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BAYTOWN, Texas -- In the future, hybrid vehicles could be fueled by more than just ExxonMobil fuel in the tank, as the company is working on a component it created for cell phone batteries that could help improve a new type of battery that may eventually power most hybrid cars, the Wall Street Journal reported.
While the company won't make the actual batteries, its scientists developed a plastic "separator" film that is a critical part of lithium-ion batteries, which are becoming more powerful and are expected to power hybrid cars, according to the report.
"We are interested in good business opportunities, and that is what this is," Jim Harris, senior vice president of Exxon's chemical company, told the Journal.
ExxonMobil and others in the market believe the current battery that’s powering hybrid cars -- the nickel-metal hydride battery -- will eventually be replaced by lighter, smaller and more powerful lithium-ion batteries, the report stated. However, there is a setback: the lithium-ion batteries have a history of causing overheated laptops bursting into flames, the Journal reported.
In a building next to ExxonMobil's gasoline refinery in southeast Texas, Exxon researchers developed a more heat-resistant separator film capable of tolerating temperatures up to 374 degrees, according to Peter Roth, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories. "It gives you a larger safety margin," he told the paper.
ExxonMobil's separator film was used in 1991 for the first commercially produced lithium-ion batteries for Sony Corp. cell phones. Its separators are currently used in about 35 percent of the lithium-ion batteries in electronic devices, and the company hopes to have at least that market share in the new generation of car batteries used by Toyota Motor Corp., Ford Motor Co. and other car makers, the Journal reported.
To do so, the company has employed 14 Ph.Ds in Japan, New Jersey and Texas to improve the technology, and expects to break ground soon on a $300 million manufacturing facility in Gumi, South Korea, the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the plan.
"We're going to put our corporate muscle behind this and make it a reality," Harris told the Journal.
In other company news, the ExxonMobil Foundation and former U.S. astronaut Bernard Harris are expanding the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camps by five locations, enabling more middle school students to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics through its two-week residential; programs.
"Increasing student proficiency in math and science is essential," Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil, said in a statement. "Experts predict more than 80 percent of jobs in the next decade will require these skills. Through the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camps, our company is taking positive steps to meet the demands of the future. We are proud to support Dr. Harris in this endeavor."
The programs will run from June through August and will allow 1,200 students across the country to participate, according to the company.
"Through our partnership with ExxonMobil and the dedication of the U.S. colleges and universities, we are able to once again expand these meaningful summer programs that address the inquisitive nature of middle school students," said Harris, the first African-American to conduct a space walk and a veteran of two space shuttle missions.
During camp, students attend daily classes in natural science, engineering, mathematics and technology, which are taught by faculty of participating universities and secondary classroom teachers, the company stated.
"With the financial support we receive from ExxonMobil, the Harris Foundation is able to provide 100-percent scholarships to camp participants," said Harris. "The only thing our students must have is curiosity, hope and the determination to do well in school, fostered by the dream to reach for the stars. Our two-week camps provide the rest."
ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camps 2008 locations include:
-- Bowie State University; Bowie, Md.
-- Central State University; Wilberforce, Ohio
-- Florida International University; Miami
-- Howard University; Washington
-- Lamar University; Beaumont, Texas
-- New Jersey Institute of Technology; Newark, N.J.
-- Northeastern University; Boston
-- Oregon State University; Corvallis, Ore.
-- Prairie View A&M University; Prairie View, Texas
-- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Troy, N.Y.
-- Southern University & A&M College; Baton Rouge, La.
-- Southwestern Oklahoma State University; Weatherford, Okla.
-- Temple University; Philadelphia
-- University of Central Florida; Orlando, Fla.
-- University of Houston; Houston (2)
-- University of New Orleans; New Orleans (2)
-- University of Oklahoma; Norman, Okla.
-- University of Southern California; Los Angeles
-- University of Texas at Arlington; Arlington, Texas
-- University of Texas San Antonio; San Antonio
-- University of Virginia; Charlottesville, Va.
-- Virginia Tech; Blacksburg, Va.
-- Washington University; St. Louis