Johnson Controls Inc. reports it will convert an automotive battery plant to produce Absorbent Glass Mat batteries in a $138.5-million project. The project in Toledo, Ohio, awaits final confirmation, pending state and local government approvals. The Tier One automotive supplier indicated it expects to receive a combination of tax credits and incentives amounting to $25 million from Ohio.

The converted plant would add 6 million to Johnson Controls’ domestic AGM battery capacity by 2013. It would result in 50 new jobs and retain 400 existing positions.

Recently, Johnson Controls moved to dissolve a joint-venture partnership with Saft Groupe S.A., formed in 2006 to develop and manufacture lithium-ion vehicle batteries.

AGM batteries are a type of “valve-regulated lead-acid batteries” that do not require regular addition of water to the cells. Thin glass fibers are woven into a mat that increases the surface area that holds electrolyte in the battery cell, without absorbing the acidic solution. Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls intends to produce the batteries for “start-stop” vehicles — i.e., those that shut off during idling, and restart once the driver engages the clutch or releases the brakes — and other high efficiency vehicles. Johnson Controls claims to be the leading supplier of start-stop batteries in Europe, and claims the technology can reduce fuel use and emissions by 5-12% on standard gasoline engines.

"Start-Stop vehicle technology is emerging globally as one of the most affordable options for consumers who want to buy a more fuel-efficient car for very little added cost up front," stated Alex Molinaroli, president for Johnson Controls Power Solutions. "We see this market growing to 35 million batteries globally by 2015, and the United States is an important piece of the market."

Start-Stop is a technology applied to a standard gasoline-powered vehicle that automatically shuts the engine off during idle, reducing fuel use and emissions by 5 percent to 12 percent, and restarts when the driver engages the clutch or releases the brake pedal.

Johnson Controls has three business units: automotive seating systems, automotive interior components, and automotive electronics. Recently, it revealed it is developing an automotive design concept involving multiple lightweight materials, intending to replace steel and light metals in seat systems with fiber-reinforced composites.

"In addition to Start-Stop, our original equipment customers are also turning to our AGM technology to support many of their other new high efficiency vehicles that place similar aggressive demands on the battery,” announced Jorge Guillen, vice president, Start-Stop, for Johnson Controls Power Solutions. "Our superior AGM technology is proven in Europe, where we've enjoyed working with our customers to help them meet strict regulations on CO2 emissions. Our Toledo facility will be very important in helping to establish the same leadership here in the United States."