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Car Batteries: Acid-Lead vs. Lithium Ion

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Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman of Global Product Development, recently discussed different types of batteries and the forecast for each during a round table interview. Which is better? What is more cost-efficient? Let’s start by defining the two types of batteries in question.

Lithium Ion batteries are a type of rechargeable battery in which a lithium ion moves between the anode and cathode. The lithium ion moves from the anode to the cathode during discharge and from the cathode to the anode when charging. Lithium ion batteries are commonly used in consumer electronics

Lead-Acid batteries are the oldest type of rechargeable battery. Despite having the second lowest energy-to-weight ratio and a correspondingly low energy-to-volume ratio, their ability to supply high surge currents means that the cells maintain a relatively large power-to-weight ratio. These features, along with their low cost, make them attractive for use in cars, to provide the high current required by automobile starter motors.

Bob stated that 18 months ago when GM announced the new Volt, there were many nay-sayers. Those people said that GM were crazy, and said that using Lithium Ion would never work. Yet, these same people and companies have announced that they are now working on the very same things.

All the technology for the car is here today, except for the battery pack. It will use lithium-ion (li-ion) technology. Current hybrids use nickel-metal hydride (NiMh), which carry much less energy per unit weight. The li-ion cell technology exists but putting it into tested and safe packs is what will take some time. There are companies working with GM and trying to get these Li-ion batteries and their packs ready for automotive use.

As the technology proliferates across the industry, the price will come down. How many labor hours do you think goes into making just one of these kinds of batteries? I bet you’re surprised to find out that the entire process is so automated, it only take four minutes’ worth of ‘man labor’ in order to create each one.

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