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ALABC lead-acid UltraBattery Civic hybrid surpasses 100,000 miles of fleet duty

Monthly fuel economy of the retrofitted Honda Civic during the first 9 months of the fleet test. DOE researchers attributed the significant fuel economy reduction for May, June, and July as most likely being due to significant mountain driving and the likely use of the vehicle’s air conditioning. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge.

In a project co-funded by the US Department of Energy and managed by Ecotality North America, the Advanced Lead Acid Battery Consortium (ALABC) has demonstrated the durability of lead-carbon batteries in the high-rate, partial state-of-charge operation of a hybrid electric vehicle. A Honda Civic hybrid retrofitted with lead-carbon UltraBattery modules (earlier post) (provided by East Penn Manufacturing) has recorded more than 100,000 miles (161,000 km) of courier duty in the local area of Phoenix, AZ.

The HEV demonstrator, which was first retrofitted and put into fleet duty by Ecotality in November 2011, achieved the benchmark—and continues to run smoothly—in the varying temperatures and elevations of the Phoenix area in just under two-years of operation with no significant loss in battery capacity. The hybrid has also achieved comparable MPG performance with that of the same model powered by Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries but at a significantly lower cost, ALABC said.

The UltraBattery Retrofit Project DP1.8 and Carbon Enriched Project C3 were established to demonstrate the suitability of advanced lead battery technology in hybrid electrical vehicles (HEVs). The fleet testing is the last task in the Ecotality/DOE work program.

In the C3 Project, valve-release, lead-acid batteries containing high levels of carbon in the negative electrode are being designed, manufactured, and evaluated under laboratory-simulated test cycles. In order to streamline both research projects, the battery evaluation component of the C3 Project was combined with the retrofit project. Researchers at the DOE’s Idaho National Lab issued a report on the development and testing of the UltraBattery hybrid in August 2012.

An important objective of the project has been to benchmark the performance of the UltraBatteries manufactured by both Furukawa Battery Co., Ltd., Japan (Furakawa) and East Penn Manufacturing Co., Inc. (East Penn). Accordingly, UltraBattery packs from both Furakawa and East Penn have been characterized under a range of conditions. Resistance measurements and capacity tests at various rates show that both battery types are very similar in performance. Both technologies, as well as a standard lead-acid module (included for baseline data), were evaluated under a simple HEV screening test. Both Furakawa and East Penn UltraBattery packs operated for over 32,000 HEV cycles, with minimal loss in performance; whereas the standard lead-acid unit experienced significant degradation after only 6,273 cycles. The high-carbon, ALABC battery manufactured in Project C3 also was tested under the advanced HEV schedule. Its performance was significantly better than the standard lead-acid unit, but was still inferior compared with the UltraBattery. The batteries supplied by Exide as part of the C3 Project performed well under the HEV screening test, especially at high temperatures. The results suggest that higher operating temperatures may improve the performance of lead-acid-based technologies operated under HEV conditions—it is recommended that life studies be conducted on these technologies under such conditions.

—“Development and Testing of an UltraBattery - Equipped Honda Civic”

According to the DOE report, as of the end of August 2012, the vehicle had accumulated more than 60,000 miles and had experienced a wide range of driving conditions. The battery capacity was 7.54 Ah (at a C1 rate) after 51,000 miles driven, which is a very minimal capacity loss when comparing an average 7.55 Ah for the new modules.

The vehicle delivers an average of a 44-mpg (5.3 l/100km) fuel economy when driving under mild temperature and in reasonably flat terrain. This drops to approximately 35 mpg (6.7 l/100km) when the temperature increases and the terrain becomes hillier. The original 2010 Civic Hybrid carried an EPA fuel economy rating of 42 mpg combined (40 city, 45 highway).

The lead-carbon UltraBattery technology was originally developed by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Furukawa Battery of Japan and supplied by East Penn Manufacturing of Lyon Station, PA. This battery design combines a traditional lead-acid battery with a carbon-enhanced supercapacitor in one singular and highly-effective component.

The ALABC tested Furukawa’s UltraBattery modules in 2010 in a Honda Insight demonstrator and also reached the 100,000-mile mark, but the results were achieved on a test track in Millbrook, UK.

When we first achieved 100,000 with the UltraBattery Insight vehicle in Millbrook, we raised several eyebrows, but we realized that automakers wanted to see how the modules would operate in real-world conditions, and preferably in a bigger hybrid electric vehicle with more power demand on the battery. That’s when we approached the US DOE and Ecotality about operating a vehicle in a fleet in and around Phoenix.

—Dr. Boris Monahov, program manager

In the funding arrangement with the DOE, ALABC representatives engaged Ecotality North America to retrofit a Honda Civic HEV by replacing its NiMH batteries with UltraBattery modules supplied by East Penn.

Ecotality ran extensive tests on East Penn’s UltraBattery design and was able to reach 167,000 miles in laboratory testing simulating actual vehicle operations. Following the simulation tests, Ecotality engineered the actual conversion of the vehicle and put it into daily route duty in a courier fleet. Today, the demonstration vehicle continues to run on a daily schedule and the batteries are operating better than expected.

East Penn obtained a patent in 2008 to produce the UltraBattery energy storage technology, and it has used UltraBattery modules in its own demonstration hybrid (also based on a Honda Civic HEV). That vehicle undergoes consistent road testing and battery system analysis at East Penn’s manufacturing complex in Lyon Station, PA, and it has already racked up 65,000 miles of real-world duty.

After reaching 50,000 miles, the battery pack of this car showed no performance degradation and the individual battery voltages of the pack actually converged as they aged—suggesting UltraBattery technology can diminish the complexity and expense of other battery technologies and their battery monitoring systems.

East Penn, along with its subsidiary Ecoult, is also evaluating their UltraBattery units as the main power source in a successful smart grid demonstration facility in Lyon Station. This energy storage facility, which was also supported by a grant from the Department of Energy, is the second DOE Smart Grid Demonstration Program to be launched using UltraBattery technology.

The Consortium intends to continue running the hybrid it to see how long the batteries will last. The ALABC will also seek additional research and development projects to not only study the performance of UltraBattery modules and other lead-carbon designs, but also other applications of these batteries in automotive and energy storage capacities.




It's a little late now, and making comparison to NiMH doesn't suggest a realistic understanding of the state of art. Li-ion will replace both of these technologies. These guys are a bit like typewriter manufacturers, NiMH is the dedicated word processing machines and Li-ion is the PCs.


Combo (super caps - lead battery) was proposed for HEVs 4 or 5 years ago. This is not a surprise.

Did anybody try a combo:

(a) super caps - NiMH combo.
(b) super caps - LiOn combo.

in HEVs and PHEVs and compare the performance against a (super caps - Lead battery) combo?

Both NiMH and LiOn batteries would last much longer when combined with super caps and braking energy recovery could be improved?


I guess we can't count lead-acid out of the game yet.

I'm pleased to see this, because if the existing battery mfgrs can compete with the new Li-ion producers such as LG Chem it means a much more robust marketplace, lower prices and likely faster adoption by automakers.


It would be nice if these could be brought to market sooner. They were first demonstrated by the CSIRO (the inventor) back in 2000 with the ECOmmodore and used in the torch relay for the Sydney Olympics. A HEV using them passed 160,000 km testing in 2008. They may not be a better technology in terms of material innovation but they can do the same job cheaper which is what we all want to see.


Personally I think the sooner a stake is driven through the heart of the use of lead in batteries or anywhere else the batter.

The use of even minuscule quantities of lead in circuit boards etc has been banned for years, and for sound reasons.

Unlike radiation, lead really does seem to follow a linear no threshold model, which means that any quantity no matter how small is damaging.

Not just lead use, but lead production and refining leads to severe health consequences.

The reason lead acid batteries got a free pass years ago, when its use in everything else was greatly tightened up or banned altogether, was that there was no realistic alternative back then.

That is far from the case today, and one of the many lithium chemistries combined where necessary with capacitors can not only substitute every use, but also makes for lighter batteries.

Any cost disadvantage is well worth bearing for a time until costs fall to get rid of this deadly menace.


Davemart, Pb is not as toxic as you suggest. I don't know where you get the conviction that Pb has no threshold, but I doubt it is a scientific scource.
Simply look at the toxicity mechanisms, and it becomes clear that the dose is very relevant, and below certain levels very acceptable.
Bioaccumulation is very low, and it is fastly removed from the biosphere.
Lead in bullets may accumulate in predators when Pb is ingested and through the stomach converted to free ions and PbS. Likewise if lead sanitary tubings came into contact with acid drinking water, people ingested it (with sometimes severe poisening because of extremely high doses).
Pb containing paint was used for painting (among others) of furniture and it tasted good. Children sometimes ingested extremely high doses because their bed taisted so good...

However, we will not eat our batteries !
As a heavy metal, Pb is not volatile and even in case of fire, Pb will melt or form PbO, but remain solid (or liquid as long as it's hot)
Historic Pb air pollution was because we burned Tetra-ethyl-Pb and the PbO emission were volatile or because Pb was boiled off in silver production (in massive amounts during the roman empire).
This Pb is all sequestered already.
The north sea has a lot of historical pollution, but Pb is not a problem, since it sequesters so fast.

The alternative - fossil fuels - does cause volatile and bioaccumulative pollution. So the (small) negative effects of Pb are a small price to pay to get rid of combustion fuels.

Also for other creatures of our biospere, the balance is in favor of Pb batteries.


The dichotomy you present between the use of lead in batteries and fossil fuel burn is without merit.
As I noted, lithium can substitute for its use in every application that I am aware of.

I am also not in the habit of making statements without having evidence to back them up, although on this occasion I did not give references as the extreme toxicity of lead is a well known problem.

Here is one such reference:

'The bad news is that blood lead levels are still about 100 times higher than the natural background level, and there is no known threshold for lead toxicity. In other words, even tiny amounts of lead in the body can be harmful.'

Note that the speaker is A. Russell Flegal, professor of environmental toxicology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

'Unlike organic pollutants, lead never degrades. To illustrate the persistence of lead in the environment, Flegal cites a 2005 study showing that 90 percent of the current atmospheric lead pollution in the Los Angeles basin originally came from leaded gasoline. Lead particles continue to be deposited on the ground and resuspended into the air decades after their original source was eliminated. Studies by Flegal and others also show that forest fires in California remobilize lead that was deposited in soils decades ago.

"It will take decades to centuries to purge these historic depositions from the environment," Flegal said.'


' The ramifications of lead exposure are financial as well, costing the U.S. about $209 billion a year, said Jessica Reyes, an economist at Amherst College. The bill includes everything from direct medical costs to a heightened need for special education classes and incarcerations for violent crime, which also correlates with higher lead exposure.

The ongoing trouble with lead exposure is not to be confused with lead poisoning, which has dropped significantly in developed countries, including the U.S. The latter condition is caused by acute exposure at high concentrations, which can occur from eating lead paint chips. But all the other problems “are more like chronic diseases that build over time,” said A. Russell Flegal of the University of California, Santa Cruz. “We need to start thinking about the risks in that way.”

Lead is still prevalent in our environment for many reasons. Because lead does not degrade, heavy emissions from the past accumulate in soil. Winds, especially during drought—like that afflicting the Midwest for the past year or so—kick it up as dust, and runoff from heavy rains and flooding can re-suspend the particles in the atmosphere. Trees take up soil particles, too, but when forests burn in wildfires, as has been occurring more frequently worldwide with global warming in recent years, that lead is released back into the air. Fires also release lead from old houses and buildings coated with lead paint that was applied prior to the U.S. ban. Lead smelting and refining is still an enormous industry worldwide, sending more of the metal into the environment. Aviation gas used in planes still contains lead.'

Your notion of the relative benignity of lead is not founded on any medical studies which I am aware of at all.


Davemart, the release of lead from batteries is minuscule compared to what was once broadcast due to use of TEL.  The use of lead in electronic solder may be banned in Europe (ROHS), but it continues in the USA and we do not have any obvious issues from it (and our electronics are more reliable too; we don't have tin whiskers shorting things out).

The use of lead-carbon batteries appears unlikely to even slow the on-going decline of environmental lead exposure, as the historic contamination from paint and gasoline is slowly moved away from entries to the biological cycle.


From my above quote:
'Lead smelting and refining is still an enormous industry worldwide, sending more of the metal into the environment. Aviation gas used in planes still contains lead.'.

I think we ought to take lead out of anything where we can reasonably do so.
Just producing it releases substantial contamination.

There is also a 'lag effect'.
Delightful socially aware developed world companies are still good enough to supply poor countries with lead paint and so on.

Recycling has a degree of hazard even in the OECD.
When cars have their batteries stripped in Nigeria or Bangladesh great harm is done.

So long as we keep using lead in batteries, then that recycling hazard will go on from decade to decade.

If we had no viable alternative, fine, the deaths would have to be accepted.

Since it is totally practical to replace lead with lithium it seems daft not to.
That might even give lithium battery development a lift, and would certainly lower the weight of cars by a couple of kilos.


Exide is now in big trouble for claims of lead pollution. Not a problem?



I agree we should go to Li as fast as possible, however, even today, the mining capacity of Li is not much larger than the consumption, while a cellphone needs less than a car. I fear that if millions of car batteries must be made each year, progression will slow.
I hope we can soon extract millions of tons from seawater, but in the short run, we need cheap and many batteries (and laws requiring sound production/recycling).
However, every environmental problem of Pb is caused by "earosolized" lead (mostly historical due to Pb in fuels (which should obviously beforbidden) or through boiling (which can easily be prevented in industry).
Our use or not use of batteries will not change the historical pollution, Pb in fuels or lead paint in Africa.
The health hazards of combustion engines and fossil powerplants are much larger than any Pb effects from batteries if basic rules are respected.

However, if Li/H2 is available at large-enough quantities, it is first choice.

Kit P

“the balance is in favor of Pb batteries ”

“the relative benignity of lead is not founded on any medical studies which I am aware of at all. ”

As in this case, often both sides in a discussion are wrong. The goal is to reduce risk to the point of where risk of harm is insignificant. Davemart and and Alain are debating which is risk is closer to zero.

“the deaths would have to be accepted. ”

“The health hazards of combustion engines and fossil powerplants ”

What death, what health hazard? Sure studies say there was a problem 30 years ago and we need to change how we did things. We changed how we did things and now the problem has gone away.

Since we no longer have an air pollution problem and we solved it without EV, debating batteries is a mute point for air quality.


KitP as usual simply ignores the medical evidence.
I have already supplied links to what they think, which is certainly not that lead is zero risk

It really is not worth while pretending that he has anything sensible to offer, or faking any respect at all when his ludicrous denial of reality invites ridicule.

There is plenty of lithium, without worrying about resources in the sea.
Chemetal puts the resource at 30 million tons:

the Leaf uses around 4kg of lithium for its 24kwh pack.

So we are talking about 7 and half billion vehicles from present resources.

Zinc is likely to work just fine too, although not currently at the fore.

Resources of that are for all practical purposes unlimited.

Kit P


“Not a problem? ”

Do you have any evidence of a new problem?

Since Anne is lives in California, I will have to tell here what evidence actually is. It is not the number of articles you find doing a Google search. It is really simple. Lead is a problem when it found at elevated levels in children. Very easy to take a blood sample and measure it.

Clearly there are legacy issues with lead, mercury, and arsenic especially associated with smelting and mining. However, since we have removed lead from paint and gasoline; there has been a dramatic reduction levels in children as reported by CDC and linked by me in the past. .

Legacy issue have put many companies in financial trouble because of RCRA and CERCLA. As the regulations from the '70 have reduced the problems, newer more strict regulations have come about because pollution control technologies are lowering the bar for best available technology (BAT).

It is hard to find a 'new' problem that is significant.

Kit P

“which is certainly not that lead is zero risk ”

I did not say the risk was zero. Davemart did not provide any links to sites that quantified the risk or medical evidence. I did not ignore what Davemart. Davemart does not understand the difference between the scientific method and junk science.

A systematic approach to the scientific method for determining if there is increased exposure to lead would be measurement of lead in the blood of children. There has been a dramatic reduction levels in children as reported by CDC and linked by me in the past.

This would suggest that in the US, exposure to lead has dramatically. The next step is to evaluate the medical evidence. I am not a doctor. As an engineer, I would look at the BAT for reducing a problem such as an environmental release. The criteria for risk is not zero but insignificant.


If Lithium can do the job and the price doesn't restrict its fast implementation, it is most probably first choice.
Lets hope production can follow massive increase in demand.

Exide is now in big trouble for claims of lead pollution. Not a problem?

Localized, and trivial compared to climate change.

From my above quote:
'Lead smelting and refining is still an enormous industry worldwide, sending more of the metal into the environment.

You can expect third-world smelters to have third-world pollution standards.  Yet regardless of this, the effects don't extend beyond the immediate area (unlike, say, mercury).  Lead is often associated with other metals, such as silver and zinc.

Aviation gas used in planes still contains lead.'.

Aviation gasoline is a trivial fraction of petroleum consumption, and many piston aircraft can get STCs to operate on unleaded premium auto gasoline.  There are strong incentives to get such STCs, because avgas is very expensive when it can be found at all; refiners place low priority on it, since everybody who's anybody has at least a turboprop if not a jet.

I think we ought to take lead out of anything where we can reasonably do so.

I think that paranoia about lead in traction batteries is counterproductive if it leads to continued excess reliance on petroleum.  Even auto starting batteries are mostly recycled; traction batteries replaced by repair shops or pulled out by automotive recyclers are going to be recycled with almost 100% likelihood.

When cars have their batteries stripped in Nigeria or Bangladesh great harm is done.

That's not a problem that's going to be solved by staying glued to the ICE.

Since it is totally practical to replace lead with lithium it seems daft not to.

If lithium can meet the price and performance levels required to replace petroleum, let it.  But don't make perfect into the enemy of good enough.


Since high level of metals are being found in the brain (plaques) of most Alzheimer patients, industries should start to take note and reduce metals floating in the air, in many edible food stocks and drinking water.

Our glorious industries, that we are so proud of, are probably responsible for many recent growing diseases and ills such as brain disorders, cancers, autism etc.

Tobacco was (and still is) one bad example among many others that we should identify and deal with proactively?.

Trevor Carlson

Even without other airborne sources of lead or lead in our homes many people don't think twice about going to the dentist to get a cavity filled. Often-times cavities are filled with a compound utilizing a high content of lead. The science behind ensuring that lead does not degrade and released from the filling is shaky at best and yet the practice has not been banned, even when there are better alternatives that are only slightly more expensive.

If people willingly put lead into their bodies why are profit seeking companies expected to care more?

How then do you expect to up-end entire industries based on Lead-Acid batteries and force all their customers to pay significantly more for the alternatives?

Trevor Carlson

I'm sorry I must correct myself - I was thinking of mercury, not lead.

"Dental amalgams are made by mixing one part of liquid mercury with one part of a mixture of other metals: mainly silver, but also tin, some copper and small amounts of zinc."

So while my argument still stands for mercury - it doesn't apply to this article or any of the responses above. I apologize.

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