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New developments in electric vehicle batteries

Safety concerns in the auto industry: electric vehicle (EV) batteries are going through a change.

The emergence of small lightweight and long-running lithium-based batteries has helped propel many technological products in several industries. Lithium-based batteries are used in portable electronic devices, such as laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, iPod, cameras, as well as, implantable electronic medical devices, and in electric vehicles.

Some environmentally conscience people are concerned that a hybrid bliss might turn into a toxic chaos, when today's hybrid vehicles batteries end up in landfills. With the development of hybrid cars, the evolvement of alternative batteries for the hybrid industry have re-opened the environmental debate about conventional car battery technology.

According to environmental researchers, there are many types of batteries, where some are very toxic and others are less: lead acid or nickel cadmium batteries have a harmful impact on the  environment. Then, the current batteries used in hybrids today, the nickel metal hydride, have a much lower toxicity level.

In 2005, the Environmental Defense Fund conducted a research examining the environmental impacts related to the extraction, manufacture, use, and disposal of nickel metal hydride batteries and lithium ion. In comparison  to the conventional lead acid batteries, the research concluded that lead was the worst, nickel was next, and lithium was the least harmful. The researchers also noted that future advancements in recycling management will improve disposal, and the overall environmental impact will be dependent upon which materials are combined with lithium and how toxic they are.

While lead recycling is a established industry, it's impossible to rescue every car battery from the landfill. Nickel also poses environmental risks: a probable carcinogen to nickel mining, as well as recycling.

Lithium-based batteries hold a significant advantage over conventional vehicle lead acid batteries: They store three to four times more energy per unit mass and have exceptional properties, however, they pose a safety hazard as they may overheat and even explode.

The batteries used in hybrid and electric vehicles typically consist of 200 to 400 small cells that are strung together into one powerful battery. Electric and hybrid vehicles constantly recharge and discharge during normal driving. On occasion, individual cells overcharge and emit high levels of heat that may cause neighboring cells to create an unsafe thermal reaction.

Currently, expensive electronic controls are used to regulate each individual cell in a battery. These controls shut the cell down if the voltage gets too high.

Chemists have been searching for different additives to solve the thermal problem, while looking for good thermal stability, environmental friendliness, and low cost solutions.

Several battery companies and clean-tech start-ups have attracted significant attention with their efforts to develop the ‘right chemical formula’. In August 2009, the Department Of Energy (DOE) awarded 48 companies with $2.4 billion of the stimulus funding. These companies work on increasing battery efficiency and electric drive components for hybrid, plug-in and electric vehicles.

Still, the right chemical solution does not necessarily produce a successful business application.

There are already several workable options, such as:

Lithium iron phosphate batteries from Valence Technology in Texas are being used in Segway electric scooters and in a converted Toyota Prius hybrid into a plug-in electric Prius. Valence manufacturers safer, eco-friendly, and best recyclable lithium iron magnesium phosphate energy storage.

Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois has developed a molecule (based on boron and fluorine) that, when a tiny amount is added to lithium batteries, keeps the cell from overheating. Argonne’s researchers found that when very small amounts of the chemical are added to each cell, the battery overcharging is controlled.

The benefits to the auto industry are noteworthy: not only will electric vehicles and hybrids be safer, the new generation of batteries will also result in great efficiency and range at the same price or cheaper than today's conventional cars.

For more about ELECTRIC VEHICLES, click here.

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Tags: safety, battery, batteries, energy, alternative energy, electric vehicles, electric cars, greenhouse, CO2, emissions, plug in, carbon dioxide, carbon footprint, fossil fuels, oil, gas, coal, global concern, renewable energy, tocixcity level, lithium-based, lithium, technological products, portable electronic devices, laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, iPod, cameras, implantable electronic, medical devices, lead acid, landfill, nickel cadmium, hazard, overheat, stimulus funding, DOE, Department Of Energy, iron phosphate, recyclable, energy storage, overcharging, hybrids, environmental impact

Comments

Great Article But Concerns Over Lithium...

Michal, there is a couple problems with lithium ion batteries not discussed that should be kept in mind.  One, is a short life cycle.  After the intial charge lithium batteries lose capacity at every subsuquent charge.  Not a huge amount, but over a car's lifetime (10-20 years) this can be significant.  So if you use five lithium ion batteries instead of two lead based batteries, which is better?  Two, they are fragile.  These things break.  They are much more prone to breaking because of their more complicated technology and materials used.  At the same time as breaking more, safety concerns do come up because by their chemical nature they are more unstable then regular batteries. 

I do agree with you that lithium ion batteries are better then lead.  I do think they will make up a large portion of our fleet of vehicles in this upcoming generations, but there are some problems that need to be addressed.

By the way, awesome article as usual.  You got me thinking this morning. 

Sean Fitzpatrick is a burgeoning green entrepreneur and journalist with a juris doctor from Santa Clara University, School of Law. Currently, he is business development and community manger of KeenForGreen.com.

Electric vehicle batteries are controversial

Are the batteries really green?

Well, there is an active debate that, hopefully, will lead to the development of better and greener battery technologies.

Read more in my next article "Do electric cars really help the environment?"

 

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