Far from 'dead,' lead-acid batteries are finding new life in next-generation automobiles

Mar 01, 2010 | 04:54 AM | Tatyana Shumsky

With so much media attention showered on nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries that power the electric motors in hybrid vehicles, it's easy to forget that lead-acid batteries are omnipresent in the hybrid fleet.

Lead-acid battery makers say their product will continue to play an important role in the auto industry, but that's not stopping them from researching and developing new chemistries to meet the power needs of future vehicles.

"In the lithium- and nickel-powered cars there is a small lead-acid battery that's used for starting those cars. The (Toyota) Prius has a lead-acid battery in it—they all do," said Tom Granville, chief executive officer of Axion Power International Inc., a New Castle, Pa.-based battery maker.

"Even the (Chevy) Volt has a lead-acid battery in it," Daniel R. Langdon, president of privately held battery maker East Penn Manufacturing Co. Inc., said. The Lyon Station, Pa.-based company manufactures the Deka battery brand.

Indeed, while new battery formulations like lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride have stolen the limelight from the humble lead-acid battery, its role in new vehicles has remained fairly constant. A mild hybrid, like Toyota Motor Corp.'s popular Prius sedan, combines a smaller combustion engine with an electric one that is powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery.

But as Granville pointed out, the Prius still relies on a 12-volt lead-acid battery to spark that combustion engine to life. The same battery powers the Prius' electrical systems, like air conditioning, power windows, radio and windshield wipers. Since car interiors have certain standard design features, like wiring and voltage requirements, it makes sense to include a smaller lead-acid battery to run those systems.....





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