Thursday, February 21, 2008

Some Neat Battery Technology

MIT Technology Review reports on some new battery technology that could greatly improve battery life and usefulness for hybrid cars and other applications that require surge caharge and discharge.

The future market for hybrid-electric vehicles, at least those that are affordable, isn't necessarily paved with lithium. Researchers in Australia have created what could be called a lead-acid battery on steroids, capable of performing as well as the nickel-metal hydride systems found in most hybrid cars but at a fraction of the cost.

The so-called UltraBattery combines 150-year-old lead-acid technology with supercapacitors, electronic devices that can quickly absorb and release large bursts of energy over millions of cycles without significant degradation. As a result, the new battery lasts at least four times longer than conventional lead-acid batteries, and its creators say that it can be manufactured at one-quarter the cost of existing hybrid-electric battery packs.
Now the really neat thing about this idea is that it is semi obvious. Ultra Capacitors and lead acid batteries use the same electrolyte. Sulfuric acid.
Essentially, one of the plates (the negative electrode) in the lead-acid battery was made half of lead and half of carbon, turning the battery into a supercapacitor / lead-acid hybrid.
What is also interesting about this technology is that Super Capacitors have a maximum cell voltage of 2.5 volts. Lead acid batteries when fully charged have a cell voltage less than 2.5 volts so the technologies are very compatible.

1 comment:

Snake Oil Baron said...

I like this idea of combining battery and super-capacitors. Like the concept of hybrid vehicles before it, the idea of combining two or more energy systems to compensate for the shortcomings of each is a very biological approach.

It is sort of like that idea of using chemical rockets to lift ion engine fuel to a massive "tow ship" with a tether behind it so that suborbital craft could use the tether to accelerate to orbital speed via a magnetic attachment. It combines lifting power of the chemical rocket with the efficiency of a slow ion engine acting on a massive ship over time to store and release energy without having to carry the fuel every trip.

The combination of types of storage systems, power generation strategies and geographic locations can also make up for much of the unpredictable nature of renewables.

It is a case of not asking one strategy to solve all problems. Nature has already learned this lesson and so uses multiple energy carrying substrates, each with specific benefits and drawbacks.