Monday, December 18, 2006

New type of battery pushed for hybrid cars

Detroit Free Press

December 16, 2006


At left is a 2-volt cell of a typical lead acid car battery. At right is Firefly Energy's smaller version. Carbon is used instead of metal. (Firefly Energy)

Executives with Firefly Energy Inc., a battery developer in Peoria, Ill., came to Detroit on Friday pitching what they said was a smaller, safer and less expensive battery than those now used in hybrid electric vehicles.

Firefly cofounders Mil Ovan and Ed Williams are visiting automakers worldwide, persuading them to use their patented lead acid batteries -- equipped with carbon in lieu of metal -- instead of nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries.

Ovan declined to say which Detroit automakers he visited, but Firefly, a former division of Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc., has customers that include the U.S. Army and Husqvarna AB, the world's largest lawn equipment manufacturer.

Battery manufacturers are competing to cash in on the fast-growing hybrid vehicle segment. The industry is dominated by manufacturers of nickel-metal hydride batteries, though lithium-ion has promised to be a better option.

Until now, carbon was avoided in lead acid batteries because it created gases that shortened the battery's life. But four years ago, Kurt Kelley, then a Caterpillar research scientist, tinkered with a lead acid battery and a scrap piece of carbon foam leftover from another Caterpillar department.

"And voilÀ," Ovan said.

Firefly claims the battery is 70% lighter, recharges seven times faster and lasts two times longer than conventional lead acid batteries and that it is safer and costs less than today's hybrid electric batteries.

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