To say the lead-acid battery R&D is not the best funded sector of the electrochemistry industry is a great understatement. For those not aware, the Advanced Lead Acid Battery Consortium (ALABC) is one of the leading (perhaps only) driving forces for lead-acid battery industry research.
For the automotive sector of lead-acid batteries, there is one man at ALABC who takes upon it himself to promote lead-acid batteries as the low-cost way to power 48V micro/mild hybrid cars and reduce carbon emissions: septuagenarian Brit Allan Cooper.
Cooper made a presentation at this year’s Battery Council International in San Diego to update delegates on ALABC’s progress with 48V micro/mild hybrid cars. On the face of it, things are going well.
Working with Controlled Power Technologies (CPT), AVL and academic institutions, the ALABC has taken a 1.4 litre petrol Volkswagen Passat, added an electric supercharger, an ISG, a DC-DC converter and seven 6V Exide Orbital deep cycling lead carbon batteries. With all this kit, the ‘LC Super Hybrid’ car has reduced carbon emissions by around 13% versus the standard 1.4 litre Passat.
Whether all this gear is worth the expense that would have to be borne by consumers versus, say, a diesel, is questionable. Indeed, ALABC is working on a Kia diesel with an electric drivetrain that dispenses with the supercharger, which will be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in September. The car will use a 6.5kW ISG powered by East Penn Ultrabatteries.
Incidentally, ALABC has put a call out to its members for a new battery for its ADEPT project with Ford, Ricardo and CPT because they need more power and improved charged acceptance for regenerative capability.
The LC Super Hybrid has had problems, says Cooper. During a test, the driver managed to pull off the front of the crankshaft. This did at least prove the batteries had power.
But, accidents aside, Cooper is concerned that the lead-acid versus lithium-ion battle may already be lost.
“We are reaching a tipping point with 48V," he said. " A lot of the German premium manufacturers have already written in lithium-ion. If lithium gets a significant foothold in 48V I see a political threat to lead-acid because the only reason lead is in a car at all is by way of the exemption from the End of Life Vehicle Directive.
“A lot of the technical issues with lithium-ion may go away, at the moment there is no real alternative to the 12V lead-acid battery but things can change. Getting the exemption beyond 2020 may become a lot more difficult.
“The threat is real and near-term. The lead-acid industry has to convince car companies this is the way to go and get them behind us in fighting the End of Life Vehicle legislation.”
Of course, this could be read as merely a cry for cash for ALABC coffers. Developing and demonstrating lead-acid 48V cars around the world must be an expensive business, and it is true the ALABC needs new members and new sources of funding.
Even so, lead-acid industry faces an uphill battle if it is to succeed if the brave new world of 48V cars materializes. The humble 12V SLI will be around for a good while yet, but, in Europe at least, is the writing on the wall?