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DOE Vehicle Technologies Annual Merit Review Promising for Lead-Acid

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DOE Vehicle Technologies Annual Merit Review Promising for Lead-Acid

Lead-acid battery technologies certainly haven’t received the attention and funding that lithium technologies have from the Vehicle Technologies Program at the U.S. Department of Energy. However, last week’s Vehicle Technologies Annual Merit Review clearly demonstrated that lead-acid’s profile is on the rise.


The progress of grants under the Obama Administration’s Recovery Act administered by the Vehicle Technologies program was part of a presentation by David Howell, the program’s team leader:


Perhaps even more striking was a presentation by Idaho National Laboratory (INL), which is leading the department’s evaluation of advanced technology vehicles. The INL presentation contained a slide listing the accomplishments of the UltraBattery, developed under the sponsorship of the Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium (ALABC) and now being marketed and manufactured in North America by East Penn.


In addition to East Penn, other members of the ALABC were featured at the Annual Merit Review:

  • Exide Technologies: “Accelerating the Electrification of U.S. Drive Trains: Ready and Affordable Technology Solutions for Domestically Manufactured Advanced Batteries.”
  • EnerG2: “Nanoengineered Ultracapacitor Material Surpasses the $/kW Threshold for Use in EDV’s.”

(NOTE: All presentations from last week’s Annual Merit Review meetings will be available on the DOE Vehicle Technologies website within the next few days. If you would like me to e-mail any of them to you in the meantime, please let me know at [email protected].)

Lead-acid’s profile has certainly been rising in the vehicle technologies program, which nevertheless is under increased scrutiny in Congress, where some members, mostly conservative Republicans, have criticized the program’s lithium R&D activities for not meeting fuel efficiency benchmarks in a timely manner.

The fairness of such criticism is open to debate. After all, it’s impossible to predict the exact date when a scientific innovation will occur. Nevertheless, the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year directed DOE to commission a $3 million study from the National Academies on “barriers” to the commercialization of hybrid vehicle technologies. The vehicle technologies program also has to comply with the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which directs all federal agencies to produce mission statements, results-oriented goals and performance assessments.

The vehicle technologies program, which has spent considerable funds on the development of lithium batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles, is being evaluated by several national labs, which presented interim reports at last week’s Vehicle Technologies Annual Merit Review. The reports were striking for their candor and transparency.

One study is worth highlighting, “Medium and Heavy-Duty Electric Drive Vehicle Simulation and Analysis,” by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The three-year study, due to end this October, evaluated different scenarios in an effort to determine how soon the cost of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technologies using lithium batteries in medium and heavy duty trucks could be “paid back.” The study concluded:

“Results with present-day cost assumptions show few PHEV scenarios pay back, but many scenarios pay back under future projections of low battery and high fuel prices.”


Two years ago, DOE said its goal was to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, with the cost of PHEV battery systems to drop to $300/kWh. That goal certainly will not be met. DOE now is developing a new program, “EV Everywhere,” with the goal of reducing the cost of PHEV battery systems to $125Wh by 2022.


Will that happen? That can only be answered in time. Within the next year, the vehicle technologies program will continue its effort to reduce the cost of lithium batteries by pursuing potential solutions to barriers and challenges. The objectives will be to pursue strategies to (1) reduce the cost of “next generation” lithium-ion batteries, (2) improve abuse tolerance and (3) significantly increase the energy density of the batteries. But, Congress also will debate whether the program should be given more time and enough funding to bring down the cost of lithium batteries.


In the meantime, the vehicle technologies program will continue its dialogue with the lead-acid battery industry, which has achieved impressive progress in meeting the objective of developing batteries that already are reaching commercial acceptance.