Hybrid Car Batteries Technology Counterpoint

If you read my “Hybrid Cars Counterpoint” article you noticed it said little about the hybrid car batteries. In part that is because they are made, and the technology is, outside the U.S. Since then there have been many changes, and it now appears that the car battery is a priority for the U.S.. All car manufacturers are now coalescing around hybridization, and the technology and cost for the battery. The announcements of suppliers and developers are being made at the North American Auto Show in Detroit.

Batteries use the following technologies for specific applications:

1.   Nickel-Cadmium

Conventional car usage, low energy capacity, 3-5 yr life, contains toxic lead

2. Nickel Metal-Hydride (NiMH)

Current Hybrid car usage, higher energy capcaity, 5-8 yr life, expensive due to nickel

3. Lithium Ion

For small equipment, medium energy capacity, cheaper, plugin required

This battery guide shows the present Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries for the Toyota Prius, Toyota Highlander, Ford Escape, Honda Insight, and Saturn Vue.

There is not one Lithium Ion battery, but several formulations for the electrodes compete:

1. Cobalt Dioxide is most popular for small cells, but is prone to fire.

2. Nickle-cobalt-maganese (NCM) is easier to make, and cheaper, but has a shorter life.

3. Nickle-cobalt aluminum (NCA) is similar to NCM.

4. Manganese oxide spinel (MnO) offers high power, low cost, but lower energy density.

5. Iron phosphate (FePo) is inexpensive, has stability and safety, but requires more cells.

Battery design must consider that total energy determines the car’s electric range, while power determines its acceleration.

Present Hybrid car batteries are in demand. It appears the three main suppliers are Panasonic and Sanyo in Japan, and U.S. based Cobasys.

As was previously noted the present Nickel-Metal Hydride battery is expensive and is the predominate factor for the Hybrid car not being able to compete in the market place. Because of this the market place has decided to develop a cheaper battery-a new lithium battery. This article, “Are the Hybrid Cars Here to stay?”, gives a history of the hybrid cars and the hybrid batteries.

The Lithium-ion systems listed above are now in the experimentation stage by manufacturers. They offer extremely low internal resistance, deliver high load currents, and accept rapid change. The big drawback of these batteries are their durability or life, cost, safety, and availability. Currently Toyota, Honda, and Ford are leading in Hybrid  car technology. Presently, the biggest lithium-ion battery manufacturers are Sony in Japan, Samsung in South Korea, and Johnson Controls in the U.S.

A group of U.S. battery companies just teamed up to boost American manufacturing of Lithium-ion batteries. These aim to compete with the Asian companies that currently dominate the lithium-ion battery market.

Johnson Controls unveiled its re3 concept plug-in hybrid electric vehicle at the North American Auto Show in Detroit. Johnson Controls is a maker of the Lithium-ion battery and has just jointed up with Saft, a French venture partner, to make Lithium-ion batteries for Hybrid commercial trucks.

The latest development that was announced is that “Johnson gets Ford hybrid deal.”

Other articles on new technology and manufacturers developing the lithium-ion battery are;

MIT powers up new battery for Hybrid cars. (Lithium Nickle Manganese Oxide)

Mercedes Hybrid Car Battery breakthrough “Groundbreaking”

China’s BYD touts battery technology

Lithium Batteries for Hydrid Cars (GM)

In conclusion, the present battery used in Hybrid cars is an expensive Nickel-metal-hydroxide (NiMH) battery. The hope for the future is the development of a cheaper Lithium-ion battery (see above formulations).

Natural Gas Car Fuel Counterpoint

Compared to gasoline, compressed natural gas (CNG) is cleaner, less expensive, and generally comes from domestic reserves. However, CNG vehicles also require some compromises, including the use of a special refueling infrastructure that is not widely developed in the United States. Natural gas burns so cleanly that CNG vehicles rival hybrids in producing extremely low levels of smog-forming pollutants. However, CNG vehicles tend to have higher greenhouse gas emissions than hybrids. Natural gas is normally used in the U.S. to generate electricity, heat houses and businesses, and as a component in a variety of industrial processes. In the United States, a very small amount of natural gas (just one-tenth of 1% of all gas consumed) is also used as a fuel for vehicles. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, just 20 percent of the natural gas consumed in the United States last year was imported, and most of those imports came from Canada.

Natural gas advantages:

  1. Gas costs are lower than gasoline (approximately 1/3).
  2. Natural gas is convenient and abundant.
  3. Natural gas prices have exhibited significant stability compared to oil prices.
  4. Natural gas vehicles have lower maintenance costs.
  5. Natural gas fillup time is longer for natural gas (approx 1 hr).

Natural gas disadvantages:

  1. Harder to find a natural gas station than a “regular” gas station.
  2. More limited driving range (approximately 2/3).
  3. Natural gas is not inexhaustible just like “regular” gas.
  4. Because of the fuel storage tank size there is less space in the vehicle.
  5. A brand-new natural-gas vehicle costs $4,000 to $8,000 more than a comparable gasoline vehicle.
  6. Modifications typically cost $3,000 to $5,000 to change over a vehicle.

No one seems to care about the natural gas vehicle. Not government officials. Not auto executives. Not consumers. Not even some environmentalists.T. Boone Pickens is now talking about a plan for natural gas vehicles.

By an odd confluence of public policy and private initiative, Utah has become the first state in the country to experience broad consumer interest in the idea of running cars on clean natural gas (natural gas at $.90 vs $3.95 for gas).

From the facts it appears that natural gas has very little chance as a car fuel. However read this article:

Should the U.S. switch to Natural gas for transportation?

Some more interesting articles for facts:

  1. Natural gas organization.
  2. Wikipedia on natural gas.
  3. This auto fuel still cheaper.
  4. Five things you need to know about natural gas for auto fueling.
  5. Natural-gas guzzler.
  6. Plunge in Natural Gas Prices; new 7-year low

Click here to see other Counterpoint articles