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ALABC Submits Congressional Testimony on Advanced Lead Battery R&D for FY2016

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ALABC Submits Congressional Testimony on Advanced Lead Battery R&D for FY2016

The following testimony was filed March 30, 2015, by John Howes, ALABC Senior Policy Advisor, and Boris Monahov, PhD., ALABC Program Manager for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development

The Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium (ALABC)  is pleased to provide the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development our views on the US Department of Energy’s basic science and advanced battery research and development programs in the proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget. 

The ALABC supports the President’s request for a 5.3 per cent increase in the FY 2016 budget for the Office of Science. We draw your attention specifically to the Basic Energy Sciences (BES) budget, for which DOE seeks a 6.7 per cent increase. The ALABC respectfully hopes this request receives favorable attention. With regard to EERE’s vehicle technologies program, we support the proposed increase to $444 million from the current $290 million.   

The ALABC represents 80 companies and institutions from 23 countries, including 23 in the U.S., engaged in the research, development, production and recycling of lead-acid batteries used in a variety of transportation and stationary applications. Virtually all automobiles manufactured and sold throughout the world use starting, lighting and ignition (SLI) lead-acid batteries. There also are “deep cycle” lead-acid batteries for forklifts, traffic signals, cellular phone towers, grid storage, marine use, etc. This versatility has made the U.S. lead-acid industry a $10 billion per year business that has served consumers for more than 150 years. Lead-acid batteries, moreover, are recycled at a rate of 99 per cent, far higher than any other consumer product. 

While alternative battery chemistries (lithium-ion, nickel metal hydride, etc.) have entered the market, none has replaced lead-acid as the world’s best-selling rechargeable battery. The lead-acid industry has continually adapted to changing consumer demands with batteries that are more powerful and longer lasting. Research is a high priority for our industry, which has worked with public and private research institutions throughout the world and is very interested in continuing work with the U.S. Department of Energy to leverage DOE’s investment in advanced characterization tools for materials to drive new areas of advancement in lead acid batteries. 

While much of DOE’s battery research has been allocated to lithium-ion batteries, lead-acid has also played an important role. DOE has provided the lead-acid industry with key technical and financial support in battery testing, with outstanding results. DOE also has provided grants for new domestic lead-acid manufacturing capabilities. The ALABC presently is working with DOE’s Advanced Vehicle Testing and Evaluation program and Idaho National Laboratories to evaluate the performance of lead-acid batteries in a 12 volt stop-start alternative fuel vehicle.  


Continuing lead-acid battery innovation

For many years, the standard flooded lead-acid cell battery has served—and continues to serve—the SLI function in vehicles. This design costs well below $100/kWh—by far the lowest among the various battery chemistries. 

Progress is a hallmark of the lead-acid industry. The sealed valve regulated lead-acid battery (VRLA) was developed in the 1950s so batteries would no longer need continuous monitoring of electrolyte fluid. Gel batteries, introduced in the 1960s, use electrolyte in gel form for greater stability and are ideal in deep cycling systems. The absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery, which came to market in the 1980s, uses porous glass mats to absorb and hold electrolyte. AGMs have become popular in hybrid vehicle and other “high performance” applications.  

In recent years, the lead-acid industry has come through with another great innovation, the advanced “lead-carbon” design. This new battery uses carbon to reduce sulfation in the negative plate to expand the cycle life of flooded and VRLA batteries under high rate pulse cycling at partial state of charge. With this dramatic improvement, an advanced lead-carbon battery can now equal the performance of nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries, but at far lower cost.   

The chart at left compares the superior cycle life of the lead carbon UltraBattery® with a typical Lithium-ion battery and a standard valve regulated lead-acid battery tested for operation in photovoltaic systems. (Source: Sandia National Laboratories, 2011)

 Learning about the effect of carbon on lead-acid battery performance, however, has brought the industry to a new threshold that requires more extensive basic, fundamental research into the material science of lead-acid batteries. 

The reason for more basic research is that the underlying mechanisms responsible for improving capacity and cycling with carbon and other additives – as well as cell design optimization – remain only partially understood. Better insight into the fundamental performance enhancements seen in the last decade can help bring about further improvements in lead-acid batteries by designing electrode structures with superior performance.  The ALABC believes DOE’s facilities used for other battery chemistries could be readily and efficiently applied to lead carbon cells thereby leveraging efforts already pushed forward.

For example, there is considerable variation from study to study of which carbons (graphite, carbon black, activated carbon, and nano-sized carbon particles) work best with other battery materials and the mechanisms by which they work. Other factors such as paste preparation and plate production technology parameters also play an important role. We have four goals to achieve in an expanded basic research program: 

Minimized gassing and water loss

Sustainable performance at elevated and lower temperatures

High energy efficiency

High dynamic charge acceptance (DCA) in hybrid electric vehicle


These goals will be addressed through studies in the following research topics:

Continue improving the performance of negative plates by adding carbon

Enhance positive plate performance in long life cells with carbon-enhanced negative plates

Optimize cell design for better dynamic charge acceptance and longer cycle life

Optimize charge strategy  


Achieving these goals can result in enhanced performance of lead-carbon batteries and further reduce their life-cycle costs. 


Why the federal government’s role in basic research is in the public interest

We should note that U.S. DOE’s budget for basic research is considerably less than the department’s expenditures for applied research, by a factor of 10. Yet, as Dr. Patricia Dehmer (Acting Director of the DOE Office of Science) said in her statement before the subcommittee on March 17, 2015, the DOE Basic Energy Sciences Program “supports research to understand, predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular levels in order to provide the foundations for new energy technologies.” 

Since lead-acid batteries use less than 50% of their theoretical performance capability, research can help improve this without changing the chemistry, the raw material base or the recycling efficiency while hopefully keep production costs low. 

A strong basic energy science research program also can have significant “spillover” effects into areas beyond the original purpose. Furthermore, a sound, well-structured government basic research program can have a broader approach to inquiry than one initiated by a private sector entity motivated by rate of return. (A useful discussion can be found in Jaffe, “Introduction and Overview: Economic Analysis of Research Spillovers, Implications for the Advanced Technology Program,” Brandeis University & National Bureau of Economic Research, December 1996.)


The lead-acid sustainability model

The ALABC offers another reason for continued collaboration with DOE. Making lead-acid batteries better will enhance one of the industry’s most crucial advantages: sustainability.

The lead-acid industry’s undisputed economic advantage is due in large part to the fact that the batteries are 99 per cent recycled. From lead to sulfuric acid to even the plastic cases, all lead-acid batteries—including those made with advanced lead-carbon technologies—can be recycled. The life-cycle costs of lead-acid batteries manufactured with recycled materials are far less than batteries made with other chemistries using only new materials. This is because considerably less energy is required – and less CO₂ emitted – to manufacture lead-acid batteries with recycled materials. The cost of recycling is rolled into the retail price of lead-acid batteries. No other battery chemistry can make that claim.

Lead-acid battery recycling has been in operation for many years – long before the U.S. Congress enacted its first solid waste disposal law in 1976 – and its success has enabled lead, an otherwise highly toxic substance, to continue its role as a resource for low cost batteries that are essential for mobile and stationary requirements. 

DOE has recognized lead-acid’s superior sustainability profile and looks on the industry as a “model” that can extend to other battery chemistries.  Therefore, a modest effort in lead-acid basic R&D using DOE’s pre-existing staff and equipment would help broaden this recycled materials resource base while also supporting the economy’s ever-increasing need for sustainable energy management.  

In summary, the ALABC believes there is a strong need for DOE to maintain and enhance its role in helping strengthen the US energy storage industry’s role in providing the most efficient and environmentally beneficial products. The lead-acid industry plays an important role and looks forward to continued collaboration with DOE.