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ALABC 2016-2018 Prospectus Executive Summary

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ALABC 2016-2018 Prospectus Executive Summary


Energy conservation is a key issue for the global economy moving forward both for cost and environmental reasons. Energy is also a major expense to society whether for personal use or industry. Additionally, in the next few years further legislation-driven reductions in CO2 emissions are expected. This large restructuring of the world economy will have a marked impact on the lead-acid battery market and the lead industry. These mandated changes by governments around the world are unlikely to change with the recent reductions in the price of oil and gas and may not shift the focus of legislators in this area. In addition, the predicted transition from heavy energy generation from fossil sources to renewable energy (which often needs storage), also legislated by governments, may open new battery markets to overcome the intermittency problems inherent in emerging energy generation technologies, e.g. solar and wind technologies. Both of these sectors use lead batteries at present but are under pressure from other storage systems and battery chemistries, e.g. Lithium-ion (Li-ion). 

Despite overall high rates of growth for the rechargeable battery industry, lead battery demand is not growing at the same rate as other chemistries which are more suitable for the emerging applications in vehicles and portable batteries. This is partly due to the fact that major investments made in alternative chemistries by policy makers and venture capital virtually ignore lead chemistries and have been focused on alternative battery technologies. It is also to be expected that future automotive and energy storage technical requirements will be challenging for current level lead batteries, meaning that their performance needs rapid improvement in order to meet future needs and maintain market positions. However, the potential for lead batter is high, as they use only part (30-40%) of their energy and power and thus have the potential for substantial improvement while keeping the same cost range. 

The further development of advanced lead batteries (including lead-carbon) underpinned by a strong research effort is thus vital to ensuring the continued growth of the lead battery and the lead industry. 

ALABC Research Success 

Past ALABC Programs have been highly successful in overcoming many of the problems that have limited lead-acid battery performance including preliminary capacity loss, corrosion, water loss, negative plate sulphation in HEV and ESS applications and short cycle life, especially in high rate partial-state-of-charge (HRPSoC) cycling. This has involved developing optimized grid and cell designs, introducing advanced materials and additives for improved performance and durability, and establishing optimized charge regimes to get the most from lead-acid batteries.   

After the highly successful debut of several new lead-acid battery designs, work recently derived from ALABC research has driven the successful evolution of advanced lead-carbon batteries with carbon additives to the negative plate. The success of lead-carbon batteries has allowed enhanced flooded batteries (EFB) to capture a major share of the start-stop market, and the development of 48V batteries, implemented highly successfully in the SuperHybrid vehicle programs. Using lead-carbon batteries in micro and mild-hybrids has clearly shown that advanced lead batteries are the lowest cost way to achieve CO2 emission targets. The success and excellent functionality of 48V lead-carbon batteries has resulted in demonstration programs being built in partnership with key automotive companies such as Ford and Hyundai. 

2016-2018 ALABC program

The ALABC 2016-2018 program of pre-competitive research will be carried out with the aim of providing a strong foundation for further improvements for lead-acid batteries in automotive applications where the duty cycle is extended beyond micro-hybrid service to higher levels of energy recovery. The work will also be aimed at industrial batteries, especially for utility energy storage, to improve life in applications where the charging regime puts higher stress level on batteries.

These objectives will be best met if the research is focused on material science and electrochemical studies to gain a deeper understanding of the properties of new materials and the battery processes taking place in modern, demanding applications. This research will be used to provide the tools for creating further improved designs. This is an area where the battery industry is weak as research efforts are necessarily directed to product development to meet more immediate needs. Demonstration programs will not be funded unless there are very strong reasons to do so and if they are highly leveraged by outside partners and sponsors.

The new ALABC program for the period 2016-18 will thus focus on basic processes in battery operation: 

  • Nucleation, growth, re-crystallization of lead and lead sulphate crystals; 
  • Specific adsorption and surface chemistry of lead and sulphate ions as well as of carbon-containing species (additives, expanders), and the role of specific adsorption for recrystallization; 
  • The role of the current path design and the polarization profile for creating and maintaining active mass microstructures allowing very high levels of utilization; 
  • Developing methods for increasing the energy density; and 
  • Further optimization of the metallurgy of the grid alloys.

Pre-competitive research in these areas will bring the added benefit of renewing future competence in the lead battery system which has dwindled as young researchers are attracted to the well-funded Lithium battery programs. 

ILA and ALABC in partnership

Lead is essential, sustainable and innovative and there are significant future opportunities for lead batteries in a range of automotive and stationary applications. The outcomes of ALABC research will therefore align with the core programs of ILA which are to ensure that lead batteries remain the product of choice for customers, that the lead and lead battery industry are proportionally regulated, and to ensure that the benefits of lead are well recognized by key stakeholders.