the only investor. The automaker contributed $2.1 million to the facility: other investors include the University of Michigan, Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the US Department of Energy.

In a media statement, the automaker says the new facility will help it build on 20 years of battery research and test new battery chemistries, while reducing the risk and cost to suppliers:

“[The] world-class facility at the University of Michigan allows Ford to collaborate with battery cell manufacturers, suppliers, university researchers and startups to test new battery concepts on a small scale that could be replicated for full production.”

The lab aims to speed up development of battery-powered vehicles that are cheaper and more efficient than current models, and can go farther on a single charge.

The collaborators expect to mount pilot projects that make test batteries that have the performance of full-scale production batteries, as Ted Miller, head of Ford’s battery research explains:

“We have battery labs that test and validate production-ready batteries, but that is too late in the development process for us to get our first look. This lab will give us a stepping-stone between the research lab and the production environment, and a chance to have input much earlier in the development process. This is sorely needed, and no one else in the auto industry has anything like it.”

Although research on batteries for electrified vehicles has been going on for at least two decades, it is still early days and much more research is needed, says Miller, explaining that there is still a need to explore new chemistries, and assess them in a credible cell format. This means testing small-scale battery cells in place of full-scale production batteries without compromising the results.

“It is way too early in the battery race to commit to one type of battery chemistry,î he adds.

By placing the lab on a university campus the collaborators hope it will help bring battery suppliers together on neutral ground to work on complex problems.

Miller says he expects a lot of companies in the battery supply chain will congregate in Michigan to use the lab.

By investing in a research center as opposed to a production center, the University benefits because it will attract the brightest and the best minds from car companies, suppliers and academia.

“In turn, that will attract the best students,” says Miller.