Lead acid battery design gets technology upgrade


Firefly Energy says it has developed an innovative graphite foam lead-acid battery poised to cause disruptive changes in the $30-billion global lead-acid battery market.

The lead acid cell, a technology born in the 1850s, is reliable, safe, inexpensive, and can also handle large surges in current, which makes it attractive to automobile manufacturers. However, the lead acid cell realizes little of its theoretical power density and has a relatively short battery life. “While somewhat newer battery technologies like lithium ion and nickel-metal hydride offer alternatives to traditional lead acid cells, they have their own set of issues, including higher costs,” says Frost & Sullivan research analyst Sivam Sabesan. While some advanced batteries’ features improve upon the traditional lead acid cell, but cannot match all features. Engineers at Firefly Energy believe they can improve the lead acid cell to match lithium ion and the nickel metal hydrides, Sabesan says.

Firefly Energy, a spin-out of Caterpillar, removes heavy weight, extensive corrosion, and sulfating positive and negative lead metal grids by substituting them with carbon-graphite foam, increasing the surface area, to enhance battery chemistry. The result rivals the advanced chemistries in performance, takes advantage of an existing manufacturing base, and addresses environmental concerns by using half to two-thirds less lead. Frost & Sullivan gave the company a Technology Innovation Award.

--Edited by Mark T. Hoske , Control Engineering editor in chief

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