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Sunday, April 1, 2012

BMW ActiveE "Extreme" Battery Test Begins!

Yes, you're reading that correctly. I'm getting anywhere from 150 to 200 miles per charge now!
In electric vehicles like the BMW ActiveE, range means everything. Like Ponce De Leon searched for the elusive "fountain of youth," electric vehicle manufacturers search for the battery that offers the best energy density which will give their cars the best possible range.

Back for re-programming
In 2010, BMW announced that they were forming a partnership with SB-LiMotive and would be using their batteries for BMW's upcoming electric vehicles starting with the ActiveE. The ActiveE would be using SB-LiMotive's new nickel-manganese-cobalt cells for sure, but there was no official confirmation on whether or not they would be used for the subsequent BMW electric vehicles, like the i3 and i8. That's because behind the scenes BMW and SB-LiMotive have been working on a new battery, one that has roughly double the energy density as the current ActiveE battery cells.

Some of you may remember the news articles about DBM's Kolibri battery. It powered a converted Audi A2  a record setting 282 miles on a single charge. Yes, the battery was almost double the size of the ActiveE's  (63kWh compared to 32kWh), but it basically tripled the ActiveE's 90-100 mile range. Well you know BMW isn't going to be one-upped by Audi! BMW and SB-LiMotive have been quietly developing their own "extreme" battery made with the same type of Alpha Polymer that the Kolibri is composed of.

Hours of reprogramming was necessary
BMW is considering using this new battery in the i3 when it launches in the fall of 2013. They have been conducting tests with these batteries in mule i3s for about 6 months now and have even provided the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing with dozens of full size large format modules, like what is used in EVs for extensive testing. Testing was completed and the batteries passed all the tests performed. The next step was then to outfit a few cars for use in everyday real life driving. BMW chose to install the batteries in one ActiveE for use in Munich, and two for use in the US; one being on the East Coast and the other on the West Coast. If all went well, after a few months they'd outfit a couple more ActiveEs with the new batteries and continue testing for about a year.

Many of you already know I have a very good relationship with BMW. As one of the more vocal MINI-E Pioneers and advocate for all plug in cars, I developed a close relationship with the EV program managers.  BMW even choose me to be the very first ActiveE customer. So it wasn't surprising when they told me about this new battery test (many months ago) and said when the time came they wanted my car to have the battery transplant if I would agree to it. I would have to agree to have the car remotely monitored 24/7 and bring it in to BMW headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ once a week for visual inspections. In return for my participation and cooperation, my monthly lease payment would be waived from now on. How could I say no?

Battery tunnel w/o batteries
So on March 19th, I dropped EF-OPEC off at BMW HQ and drove off in a loaner ActiveE. I asked Dave Mustac, the East Coast ActiveE technical coordinator and the project manager for this experiment, if I could come back the next day while they were doing the swap to take some pictures for this blog. He agreed, but when I showed up the next day I was told I could take any picture I wanted to, just not of the new batteries, which were next to the car under a blanket and my old batteries were already removed. I could see the steel reinforcement cage that protects the batteries, especially in the old transmission tunnel. This is where the Chevy Volt had problems with side impact crash testing. After seeing how well BMW has the batteries protected with the steel cage, I doubt they would have the same issue even if the side impact was severe. There were two other ActiveEs there, not for battery transplants, just being serviced. If a dealership cannot fix whatever problem arises with an ActiveE, Dave Mustac's team has it towed here to be diagnosed and repaired. It took them three days to complete the swap and I got the call to come and pick it up along with a long list of things I am now required to monitor and record. I even had to sign an NDA and anything I write about it (like this post) has to first be cleared by Hugo VanGeem or Marian Hawryluk, BMW electric vehicle program managers.

I got 160 miles this charge
I recently learned who the lucky chosen West Coast Electonaut is, but I'm not going to out him.  It's up to him to announce it if he chooses to do so. I actually found out accidentally. Idine Ghoreishian is the West Coast ActiveE technical coordinator (like Dave Mustac is here on the East) and he called me to ask what battery temperature I've been observing after extended periods of high speed driving to compare it with their test cars results. During our conversation he let the name slip. I don't think it was really top secret, but clearly they weren't giving each of us the other's name for some unknown reason. If things continue to progress as planned, as many as 10 more Electronauts will be offered the "extreme" battery upgrade. I might just be able to put in a good word for someone, so if anyone would like to send me a bottle of wine or a nice present, perhaps I could make a recommendation ;)

Fully charged, the needle now goes way passed 100%
My range has been exceptional so far. I have had to bring it back to BMW a couple of times to try to recalculate the consumption rate and the state of charge meter. They are both way off now because they were calculated for the ActiveE's battery and while BMW had worked to adjust them, they aren't perfect yet. Even my SOC analog gauge is no longer properly  calibrated. When I'm fully charged, the needle goes way passed 100%! By the time it goes down to 100%, I've already driven about 50 miles! The best range I've seen so far was 203 estimated miles as seen in the photo at the top of the post. Although I'm typically seeing about 170 miles per charge if I drive normally. 

147 miles and finished with 26% SOC

Another interesting thing is that this battery charges quicker than the stock ActiveE's.  I don't know the actual size in kWhs of this new pack, and even if I did, I probably couldn't say, but I can say the car now fully charges in about three hours from my level 2 EVSEs which is much quicker than it did with the original batteries.

I'll continue to report here on my new "Extreme-ActiveE"(should I rename this blog?) so keep an eye out for the latest updates! 

After 71 miles the state of charge was still at 50%. Depending on temperature and how efficiently I'm driving, I can get up to 200 miles per charge with my new Alpha Polymer batteries. I can't imagine why BMW wouldn't use these in the i3.
   UPDATE- 4/2/12: This post isn't real! It was an April fools post. I hope everyone had some fun with it, sorry to disappoint those that believed it was real. Unfortunately we'll have to wait a bit longer for battery performance of this magnitude, but rest assured it's coming. I've been doing April Fools posts for the past three years now dating back to my time with the MINI-E. If you'd like to see the past April Fools posts you can read them HERE.


  1. That's great news! I'm surprised BMW let you break the news on this, it should be hitting the major news outlets ASAP

  2. That is fantastic! Very exciting, longer range and faster charging! Do you like white or red wine? I'm guessing red.

  3. would you like a case OR TWO? excellent news indeed, tom! ~MK

  4. Congrats Tom! I'm happy for you, for the EV movement too, as I'm betting all of your readers are -- but I'm betting I'm not the only one who's a bit jealous too ;-)

    In fact, been trying to work out a one-year EV lease deal (not for free) with an EV maker in exchange for free publicity on SolarChargedDriving.Com, but no takers yet -- will be in Germany with my family for a year in 2013-14, so a 3-year deal doesn't make sense for us.

    Have any contacts that you could point me toward who might be able to help me on this one? ;-)

  5. Fantastic news. This will be a game changer for electric vehicles, do you know how much these cost per kWh? Any idea?

  6. Begging for this.....Ran out of range coming home from work 2x this week due to cool temps! ECOPro, no heat, even had to turn off headlamps. I want to come to the meet-up but sadly do not have enough range for that either being way too far south. I never get to have any fun driving time during the week because i have to plug in right away when i get home and switch to an ICE vehicle. Macallan 18 should do the trick right? Mary :-)

  7. Good news, but really not surprising. Announcements of battery technology advances appear just about weekly--batteries are going to get much better and cheaper. I hope to buy an i3 in 2014, but my hope is that battery improvements translate to lower weight rather than greater range. I drive less than 20 miles per day, and most drivers drive less than 50, so a 100-mile BEV should be optimal. I'll take the greater performance, handling, braking, and efficiency that come with lower weight.

  8. Does the volume control now go up to 11.
    Do the the wind screen wipers go really fast.
    Be careful when using high beam with on coming traffic.
    Happy 1st April Tom.

  9. You really had me going Tom!

    I've had the Active E for a month and haven't even driven it yet since, I am abroad until May!

    I couldn't have thought of a better April Fools article on the net.

    Keep up the good work. Can't wait till this article is actually true!

  10. Tom, Did you have to post this on April 1st? You have me wishing and wondering if it's real. I did check your Lat/Long on your screen capture, that pans out to your NJ home (or there abouts). If this IS for real, that's really exciting. 2 years ago I was working at a startup company that was working on high energy density capacitors, a little different technology then these advanced polymer batteries, but I came to realize how improvements to energy storage could really make a difference... even at 2x or 3x current state-of-the-art.

    Do you like Malbec's straight from Argentina? I'll send a bottle along with my bid for a recommendation separately! :)

  11. Wow this is great news Tom congratulations! up to 200 mile range makes this the perfect EV. We would actually make it to the Jersey Shore and back this summer without range anxiety and we would get to use the AC doing it. BMW if you're listening, do you need another Electronaut to test your supper battery? I'm here for you ;)

  12. Tom----this looks amazing. As a Long Islander who frequently goes into the City on weekends (in addition to every weekday as an LIRR commuter), this extended range would be really convenient. Unfortunately, we've switched to drinking only half-bottles, but I have some decent ones that might interest you, haha. 1,200 miles---I hesitate to say glitch-free so as not to jinx anything---on the ActiveE so far.

    Tom L

  13. This is great news. Improved energy densities should help with bringing in the much more important $/KWHr.

  14. I live almost around the corner from BMW Woodcliff Lake, so I'd be a perfect candidate for a transplant!

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  16. Tom, Happy April 1st! Here's hoping your fantasy becomes reality real soon.... :)

    It was great meeting you last night at Nauna's. The food was fantastic -- we will definitely be back for more -- that's no April fools joke!

    Also, thanks again for the offer to use your charger. Fortunately, I had plenty of extra range to get back to Short Hills but it's good to know that it's available for future reference.

    And thanks for mentioning the ActiveE gathering on April 15th. I'm hoping to make it and look forward to meeting a few of the other ActiveE Electronauts.

    Keep up all the good work!


    1. Hi Brett. It was really nice to meet you also, you have a wonderful family.

      I do hope you can make it, even if it's just for a short while. It's going to be cool to see all the ActiveE's parked together and meet some of the other local Electronauts.

  17. Hey, put in the good word for me! I'm an A+ beta tester!

  18. i love it! this was absolutely brilliant! i'm gonna get george for this! :D

    1. George picked up on it early and posted that on his own!

  19. Great Tom; With that Battery I could go up to Surgerties to see my daughter or down to Cape May for my next board meeting. It certainly would take range/worry out of the equation.

    PS: I make my own wine, red only, would be delighted to share with you.

  20. then, is not a joke?