THE CAR BATTERY: FROM THE SHADOWS TO STARDOM

THE CAR BATTERY: FROM THE SHADOWS TO STARDOM

NEW YORK, March 31, 2010 – For decades, the automobile battery was an essentially static technology, but it’s no longer being taken for granted. Battery technology is now in a starring role in the development of a new generation of electrified vehicles.

But today’s batteries are a far cry from the humble lead-acid battery used for a century in the automobile. The 12-volt lead-acid battery used in traditional automotive applications is rapidly giving way to sophisticated, higher energy and power batteries as the automobile industry shifts further toward electrification.

The advent of hybrid electric vehicles spawned a new generation of batteries, making nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries the energy storage technology of choice. The nickel used in these batteries is lighter than lead, helping the battery deliver twice the power output for the weight as lead-acid batteries, but the cost of Ni-MH batteries is high – four times that of lead acid. Automakers already believe they have tapped most of the potential of Ni-MH technology and are moving rapidly toward Lithium-ion technology.

Lithium-ion batteries are commonplace in the world of consumer electronics. They’re lighter and more energy dense than other types of batteries, making them ideal for laptop computers, mobile phones and other portable devices.

That makes lithium-ion technology even better for use in cars of the future, right?

“At Ford, we believe lithium-ion batteries have incredible potential for the next-generation of electrified vehicle, and we’re already using lithium-ion technology in test units for the battery electric vehicles (BEVs) that are part of our new electrification strategy,” said Ted Miller, senior manager, energy storage strategy and research, Ford Motor Company. “But there are technical challenges we are still addressing to make lithium-ion technology work in high-volume automotive applications.”

According to Miller, intensive technical development work is underway in the industry to adapt lithium-ion technology from that used in cell phones today to the far more robust requirements of automobile batteries of the future. The work is promising, Miller said.

“There isn’t just one type of lithium-ion battery and several hold promise for automotive use,” Miller explained. “That’s good because we know that the variant of lithium-ion battery used in laptops and other mobile devices is completely unacceptable for use in cars.”

That’s because automobile batteries have a much harder job than a laptop or phone battery. Cars have to work in huge temperature extremes, stand up to more shocks and vibrations and a much higher energy throughput than consumer electronics goods. And an automobile is expected to have a 10-year lifespan, something most laptop or cell phone owners don’t expect of those devices.

Intensive development work is underway to prove out lithium-ion technology for the auto industry, and Ford is using its extensive experience in BEV and hybrids to test the technology rigorously for its starring role in high-volume electrified vehicles of the future. Ford can already point to the robustness of its hybrid technology with the Ford Escape Hybrid. In New York, some Escape Hybrid taxis have clocked more than 300,000 miles of reliable service.

Ford and other manufacturers are focused on conquering the challenges of lithium-ion for a long, reliable life.

“There is a tremendous amount of effort happening in lithium-ion technology for cars,” Miller said. “The battery industry is really focused now on creating lithium-ion batteries specifically for cars and this is going to result in a great new generation of automotive batteries.”

 

Lead-Acid

Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH)

Lithium-Ion (Li-ion)

First Commercial Use

1859

1989

1991

Current Automotive Use

 

 

  • Traditional 12-volt batteries

 

 

  • Battery technology developed for today’s generation of hybrid vehicles

 

  • Under development for future hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles

Strengths

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Long proven in automotive use

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Twice the energy for the weight as compared to lead-acid
  • Proven robustness

 

 

 

 

 

  • About twice the energy content of Ni-MH and better suited to future plug-in electrified vehicle applications
  • By taking up less space in the vehicle, provides far greater flexibility for automotive designers

Weaknesses

 

 

 

 

 

  • Heavy; its lower energy-to-weight ratio makes it unsuitable for electrified vehicle usage

 

 

  • High cost (four times the cost of lead-acid); limited potential for further development

 

 

 

  • Although proven in consumer electronics, this technology is still under development for automotive applications
  • Expensive until volume production is reached

Specific Energy (Watt hours per kilogram)

30-40

65-70

100-150

Recyclability

Excellent

Good

Very Good

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About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 198,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company’s automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford’s products, please visit www.ford.com.

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