battery, so that the world will beat a path to its door.
And Nissan engineer Taehee Han is the point man in the company’s effort. Han heads a staff that includes 10 PhDs – chemists, materials scientists, and chemical engineers – who have put the company at the front of EV business by keeping their battery effort in house.
“We are not only assembling EVs, we’re manufacturing batteries and motors and all the parts necessary to make EVs,” Han told Design News . “We basically make everything here from scratch.”
Indeed, Nissan is unusual in its use of so-called “vertical integration.” Unlike General Motors, which uses battery cells designed by LG Chem, and Tesla, which employs a Panasonic design, Nissan has stuck with an in-house approach that even skeptics would have to concede has yielded great results. To date, the company has sold more than 250,000 all-electric cars, making it the industry leader. Moreover, none of those vehicles have suffered a major battery-overheating problem.
|Nissan engineer Taehee Han is leading the company’s effort to build a better EV battery. (Source: Nissan Motor Co.)|
“We have zero fire incidents,” Han told us. “Our battery is so safe, even the Chinese government uses it as a reference for their stringent abuse tests.”
Han says the company’s safety record is partially a result of its vertically integrated approach, and partially the product of a concerted safety effort. Material scientists are directed to use the safest possible materials, he said, while pack and vehicle designers are careful to enclose the battery in a way that protects it. “If there’s a catastrophic collision, our battery pack will be safe,” Han said.
At the same time, Nissan continues to drive down costs, while searching for ways to reduce recharge times. Like most automakers, it is following the long-time lead of the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), which continues to aim for a cost target of $100/kWh. But Nissan also keeps its own numbers in mind. “Our internal target is lower than that,” Han said. “Always lower.”
Han added that the EV’s all-electric driving range is reaching the point where it’s less of a concern than recharge time. “Even though we can drive 300 miles with a huge pack, we still have to wait an hour-and-a-half to charge up,” he said. “Some customers are not going to like that, so we need to develop quick charging.”
Such concerns are not what Han originally imagined for himself while growing up in South Korea. After earning a B.S. in mechanical engineering there, however, he became fascinated with green energy and moved to the U.S. to study wind turbines, ultimately earning an M.S. in engineering at Texas A&M University. A PhD in energy engineering followed at the University of North Dakota, where he took a special interest in hydrogen fuel storage. At that point, Han saw himself working for an electric utility or an energy company. But fate interceded again when his background in fuel cells landed him a position in the auto industry at Nissan.
Han’s circuitous route to automotive