Hybrid car batteries are at the center of a lot of speculation, rumor, and misconception. Are they polluting more than the gasoline? Will they have to be replaced more often than regular batteries, and at a higher cost? How will they perform in real life situations? Technology is making great leaps forward with the lithium battery and the future looks good.
Types of Hybrid Car Batteries
There are three types of batteries currently being used in hybrid vehicles. Each has some positive qualities:
- Lead acid batteries are the most affordable battery for hybrid vehicles. They are safe, and they have proven performance in automobiles. It is the battery that has been used for years in cars. The lead acid battery does not last as long as some of the newer types of batteries, and they store less energy. For example, a hybrid vehicle can travel about ten miles in the all electric mode with the energy stored in a lead acid battery. Even when used in conjunction with gasoline, these batteries are only able to boost performance for about twenty miles.
- Hybrid vehicles are currently using a nickel-metal-hydride, or NiMH battery to power the engine. The battery is easily rechargeable, and is the same type that is used in consumer electronics. Nickel-metal-hydride batteries produce more energy than the lead acid battery, giving about four to five miles per kilowatt hour. These batteries store less energy than the lithium-ion batteries, but their performance is predictable because they have been in use for several years.
- Lithium-ion batteries hold large amounts of energy, making them excellent choices for hybrid car batteries. It is the same battery, albeit larger, that is used in laptops and other portable electronics. The lithium-ion battery, or Li-Ion battery, stores enough energy to run a car on electricity alone for twenty five miles or more. When used in conjunction with gasoline they allow the vehicle to run for close to 45 miles on the boosted energy combination of the gas and electric. The Li-Ion battery seems to be the best choice, however it is a new technology and many people feel it is too unpredictable.
The Lithium-Ion Battery Controversy
These Li-Ion hybrid car batteries are very expensive. In many cases the battery pack alone costs up to five thousand dollars. Those who are against the battery argue that the cost is high, and the battery might not perform as expected. The technology for these batteries changes week to week and the ability to create the exact battery necessary for optimum performance is said to be just around the corner. Proponents say that the battery has a longer life than any other battery, and should last the life of the car. The life expectancy of a car is set at fifteen years, or 150,000 miles. If that is the case, these batteries would not be expensive in the long term. The batteries recharge in about 30 minutes, and best of all, are recyclable.
Some manufacturers are experimenting with the addition of capacitors to hybrid vehicles in order to assist the Li-Ion battery in utilizing stored energy in burst of speed. This would allow faster acceleration, or better maintenance of speed when climbing hills, two areas that Li-Ion batteries are weak in.
The biggest problem with lithium batteries is how to make them big enough that they can store enough energy to power the hybrids without having to revert to using gasoline when driving in town. Lithium batteries are extremely efficient when made in a certain size. When the batteries are produced in a larger size they become subject to thermal tally off, where electromagnetic waves are not being absorbed correctly by components in the battery. This can cause the battery to overheat and ignite.
It must be noted, however, that driving a car in the heat of summer, with an extremely heat flammable substance in the tank is something taken for granted as being safe, despite having one catch fire once in a while. It is largely the fear of the unknown that keeps people from embracing new technology no matter how beneficial it is. Until the manufacturers can create a fuel cell that is a viable alternative to the Li-Ion battery, it is the best technology available.