Lead acid batteries not going without a fight by Doug Mohney
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about A123 Systems new lithium ion phosphate battery technology. A123 is currently getting its Nanophosphate EXT tested over a wide range of temperatures to see if it can hang with or perform better than stodgy old lead acid batteries. But at least one lead acid battery manufacturer isn't standing still, if hints by Washington Post car columnist Warren Brown are any indication.
Brown has been writing about automobiles since almost forever. In a June 24, 2012 column, he drove the 2012 Land Rover Range Rover to Lyon Station, Pennsylvania to visit East Penn Manufacturing Company. Interlaced with his critique of the Range Rover ("wait, or shop elswhere") is a discussion of vehicular battery tech.
A lot of automobile manufacturers are apparently making a pilgrimage to Lyon Station to see East Penn's advanced lead acid product, the UltraBattery. Brown suggests the UltraBattery may be able to hang with lithium tech because it's cheaper and easier to recycle at end of life, with comparable performance to lithium in many ways.
It's the price tag, with manufacturing costs lower than lithium and source material more readily available -- lithium is much harder to mine and refine than lead -- which has car manufacturers apparently intrigued .
East Penn's UltraBattery backstory, not covered by Brown in the piece, is equally tantalizing. The technology traces its roots to a R&D partnership between Australia's CSIRO -- think Oz's National Science Foundation -- and Furukawa Battery of Japan.
UltraBattery combines the best lead-acid battery technology with an asymmetric supercapacitor. It's a hybrid battery that can be cycled and charged many more times than classic lead acid without the buildup of crystals that ultimately doom the older technology to a shorter lifespan.
I'm a bit less skeptical (than usual) about this technology because Sandia National Laboratories tested the battery in simulated ultility balance and wind farm smoothing application. You can go read the paper yourself here, but UltraBattery is not simply press release Bigfoot vaporware -- it's been worked out by an reputable independent testing lab. East Penn, working through its Ecoult subsidiary, has already announced a couple of Department of Energy-funded projects to demonstrate utility-scale use of UltraBattery in grid smoothing and solar energy storage.
East Penn told Brown that UltraBattery is in final testing phases, which would mean the company should start cranking the production line in 2013. I'd love to see data center wonks go talk to East Penn before the automobile industry snaps up the first couple of runs for all-electric and hybrid vehicles.