The demise of A123 Systems

Posted by Robert Tang on 18 October 2012 | 1506 Comments

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A recent article on IEEE Spectrum published that A123 Systems, the group who develops and manufactures the lithium iron phosphate battery, has gone bunk. I did some further reading and it appears that there is quite a political debacle on this as A123 received a lot of (USA) tax-payer money to keep the green-energy initiative company afloat. But I would like to talk about the battery technology they developed instead. 

Like many remote controlled aeroplane enthusiasts, I switched from NiCad/NiMh to LiPo battery packs when they came on the market. And what a difference did they make! They had much higher energy density, and the higher end ones allowed similar peak discharge rates. I started using LiPo batteries in my robots too. But a problem with LiPo cells that I'm always afraid of is that they can catch on fire if you abuse them. Enter the LiFEPO4 cell (what A123 makes). 

The A123 battery is more chemically stable than a LiPo and it is more tolerant to abuse. For instance, it won't combust or puff up if you over-charge or over-discharge it. You are also more likely to be able to 'resuscitate' it after a deep discharge. All very useful features when you put a battery pack on your prized aeroplane/robot/whatever! I'm just hoping that the A123 going out of business isn't going to affect the supply of quality A123 cells or their pricing for that matter.

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