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DuPont to Expand in Materials for Lithium-Ion Car Batteries

DuPont Co. plans to expand production of a material used in electric-car batteries to challenge market leaders Polypore International Inc. of the U.S. and Asahi Kasei Corp. and TonenGeneral Sekiyu K.K. of Japan.

DuPont is building a factory to make separators for lithium-ion batteries in Chesterfield County, Virginia. The plant will be able to supply 20 percent of current demand for hybrid and electric vehicles when it opens early next year, the Wilmington, Delaware-based company said today in a statement.

Energain separators, made from spun nanofibers, boost power 15 percent to 30 percent and increase battery life as much as 20 percent compared with competing materials, DuPont said. The global high-performance lithium-ion battery market will be worth $7 billion by 2015, DuPont said.

“We have got an invention here that looks very promising,” Thomas G. Powell, president of DuPont Protection Technologies, said in a telephone interview. “Our material is fundamentally different from any that is used elsewhere.”

DuPont, the third-largest U.S. chemical maker, made initial quantities of the separator material in Wilmington and Seoul for evaluation by battery producers and automakers. The Virginia plant will cost about $20 million to build, with additional production investments to be made as demand merits, Powell said.

Separators keep a battery’s positive and negative electrodes from touching while allowing lithium ions to pass.

The three largest producers of lithium separators -- Polypore, Asahi Kasei and TonenGeneral -- have 90 percent of the market, Polypore said in March. TonenGeneral is a unit of Exxon Mobil Corp.

Dow Chemical Co. and Exxon Mobil are the two largest U.S. chemical makers by sales.

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