Advanced Lead Batteries: An Innovation Journey

An Innovation Journey: Advanced Lead Batteries

Innovation in advanced lead batteries has been a constant theme in the long history of this technology. Lead batteries have served as the world’s primary source of rechargeable batteries for more than a century, and their journey of innovation has been just as long.

From ushering in carbon-reducing start-stop technology, to advanced lead technology using additives to deliver increased performance for energy storage applications, the development of lead batteries has ensured it remains a critical technology in our world today, one representing 70% of the global rechargeable battery market.

The Consortium of Battery Innovation (CBI) is the world’s only pre-competitive organization dedicated to advancing innovation in lead battery technology. As demand for clean mobility and clean energy continues to soar, the future will need batteries and lots of them. With their unrivaled safety, reliability and 99% recycling rate, lead batteries will play a central role in this future. 

The ability of a technology to continue to innovate to meet changing technical requirements demanded by the sectors in which they are used is crucial. For the automotive sector, virtually every vehicle on the road utilizes a lead battery. For energy storage, lead batteries are providing reliable and cost-effective ways in which to store energy for small-scale microgrids to large-scale frequency regulation projects.

With over 100 members spread across the globe, from manufacturers and recyclers to materials suppliers, research institutes and end-users, CBI is bringing together knowledge and expertise that is driving forward research and innovation in the technology.

Last year, CBI launched a technical innovation roadmap identifying market-driven research goals for lead battery technology to secure future opportunities in key markets. By undertaking pre-competitive research projects aimed at delivering on these objectives, we aim to achieve significant performance enhancements for dynamic charge acceptance (DCA) and cycle life. 

DCA is the ability of a battery to accept instantaneous charge, such as through regenerative breaking, and is an essential technical requirement for the hybrid automotive market, and we’ve set a goal of reaching 2 Amps/Ah by 2022.

 Cycle life, which is the number of charge/discharge cycles a battery can perform before losing performance ability, is a key technical parameter for utility and renewable energy storage applications. Achieving 5,000 cycles by 2022 is our goal, a five times increase on current levels.

A range of research projects delivering on these specific goals are launched each year by CBI in collaboration with our global membership. From projects with leading universities such as UCLA visualizing the dynamics of carbon-enhanced negative electrodes, to collaborating with battery manufacturers and testing institutes to develop cheaper, lighter batteries with improved cycle life, power and energy density, CBI’s research program is continuously establishing new ways for lead batteries to innovate. 

The U.S. lead battery industry, a sector employing 25,000 people worth $26.3 billion is an industry leader in manufacturing and recycling, providing a sustainable solution for the nation’s electrification and decarbonization goals. Recognizing the importance of lead battery technology, a ground-breaking project, organized by CBI with Argonne National Laboratory and the Department of Energy, is currently researching cycle life performance improvements for lead batteries using ultra-bright, high-energy synchrotron x-ray beams.

The automotive sector represents more than half of the market for lead batteries. Advancements such as these allow today’s lead batteries to provide better fuel efficiency in micro-hybrid and start-stop vehicles, with the start-stop vehicle fleet allowing for over 4.5 million tons of CO2 savings in the U.S. alone.

Demand for battery energy storage is booming, and utility grid storage is a key focus area for lead battery development. The past decade has seen significant increases in lifetime for these applications, and this high-performance combined with low acquisition cost per kWh and high and economically profitable recyclability means lead batteries are a fantastic energy storage solution. Developments in battery technology such as lead-carbon, enhanced flooded batteries (EFB), absorptive glass mat (AGM), bipolar lead batteries and the UltraBattery® all deliver enhanced performance, particularly at partial state-of-charge (PSoC), which is key for the diverse range of energy storage applications.

CBI’s 2020 request for proposals has recognized this energy storage boom, and we’re seeking research bids focused on facilitating the latest understanding in energy storage applications such as microgrids for renewable energy, load following for electrical grids, and demand response for commercial and industrial applications. 

The future will require a range of technologies to deliver on clean energy and clean mobility targets. And this future will require batteries that continue to innovate and develop as technical requirements evolve and demand continues to soar. Advanced lead batteries, an innovative technology combining high-performance, safety and sustainability, are ready to grasp these future opportunities.

About the author: Matthew Raiford earned his B. Sc. in Chemistry from Texas A&M University in 2009 and his Ph. D. in Chemistry from University of Texas at Austin in 2014. Afterward, he started as a process engineer at RSR Technologies. Matt has spent the last five years working on materials development in active materials for lead batteries. He is focused on improving dynamic charge acceptance and cycle life in lead batteries and has pursued this goal by working with national labs, universities, and the lead battery industry.

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