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Interview w/ Frank Obrist after AABC and SAE conferences

08 March 2013

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Since our first interview earlier this year with Frank Obrist on their new battery system, several important battery conferences have taken place, namely AABC 2013 in Pasadena and the SAE Conference 2013 in Anaheim. took the opportunity to ask Frank Obrist about the conclusions he can draw from these two key events. “AABC 2013” and “SAE conference 2013” – how was the feedback to your battery packs and technologies?

Frank Obrist: Feedback was overwhelming. The Obrist battery system has attracted the interests of a very international crowd from various sectors. Next to automotive industry which sector has shown most interest into your battery solutions?

Frank Obrist: Definitely the utilities. We have reached a tipping point here. Many utilities are looking into the capabilities of lithium-ion based power-packs to compensate for power outages. Could it be that the Super Bowl power outage was helpful here?

Frank Obrist: Probably. The Super Bowl events in New Orleans might have been useful to bring power security back on America’s agenda. But I see the fundamental driver in the rapidly decreasing battery costs. With battery prices going down to some USD 390 per kWh you will start to assess new power outage solutions. What prices do you expect for 2020?

Frank Obrist: That is difficult to predict and depends on several factors. But let me explain to you how the market for battery packs is working today. Basically we have two markets here, one market for the battery cells and another market for the BMS. Given the current overcapacities for lithium-ion based cells the market price for these battery cells is coming down quickly. However it is difficult to predict the market consolidation effect. The BMS market seems to be behaving normally. Please explain!

Frank Obrist: An integrated thermo-management plus a controller is an innovative product and new approach to define an industry. It is about the deconstruction of the battery manufacturing value-chain. Both effects will play a role for future battery prices. That sounds like the talk of auto industry purchasing cars, doesn’t it?

Frank Obrist: Yes. The sophisticated purchasing departments have already detailed the costs of battery packs. They have asked us in Pasadena to quote for battery packs that help them to take advantage of the overcapacities in the market for the lithium-cells. They asked us for a battery pack design that provides them with a “no worries”- thermo-management interface and controller, but allows for flexibility inside. Automotive industry wants to have the choice between a number of cell suppliers and pick the best deal of these increasingly commoditized products – without sacrificing reliability and product safety of the battery pack. How is your BMS designed to allow for perfect monitoring of the battery cells?

Frank Obrist: Our BMS unit is designed for maximum flexibility with regard to battery cells. We offer a BMS for the standard 18650 cells and a BMS for pouch cells (“coffee packs”). Perfect monitoring of the battery cells is guaranteed through a central master controller and decentralized control units combined with a cooling & heating circuit reaching every single cell. What is the extra cost of your BMS to the auto manufacturer or the utilities?

Frank Obrist: There is no extra cost. Our BMS is available at the prize of the established battery cases and offers highly efficient assembly features including some patented clips. Its modular design principle gives full flexibility to our clients. Flexibility in terms of the cell supplies and flexibility in terms of the battery dimensions. What battery sizes were most searched for during the AABC & SAE?

Frank Obrist: We clearly see a trend for PHEV Batteries in the range of 10 kWh. Have you been approached by aerospace engineers as well?

Frank Obrist: So far we are collaborating with certified aerospace suppliers. But given the ambitious moves of the aerospace industry into lithium-ion based onboard power, we expect an increased level of interest into the Obrist battery systems. Obviously all our battery systems features like single-cell-cooling and decentralized real-time monitoring are on their agendas as well. Probably that is an additional topic for AABC 2014 and SAE 2014.


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