Chrysler, NASA Put Heads Together on Energy Storage

Fiat 500EV

Chrysler and NASA plan to share data and research related to battery systems, energy storage, materials engineering, radar, robotics and other technologies over the next three years as part of a new alliance announced this morning.

“Anytime something goes into space, it requires energy storage,” Chrysler spokesperson Nick Cappa told us today. As a result, NASA has been gathering data on energy storage systems in a range of environmental conditions for decades longer than the auto industry and will be able to share some of that knowledge with Chrysler under this partnership.

Among the research initiatives undertaken at the space agency’s Advanced Capabilities Project Office are efforts to develop next-gen electrode materials, electrolytes and separators for lithium-ion cells, with the goal of delivering batteries with higher energy density (amount of energy stored per unit of mass), improved reliability, capacity to function in a wider range of temperatures, more charge cycles and better safety.

Under the agreement announced today, each of several project teams will have specialists from both NASA and the automaker. Through this collaboration, the partners hope to help one another “fill in the gaps,” in their research and technology, according to Cappa. For example, he said the pair may share what they’ve learned over the years about how to maximize the life of a battery.

Chrysler’s alliance with NASA, which according to Cappa has been in the works for about a year, comes on the heels of a federal report showing confidence that Chrysler will generate enough profit for the government to sell its 9.9 percent equity stake in the automaker. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said at the recent New York International Auto Show that he expects the company — now managed and partly owned by Italy’s Fiat — to at least break even in 2010.

The automaker already has Uncle Sam in its corner when it comes to technology for plug-in vehicles. As part of the federal $2.4 billion battery grant program, the Department of Energy has awarded Chrysler a grant for up to $48 million to build 140 plug-in hybrid versions of its Dodge Ram truck in a 3-year demonstration project. These demo vehicles will use batteries from Electrovaya, based in Mississauga, Ontario (see: 20 Battery Startups Hitting the Road With Lithium-ion).

For the electric version of the Fiat 500 minicar slated for a 2012 U.S. launch, meanwhile, Chrysler plans to use batteries from Watertown, Mass.-based A123Systems (s AONE). Chrysler tapped A123 last year as the supplier for at least the first generation of plug-in vehicles in its planned ENVI lineup. But the automaker has largely scrapped the original ENVI plan, making clear in the 5-year plan it unveiled last November that it won’t kick into high gear with electric cars for the consumer market until 2011 and beyond.

Graphic courtesy of Chrysler