Axion's truck has long-lasting, fast-charging lead-carbon batteries. (Axion photo)
Let's face it, the future of transportation is electric: Electric vehicles (EVs), electric trains, urban mobility pods like the GM/Segway Project PUMA, even electric bicycles (with a huge following in China).
If you bought an electric car in 1900, when they were more numerous than internal-combustion, lead-acid batteries were under the hood. Your car today? Lead-acid, because it's a proven, relatively inexpensive technology.
The EVs and plug-in hybrids of tomorrow will use lithium-ion, because it's long lasting and can hold more energy. But hold the phone. Tom Granville is the CEO of Axion Power International, and his company has just announced a multi-year deal with well-known battery company Exide to market a new type of lead-carbon battery that retains the affordability of lead-acid with lower weight and longer life.
"We take off the lead negative electrode and replace it with an activated carbon electrode," says Granville. He said other technical stuff, but I don't want to bore the socks off my readers. "It gives amazing properties," he said in plain English, " a life cycle four times the average lead-acid battery's 600 to 800 deep discharges. It will last longer, recharge more quickly and has applicability to the plug-in hybrid market."
Now he had my attention. The lead-carbon batteries will need to be replaced after four years -- probably half the life of a typical lithium-ion pack -- but according to Granville they cost only 25% as much. This is a big deal, because 20-kilowatt-hour li-ion battery packs can cost as much as $20,000. Try to make an EV affordable when the batteries-- a fixed cost -- are $20k.
Axion's battery pack. (Axion photo)
Standard lead-acid batteries don't recharge quickly enough for hybrids, but these do -- at four times the rate of a standard car battery. It also operates well in the cold, even at -50 Celsius.
To get its batteries in circulation, Axion is working with the State of Arkansas to build a community college-based conversion facility that will turn ordinary cars into super-green dual-mode hybrids with 40+ mile range on lead-carbon batteries and 300 more on their standard gas engine. Converting one percent of the fleet could create 44,000 jobs and save 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline annually, Granville says. These cars will be either/or, meaning the gas engine won't charge the batteries, but Granville says he can convert a car for $8,000 -- including the $2,500 battery pack.
Lead-acid batteries aren't sexy, but affordable technology that can dramatically lower the cost of EVs is potentially game-changing and, well, cool.
Michigan, by the way, is poised to become an international lithium-ion battery leader. On April 14, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm announced that the state had inked deals providing tax incentives to four battery companies: A123 (a partner with Chrysler), KD Advanced Battery Group, LG Chem (the Volt supplier) and Advanced Power Solutions. The four projects are worth $1.7 billion in new plant construction.
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