The Future of Batteries: Fayaz Ahmed's Interview with Paul Kageler
Fayaz Ahmed: First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and a little about your educational and professional background.
Paul Kageler: I grew up in Dallas, Texas and went off to Texas State University located in San Marcos, Texas. The hill country around San Marcos is beautiful, a great area to live in. I graduated with a BS in Chemistry and a minor in Mathematics. Upon graduating I took a job in Freeport, Texas with Dow Badische, a joint venture between BASF and Dow Chemical companies that quickly became wholly owned by BASF Chemicals.
Upon joining, it was the golden age of petrochemicals and an exciting place to work. I worked for a while as a Group Leader in the site applied process R&D group increasing plant capacity, improving yields, conserving energy, improving ensuring product quality, addressing safety & environmental concerns, etc. We worked in multifunctional teams with site manufacturing, engineering, ESH groups and had yearly international technology exchanges with colleagues rotating meeting locations between the plant sites in Germany, Belgian, and Texas.
Later I became the Manufacturing Representative for the new Polymin plant in Freeport. The Texas plant was based on the existing plant located in Ludwigshafen, Germany with many safety and environmental upgrades. The monomer was highly toxic, flammable, and reactive ethylene amine; so, lots of category II instrument interlocks were used as final protection against explosions, releases, fires, etc. The Polymin polymeric product was non-hazardous and used as a filtration and flocculating agent in the paper industry.
The project was my first exposure to extremely rigorous hardware & software technology that protected the workers, the local community, equipment, and the environment from potentially severe accidents in the hazardous industry.
The HAZOP study, design, commissioning, and start-up of the Polymin Plant was successfully completed and I moved into the Plant Manager position. However; the market for Polymin changed and the plant was shut down.
After some reorganizations, I became the Product Manager for the Freeport Acrylic Acid group. This included the commercially successful Glacial Acrylic Acid. Acrylic Acid can undergo a dangerous runaway free radical polymerization so I was put in charge of the acrylic monomer safety & handling product stewardship program for the Americas. All the producers of acrylic monomers cooperated on safety & handling to ensure the manufacturing, transport, storage, and customer usage followed best practice guidelines. I can say the cooperation between competitors and support from management was excellent with regards to industry wide safety and protection of the environment.
The economics of the Texas – Louisiana Gulf Coast petrochemicals Industry changed based on new fast growth markets in Asia and USA went from having some of the lowest cost pipeline natural gas in the world to the most expensive. The result was cutbacks in USA.
My next job was with Halliburton in drilling and completion fluids as a Fluid Engineer working on offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. I always enjoyed fast changing technologies and at that time favourable business conditions were driving technical advancements in drilling & completions on a global basis.
After becoming a Technical Professional after a year in the Houston office. I took on the role as a Global Technical Field Advisor for fluids supporting critical wells. Typically, I would travel to the overseas Halliburton office supporting the project, help design the job, go to the rig site to execute the job, and give a post job recap presentation to the customer. The total average time for each critical well assignment was a little over a month assuming no major delays.
The position as a Global Technical Field Advisor was an interesting job. I was able to see many different countries, gained exposed to different cultures, solve technical problems, learn new fluid chemistries/fluid handling technologies, and make friends during my travels. The oil field service industry is known for boom or bust and covid shut down most international travel so I found myself between jobs.
I had followed solar power for years as a hobby and considered changing career direction. The early solar power movement lost momentum based on unfavourable economics and changing government policies. Fortunately, several Asian countries continued pursuing solar power. This dropped the production cost and kept the technology moving forward. Combine this with the renewed interest in environmental concerns and solar/lithium batteries gained momentum in the US Markets.
Like many Americans, I was fascinated by early Tesla EVs that offered spirited acceleration and refined luxury without the noise, fumes, high maintenance, etc of typical high performance Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars. Early Tesla owners I knew liked owning an EV and I enjoyed an occasional ride in a Tesla. I gained confidence that EVs were not just a passing fad but could appeal to a wider group of auto buyers as long as affordability became less of a barrier.
Later I got involved with LFP (lithium iron phosphate) drop in batteries for swapping out lead-acid batteries in golf carts and fishing boat trolling motors. At first when only 12V LFP batteries were readily available, the surge & continuous power output could be disappointing. Along with installers not being readily available for those who wanted a quick and convenient swap or install held the market back. The early 12V LFP batteries were mainly focused on Do-it-Your (DIY) swap outs of deep cycle AMG lead acid batteries; typically used in solar plus battery systems and batteries for Recreational Vehicles (RVs).
Some of the mail order 12V LFP battery suppliers gave great service and customer support by phone & email. The batteries offered lighter weight and/or greater energy storage plus all the benefits of eliminating the maintenance, short life, and reliability problems that were common with lead-acid batteries. As time passed, fewer potential customers believed the myth that drop-in LFP batteries presented a significant fire hazard.
Once confidence in safety was established, the main barriers to acceptance included: LFP batteries not well suited as starter battery, not having the desired power output for performance situations, only available through mail order, and initial cost being ~ double that of an equivalent lead-acid battery.
A market developed for golf carts that were lifted, customized, had larger wheels, and in some cases had higher capacity batteries installed. Such carts can typically be driven longer distances on low-speed residential roads, are better suited for rougher terrain & steep hills, can still be used on golf courses, and look sporty. I helped a friend arrange for a golf cart dealership to change out six 8V lead-acid batteries with one ~8 kWh LFP battery on a customized cart. The result was a much more versatile and lower maintenance cart with a lot more range.
The swap out was turnkey and the installer tuned the speed controller as part of the job. Over the last four months many 48V LFP batteries have come to the USA market and the new generation of 12V to 48V LFP batteries have higher power output to accommodate mobile power applications as well as the traditional RV house battery and solar energy storage markets.
I have remained a Li-ion battery (LIB) enthusiast following advancements in electrochemistry, material science, engineering safe guards, mass production technologies, availability of LFP battery cells, and sourcing of 48V LFP batteries to replace lead-acid and small ICE.
Fayaz Ahmed: The Battery technology is poised to Power the World. How big of a role battery technology can play in the sustainable development and climate change mitigation efforts. Which applications of battery technology you are most excited about and why?
Paul Kageler: The LIB technology has enabled electrification, automation, and internet connectivity of more things. The ability to store electric power and move the power around without wires is improving quality of life in terms of a higher average standard of living in first and third world countries. This includes better communication, environmental protection, convenience, transportation, conservation of natural resources, lower volumes of solid & liquid waste, reduced noise pollution, reduced toxic emissions, less risk of climate change, and in general allowed for healthier living.
Going from the age of lead-acid batteries to LIB is a major step forward for those societies that can afford advancing technologies. As the global population increases and a greater percentage of the population becomes affluent consumers, the electrification of more industries/products along with minimizing the environmental impact of power generation becomes essential for achieving sustainability. Making LIB more affordable for all segments of society is a high priority and is already occurring.
I am most enthused about applications that I can directly make a difference. So far that is promoting and organizing the replacement of lead-acid batteries and smaller ICE on ranches, farms, construction sites, small marine, and recreation activities. As many enthusiasts, I am also a champion of lowering the cost to produce, distribute, and market LIB to accelerate electrification.
I also advocate making the network of utility grid and microgrids resilient, reliable, and affordable during the ongoing transition to more environmentally friendly power generation. With the electrification of society or the planet the availability of on demand power becomes even more important to prevent hardships throughout the community.
Experienced personnel who are knowledgeable in power generation, power storage, backup power generation, and distribution of power should continue to conduct risk assessments. Based on risk assessments performed in each area by multifunctional teams; proper engineering, construction, and maintenance must be funded to ensure resilience and reliability. Societies will not accept excuses for avoidable power outages especially if an entire regional grid becomes unstable and must shut down for an extended period of time. LIB located in utility grids, commercial microgrids, and homes is part of upgrading overall power resilience and reliability.
I have always enjoyed the great outdoors in remote areas and have a special desire to make motorized transportation less invasive to wildlife and people in terms of noise and fumes. Texas has many large working and recreational ranches which are an important part of our culture. I would like to see vehicle to load (V2L) power transmission become common. Government encouragement of dual propose EVs equipped with bi-directional inverters can shuttle power as well as provide transportation.
Finally, I am an advocate of each region becoming reasonably self-reliant on LIB manufacturing, the extraction of raw materials, the recycling of spent LIB, and the disposal of waste streams. Each region should move toward standardization for the common good by-passing legislation to repeal old obsolete laws that no longer serve the advancement of the planet and pass new laws to take non-value-added cost out of the supply chain. We can all help identify and promote good legislation to advance sustainability at the local, state, and federal level.
Fayaz Ahmed: Lithium-ion batteries are anticipated to have a high rate of deployment in the coming decades. Ideal applications of Lithium-ion batteries would be energy storage systems for renewables and transportation. Amongst Lithium-ion battery technology family which battery chemistry i.e. NCM and LFP has a better future and why?
Paul Kageler: The short answer is cell availability in some regions is an important factor that is sometimes overlooked. The EV grade modified LFP cells produced in China are also in high demand inside China which curtails exports. This means the new technology modified LFP batteries are not yet a viable option in some regions.
First, a quick review of the currently available LIB with China having the most options based on regional suppliers. There are now 4 different cost to produce LIB cell brackets with different energy densities for domestically manufactured mass-produced cells; standard LFP (~100 Wh/kg), modified LFP (estimated future energy density 200 – 240 Wh/kg), medium content nickel NCM (~250 Wh/kg), and high content nickel NCM (estimated future energy density 300 Wh/kg).
Below is a news announcement clip and performance chart taken from PushEVs showing how the modified LFP (LFMP) cells have improved capabilities and have the potential to expand into traditional NCM cell markets.
Some research & development specialist feel the high content nickel NCM battery cells may eventual reach ~350 Wh/kg if some remaining technical challenges are solved. Such cells will be capable of long range and still provide superior acceleration based on lighter weight or carry a greater payload if the gross weight of vehicle plus payload is limited.
It is also worth noting that 400 or even 500-mile ranges based on the conservative EPA rating system will be technically possible for full size SUV, buses, pickup trucks, commercial trucks, vans, etc. by using stackable pouch cells, prismatic LFP cells mounted on edge, or larger diameter (46mm) cylinder cells. In many cases, ambitious range goals can be reached with new generation modified LFP cells as well as NCM cells. The platform area available for mounting battery packs is much less of a constraint in regards to maximum energy storage capacity than in the past.
Below is a picture showing modified LFP cells mounted on edge using a cell to pack method which saves space and reduces weight.
BYD Blade LFP battery
Many marketing experts have stated that one of the most important goals to accelerate the transition to EVs is to reach cost parity with ICE vehicles. Based on cost to produce, the standard LFP cells and the modified LFP cells currently have the greatest global potential to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy assuming supplies eventually meet demand in most regions. Regionally wise, China is a leader in driving down the cost of EVs from the premium class BYD Han EV to the tiny SAIC-GM Wuling Hong Guang mini EV.
Below is a picture of the very low cost Wuling Hong Guang mini EV which is the top selling EV in China.