A Cheaper Battery for Hybrid Cars

The new UltraBattery lasts at least four times longer than conventional lead-acid batteries, and its creators say that it can be manufactured at one-quarter the cost of existing hybrid-electric battery packs.

Published: 24-Jan-2008

The future market for hybrid-electric vehicles, at least those that are affordable, isn't necessarily paved with lithium. Researchers in Australia have created what could be called a lead-acid battery on steroids, capable of performing as well as the nickel-metal hydride systems found in most hybrid cars but at a fraction of the cost.

The so-called UltraBattery combines 150-year-old lead-acid technology with supercapacitors, electronic devices that can quickly absorb and release large bursts of energy over millions of cycles without significant degradation. As a result, the new battery lasts at least four times longer than conventional lead-acid batteries, and its creators say that it can be manufactured at one-quarter the cost of existing hybrid-electric battery packs.

In the United Kingdom last week, a Honda Insight hybrid powered by the UltraBattery system surpassed 100,000 miles on a test track. "The batteries were still in perfect condition at the end of the test," says David Lamb, who heads up low-emission transport research at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency. "What we've got is a lead-acid battery that is nice and cheap but can perform as well as, or better than, the nickel-metal hydride technology, which we know is very expensive."

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