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New Lead-Acid Battery Weight Loss Plan Finds Place at CAFE

Doug Bathauer

How are new lightweight materials helping to address US automobile Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards?

While graphite, lithium and vanadium are the sexy sisters in our nouveau battery world, lead acid is the steadfast, tried and true market leader, with the global lead acid battery market projected to reach $58.5 billion by 2020, according to Future Market Insights. When considering why hybrid electric vehicle (EV) automakers choose lead-acid batteries for the starting, lighting and ignition (SLI) functions, the reasons are clear. The EV vehicles will not start without them. Lead-acid batteries are more dependable, economic and environmentally sustainable than the competition.

All elements of automobile – from the frame to components and battery – need to go on a rigorous weight loss program to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. First enacted by Congress in 1975, the purpose of the CAFE standards is to reduce energy consumption by increasing the fuel economy of cars and light trucks to significantly reduce car emissions and make cars more efficient. Traditionally, electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries powered by lead-acid batteries due to their established technology, availability and lower cost, but lead-acid batteries are quite heavy.

Companies that supply the automobile sector with lightweight materials are in the right place at the right time. ‘Lightweighting’ – which analysts estimate to become a $300 billion annual market - is a big theme among all of the major auto manufacturers with much of the need driven by rising fuel prices accelerated by Federal and State mandates. Aluminum replaced steel; carbon fiber is increasingly replacing aluminum. For example, Ford’s 2015 model F-150, which accounts for 1-in-20 cars sold in the US, will be 700 pounds lighter than its 2014 model with aluminum alloy replacing the heavier steel frame.

“Lightweight materials and design have always been an important topic in product design across several industries,” reports McKinsey & Company. “The concept has been most important in aviation but also industries where large rotating parts (e.g., rotor blades of wind turbines) are key elements of product design and in automotive, where driving dynamics are a major consideration. Global trends toward CO2 reduction and resource efficiency have significantly increased the importance of this topic over the last years.”

Integral Technologies has developed a highly conductive polymer bipolar plate that can improve the performance of lead-acid batteries, the dominant electricity storage medium for vehicles and many other applications, and cut battery weight and size by over 50%. The development of this plate has evolved from the core material manufactured by Integral Technologies called ElectriPlast®. ElectriPlast is a non-corrosive, electrically conductive resin-based material. Its properties allow it to be molded into any of the infinite shapes and sizes associated with plastics, rubbers and other polymers while reducing component weight by 40-60%.

The ElectriPlast plates provide performance enhancements that also lead to a lower cost bipolar battery. The advantages include:

• High conductivity, as the current path between the positive and negative terminals is shortened.

• Corrosion resistance, as the plates are made using polymers and metals inherently resistant to Sulphuric acid ( ABS and BASF Ultrason polymers, lead and lead alloys and other metal oxides proven to work in lead acid battery environments);

• Flexibility as the plates can be molded while maintaining properties of the base polymer – suitable to forming reliable seals between bipolar plate and the battery assembly using established plastic parts assembly processes (from sonic/vibe/thermal welding/bonding to chemical bonding);

• Ability to be molded into the any desired shape using standard polymer molding processes;

• Surfaces that can be executed with multiple finishes using established molding techniques to allow good adhesion of the active paste materials;

• Inherently mechanically robust based on properties of the ElectriPlast material and design features common for polymer based products;

• Cost-effective replacement for existing lead acid battery technology
(gravimetric and volumetric efficiency) and even more cost effective as the replacements for LiIon and NIMH batteries.

“In addition to their cost advantage, lead-acid batteries have another crucial advantage over NiMH, Li-Ion and all other battery chemistries: sustainability,” reports the Advanced Lead-Acid battery Consortium. “The lead-acid industry’s undisputed economic advantage is due in large part to the fact that their batteries are almost completely recycled. From lead to sulfuric acid to even the plastic cases, all new lead-acid batteries – even those made with advanced lead-carbon technologies – can be recycled. The recycled materials used in the manufacture of new batteries are cheaper than batteries made only with new materials. This is because considerably less energy is required – and less CO2 emitted – to manufacture and recycle batteries than to make them only from ‘virgin’ materials. No other battery chemistry can make that claim.”

About the Author:

Doug Bathauer is CEO of Integral Technologies, whose wholly owned subsidiary ElectriPlast Corporation, engages in the discovery, development, commercialisation and licensing of electrically conductive hybrid plastics products used primarily as raw materials in the production of industrial, commercial and consumer products and services worldwide.

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Energy efficiency  •  Solar electricity