Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries Are Being Steadily Improved And Clearly Outperform Existing Lithium-Ion Batteries In Production OEM Vehicles

by Jack Lifton on March 11, 2009

in Batteries, Hybrids & EVs, News Analysis

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The CEO of the Korean electronics giant LG, said recently that nickel metal hydride batteries were “primitive” and would be soon replaced by “advanced” lithium-ion batteries, for use in the electrification of vehicles. This comment was pure hype and was biased by the fact that LG has won the contract to supply lithium-ion batteries for the 40 mile range, pricey golf cart performance-matching Chevrolet Volt.

The aforesaid CEO does not, of course, want to take note of the fact that the development of “advanced” nickel metal hydride batteries has continued even beyond their “primitive” use in the hybrids mass produced and sold as the Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Honda Insight to name the most prominent. These so-called “primitive” batteries have a record of reliability, durability, overall life, and recyclability that is second to none. In addition their pricing has steadily dropped(!) since their introduction.

The delivery van introduced by Azure Dynamics of Ann Arbor, Michigan, the city in which, as it happens, Toyota’s North American Research and Development Center is located, is an advance in the properties and deployment of the nickel-metal hydride battery that should not be overlooked.

While the lithium-focused crowd narrows its blinders so as to avoid noticing the problems with lithium-ion battery technologies that don’t seem to be going away, the first and foremost of which is unit cost, the nickel metal hydride battery mass producers have steadily advanced the performance of their technology.

At the beginning of the deployment of the early NiMH batteries in some of the General Motors battery-only EV1s and in the original hybrid Priuses, it was noted that the power drain necessary to start an internal combustion engine, or to overcome the weight and the friction of a car, had a severe effect on the batteries continued performance. For this reason a lead-acid battery was added to the Prius power train to be used for starting, lighting and ignition purposes.

The original Prius was hard pressed to go more than a couple of miles or exceed 20 miles an hour while doing so in a pure electric mode.

The current Prius is much improved, and it is now in a competition with the Ford Fusion, to be put on sale this coming May 1, 2009, with a top speed, for the Ford product, of 47 miles an hour in electric-only mode, and a range of much more than 2 miles in all electric mode, and a range of 700 miles in full hybrid operation. The next generation Prius with an “advanced NiMH” battery is said by Toyota to meet those same specifications with regard to range, but not with regard to top speed in all electric mode.

Ford has stated that it is able to provide the performance of the hybrid Fusion, because Ford has developed, along with Sanyo, an “advanced” NiMH battery with 20% more capacity for the same weight as its competitors.

Toyota, for its part, says that the NiMH battery in the 2010 model is a significant improvement over the currently supplied NiMH battery.

It should also be noted that the Azure Dynamics hybrid-delivery truck can run up to 35 miles per hour on its electric motor alone. The most interesting fact about the Azure Dynamics vehicle is that its curb weight is 9,300 pounds. It is a delivery van with dozens of starts and stops a day, not a cross-country vehicle by any means, but I have not seen any lithium-ion battery-based competitor.

In any case, while GM is planning to produce perhaps 10,000 Chevrolet Volts in the 2010 model year, Toyota, Honda, and Ford will produce for the 2010 model year more than 500,000 small cars using hybrid power trains based on “advanced” NiMH batteries, and all of them will sell for less than the 40 mile range limited production Chevrolet Volt with its golf-cartish performance.

None of the NiMH battery development at all has been done with subsidies or government loans.

Sadly, for Americans and for the future of the OEM American automotive industry, all of the advanced NIMH batteries, just like all of the lithium-ion batteries for vehicles are made in southeast Asia.

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