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Firefly Energy Wins Frost & Sullivan Technology Innovation Award for Carbon-Foam Lead-Acid Battery

2 May 2006

Frost & Sullivan selected Caterpillar spin-off Firefly Energy as the recipient of its 2006 Technology Innovation Award in the field of advanced lead acid battery technologies for developing an innovative graphite-foam lead-acid battery that could cause disruptive changes in the market. (Earlier post.)

The lead acid cell, a technology born in the 1850s, is reliable, safe and inexpensive. It can also handle large surges in current, which makes it attractive to the world’s automobile manufacturers. However, the lead acid cell realizes little of its theoretical power density and has a relatively short battery life.

While somewhat newer battery technologies like Lithium Ion and Nickel Metal Hydride offer alternatives to traditional lead acid cells, they have their own set of issues including higher costs. Even though these advanced batteries have certain features that improve upon the traditional lead acid cell, they cannot match all its features and consequently, innovators such as Firefly Energy believe they can improve the lead acid cell to match lithium ion and the nickel metal hydrides.

—Sivam Sabesan, Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst

Firefly substitutes the positive and negative lead metal grids in a conventional battery with carbon-graphite foam to which the chemically active material—in the form of a paste or slurry has been applied—increasing the surface area and enhancing the chemistry tacking place.

The result is a battery that can rival the advanced chemistries in performance, take advantage of an existing manufacturing base and address environmental concerns through the removal of one-half to two-thirds of the lead content.

Replacing the plates with carbon foam enables longer battery life while enhancing the battery’s desirable characteristics, particularly in terms of fast discharge and recharge conditions. Additionally, by replacing most of the lead with a much lighter material, Firefly has drastically lowered the specific weight of the battery, which can help by either increasing output from the same weight or in creating a smaller package but with normal power output.

Apart from [commercial and military markets], there are markets for hybrid and electric vehicles that also require high performance batteries. And while Firefly is initially looking to focus on select commercial and military markets, it is reasonable to expect that this novel technology will find equally viable markets elsewhere if the company should choose to enter them, given that the overall size of the worldwide lead-acid market is over $16 billion per year in sales.

—Sivam Sabesan

May 2, 2006 in Batteries | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)

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another improvement in power density. this is good, of course, but power density isn't really a problem.

for BEVs to be viable, we need roughly double the current energy density of the current best batteries and a 90% reduction in cost.

Shaun: Doubling the energy density of the current best (i.e. from 200-300 Wh/Kg to 400-600 Wh/Kg) may be possible within a few years with (A123, EEstor, Toshiba units etc) but reducing the cost by 90% would be a mjor break-through. However, mass production in China or India could bring the cost down by 50% (or more) quickly enough if special import tariffs are not applied to protect US manufacturers.

Power density per unit cost is very much the issue! HEVs rely on the electric path to provide energy recuperation and acceleration boost. While there have been substantial improvements to lead-acid (VRLA, unipolar, graphite foam electrodes) as well as other electrochemical systems, achieving high power ratings with batteries alone is a challenge whenever high life expectancy is also required.

Supercaps combine high power with long life but they are expensive and the power electronics must cope with inherently variable DC voltage.

BEVs are a pipedream of the CARB and a rather small - if diehard - group of EV aficionados. The rest of us would like several hundred miles range between fill-ups please.

Power density is no problem for BEVs but is the #1 issue for HEVs. PHEVs also need high power density, but cycle life and cost are also important. Here are some parameters for a practical PHEV-20:

Energy density: 100 wh/kg
Power density: 2000 w/kg
Cost: $200/kwh
Cycle life @ 80% DOD: 5000

Thus a $1000 battery will provide ample power (100 kw) and energy (5 kwh) for 20 miles of EV driving and will last the life of the vehicle. NiMH is too expensive and comes up short on power and energy density. Today's lithium is too expensive, comes up short on power density and way short on cycle life. Next-gen lithium (e.g. A123Systems) promises to meet all criteria except cost. If they can even get close on cost (e.g. $300-400/kwh) they'll do well. At the other end of the spectrum, today's lead acid easily meets the cost target but falls far short on all performance metrics. Firefly has not published data for energy and power density or cycle life, but their comments indicate they hope to get close on all three. Big news if they can deliver.

Presently, 10kwh in lead acid is about$2000 weighting about1000lbs. If firefly, in volume can keep the price the same but reduce weight to 500 lbs, then most people can recharge their Pluggable hybrid at home, and reduce greatly(50%?) gas consumption.
However, with a 50miles/gal in the simple hybrid mode to do half of 100k miles, and at $3/gal, you are just barely able to afford a new battery at 100k miles.
Anyway, Foster&Sullivan, show me the battery!

i still think about BEVs as being a relevant topic b/c they sound ideal.

to me, every battery should be measured against the BEV standard b/c BEVs eliminate our need for all of these messy chemicals, pipelines, local exhaust and leaves us with a vehicle that isn't sensitive to tuning, will never pollute more than it did on day 1 and simplifies our infrastructure needs.

in the short term and near term, biofuels are cool

Any comments on the e3 Supercell from www.axionpower.com

For HEV's it should be great as it can discharge quickly.

Supercaps and especially their power electronics becoming significantly cheaper. Parameters of modern supercaps - reliable 2KW per kg with peak 4KW per kg, along with ability to reduse strain on battery, opens very attractive possibilities for battery/supercap combination. Cheap battery is the key, althought I do not believe Pb chemistry will ever allow real PHEV.

I wish I knew how long until the guy on the street can purchase these Firefly batteries. They look excellent, and hopefully not too expensive.

Abraham, thankyou for the post. Very interesting. Chris your post was also very helpful and succinct.

I may have something even more significant: a company (Europositron) doing research for at least 10 years claims to have been able to use nanotechnology to produce rechargeable aluminum batteries, something formerly not possible. Aluminum batteries have HUGE energy storage capacity. These are some of the benefits they claim: super light weight, low cost, abundance of aluminum, high energy storage. Here are some stats they list. Be warned, you might be shocked:

Energy Density/Volume: 2100 Wh/litre !!!!!!!!!!!
Energy Density/Weight: 1330 Wh/kg
Life Cycle: 3000+ cycles
Minumum Working Temp: -40C
Maximum Working Temperature: +70C
Life: 10--30 years
Discharge Rate: Adjustable

Now I know there a lot of engineering experts on this site who tend to be very negative usually. But before you right this off, check out their website. I brough this up before and some guy slamed it because of the questionable reputation of some particular website that hosted the information. That is a logical fallicy, by the sway. Judge them on their own merits, and pray it is legit. It sounds to be so. Can it be?

Incidentally, and very significantly, they won the exact same Frost and Sullivan Technology Innovation Award last year that Firefly just won now as reported in this article! If there any battery experts on this site, please report what you think. Just don't look into it already resisting a paradigm shift before you even see it! Can this "be the one?"

http://www.europositron.com/en/background.html

Sounds great if they can pull it off. It is noted, however, that they don't have a prototype yet.

That was fascinating and exciting, John W. Thankyou.

i heard of the europositron thing before it looks very good, but one thing i dont understand how can you work on a battery idea for ten years and never build one prototype. its not possibe to make the claims they make without any type of basic working prototype, i would not invest but i do hope it works, it is what the world is waiting for

Googleing Europositron I found this:

"I to visited their road-show and I was NOT impressed! I can hardy tell what to start carping about, but I had a hundred objections when I went from there. To begin with, the inventor did not seem to fully grasp all electrical concepts, something he really should do if he had come with something as fantastic as this superbattery. Then all the bullshit about macromolecules and nanochemistry (haha!!). The description about how the battery worked was the most muddled popular "science" I have ever heard. Furthermore, the man gave strange answers to simple questions of general nature. For example, when asked about the voltage of the battery, he answered "the same as in the wall socket, about 200 volts in Europe and about a 100 in the USA". If the man had been a serious person, he had instead spoken about the cell voltage and that the battery consists of cells in serial connection to make a battery with a suitable voltage (any) for the application in which you may want to use it. [...]"

re Europositron. Try a search on Google groups. Looks like either an investment scam or a venture started by someone who had a good idea that didn't quite work yet could never let go and let everyone, including the investors, down.

I hope its for real, but i doubt it

Yeah, I looked around a bit and I'm not so optimistic anymore either. It's the fact they got the Frost and Sullivan award in 2005 that made me think there must be something there. Could they have been so duped? Don't they do their research first? I am always hopeful, but there is negative talk about it out there. Well this is what this site is all about. At least A123's are real and not some scam!

Past 3 decades developed countries accumulated enormous amount of Pb in automotive batteries. Rate of recycling of automotive batteries is more then 85%. If someone will manage to boost energy density of Pb battery twice, it will open enormous market for niche application of low-cost hybrid drivetrains. Think, for example, of switch railway engines, which MUST have enormous mass to facilitate traction.

I like all the posts here, this is a very important topic for the future of our economy. Personally, I believe a123 systems will come through with 500 wh/kg for plug in hybrids, and that will solve the problem with commute capable plug ins. Hopefully they can bring the cost down more, we shall see in a couple years I guess. By then Bush will be out of office, and someone with the Balls to put some real money into alternate energy technologies will be in office.

http://www.europositron.com/ is now closed. The pie in the sky just disappered

No it's not, http://www.europositron.com works just fine. The pie in the sky is still there....

The Market Court in Finland found Europositron guilty of "securities irregularities" and fined them EU 20,000 for trying to market securities without a proper prospectus, etc. This happened way back in 2003 and early 04.

Link is below. Very short, easy to read article in English about the court case.

http://www.oikeus.fi/markkinaoikeus/34750.htm

What bothers me most about the europositron battery is the almost complete lack of any technical details about the technology. If patents have been applied for, then where is the harm in releasing some basic details about the technology involved to the general public?
As to why there has as yet been no prototype, this might be understandable if the battery uses nano scale technology. Presumablt this kind of technology is not the kind of thing you can do in a garage, and I assume the equipment necessary to build nano scale components might cost a large amount of money to create.

The inventor behind Europositron is under arrest, says Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Finland 29.10.2007. Some investors apparently got fed up with the inventor, because he has never been able to come up with a prototype of his battery.

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