From the frying pan to the fire?

September 22, 2009
By: Kate Bachman

Alternative power trains, advanced propulsion technologies, and automotive battery power are all the buzz.

At the NanoBusiness Alliance conference I attended in September in Chicago, a great deal of discussion centered around announcements of the $2 billion U.S. federal grants awarded from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act designated for alternative-energy battery technology development. The crowd consensus was that the lion's share of the funds went to fund lithium-ion battery technology research.

The U.S. is the world's leading consumer of lithium and lithium compounds, according to the Mineral Information Institute. "It is estimated that the U.S. has approximately 760,000 tons of lithium. The resources in the rest of the world are estimated to be 12 million tons. The leading producers and exporters of lithium ore materials are Chile and Argentina. China and Russia have lithium ore resources also."

One audience member voiced what I think is an astute observation related to the goal of developing energy forms in the U.S. that reduce dependence on foreign sources for energy. "In embracing lithium-ion battery technology, are we trading our energy dependence on one region of the world for dependence on another?"

A Lead Acid Alternative Energy Battery?

Another battery company, Firefly Energy of Peoria, Ill., has developed a battery technology alternative to lithium-ion batteries using lead acid, one of the most abundant metals, in a patented microcell foam plate technology called Microcell. It is designed to increase battery power, capacity, and life at lower cost and lighter weight, he said.

"First, the heavy, corrosion-prone lead grids, which comprise up to 70 percent of a typical lead acid battery's weight, are replaced with a nontoxic material, so there's less lead to recycle at the end of life.

"Secondly, the lightweight foam is porous, and so has more surface area for the energy-generating chemistry to occur. This means that less lead chemistry is needed than in a lead acid battery.

Because the positive lead metal grids corrode and the negative metal grids sulfate, life is shortened in a typical lead acid battery, Ovan said. The company's foam is resilient against these two common failure modes, extending battery life.

Finally, batteries containing the Microcell foam plate technology can be recycled through the existing lead acid recycling infrastructure. In the U.S. alone, over 90 percent of lead acid batteries are recycled, according to Ovan.

Be sure to read Bernard Swiecki's topical column in this month's issue of STAMPING Journal, Automotive Intelligence (p. 32). It is an excellent overview of the three major battery technologies involved, as well as the differences in battery-powered power trains.

Kate Bachman

Kate Bachman

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1302