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Originally published October 1 2007

Lithium-ion power tool batteries may power next generation of electric cars

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Advances in battery technology have made electric-powered cars more financially feasible than ever, as evidenced by General Motors' (GM's) recent release of a list of preferred battery suppliers for the company's planned hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle.

One of GM's choices was A123 Systems, sole battery supplier for power tool maker Black & Decker. By producing lighter, higher-energy batteries, A123 has managed to corner the market for power tool batteries and may now be poised to expand into the electric car realm.

Commenting on how light the most recent generation of lithium-ion batteries are, A123 Battery Systems General Manager Ed Bednarcik said, "Black & Decker's old batteries had been designed to act as a counterweight to the motor on most of their power tools, but when we built our batteries -- even at much greater capacity than the ones they had been using -- they had to redesign the tools because our batteries didn't weigh enough."

The new lithium-ion batteries produce three times as much energy per unit weight as a lead acid battery, like that used in a standard automobile engine. They provide almost twice as much energy per unit weight as the most recent nickel-metal hydride battery.

In addition, companies such as A123, Johnson Controls, Altair Nanotechnologies, Valence Technologies, Sanyo, Sony and Hitachi are now designing the batteries to be more tolerant to cold and heat (to not overheat, the way older laptop batteries do) and last for up to 100,000 charge-discharge cycles. They are also being designed so that they won't release toxic chemicals in the event of an automobile crash.

In spite of all these new features, the batteries are expected to cost significantly less than the nickel-metal hydride varieties currently used in hybrid vehicles, once production is scaled up. But the increased capacity may ultimately be the most important factor in the realm of electric vehicles, since insufficient capacity has long been the most widely cited obstacle to producing a profitable electric vehicle.

In addition to increased capacity, the new batteries can also discharge energy over a wide range of rates. This means that the battery can provide the power surge required for acceleration as well as the steady rate required for normal driving.

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