May 3, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
We've been focusing on existing solutions because we believe today's NiMH and Li-Ion batteries, in mass production, are technically and economically more than adequate for PHEVs now. Future longer-life, lower-cost, faster-charging batteries and other solutions like ultra-capacitors will make PHEVs even better -- icing on the cake.
We chose ordinary lead-acid (PbA) batteries for our PRIUS+ conversion because we could use them to prove what was possible. Of course, they're heavy, have few charging cycles, and degrade rapidly if left uncharged. We used them for our Maker Faire/Seaattle conversion because they're still the only affordable solution for the individual car owner.
Yet when modern science looks at this time-tested technology, it looks like it's possible to address PbA's shortcomings. We've talked and met with Firefly's management, and we hope some day to see their batteries tested for hybrids and PHEVs. The news of an award below provides an easy intro to what their technology is about and who's involved in the company.
Firefly Energy, Inc. Earns the 2006 Frost & Sullivan Technology Innovation Award for its Disruptive Battery Technologies Date Published: 2 May 2006
Palo Alto, Calif. - April 26, 2006 - Frost & Sullivan selected Firefly Energy, Inc. as the recipient of its 2006 Technology Innovation Award in the field of advanced lead acid battery technologies for developing an innovative graphite foam lead acid battery that could cause disruptive changes in the market.
Each year, this is presented to a company that has carried out new research which has resulted in innovations that have or are expected to bring significant contributions to the industry in terms of adoption, change and competitive posture. It recognizes the quality and depth of a company's research and development program as well as the vision and risk-taking that enabled it to undertake such an endeavor.
The lead acid cell, a technology born in the 1850s, is reliable, safe and inexpensive. It can also handle large surges in current, which makes it attractive to the world's automobile manufacturers. On the flip side, the lead acid cell realizes very 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. "Even though these advanced batteries have certain features that improve upon the traditional lead acid cell, they cannot match all its features and consequently, innovators such as Firefly Energy believe they can improve the lead acid cell to match lithium ion and the nickel metal hydrides."
The approach used by Firefly Energy, a spin-out of Caterpillar, is radical but simple. The company's new battery removes past obstacles such as 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 the chemistry taking place. The result is a battery that can rival the advanced chemistries in performance, take advantage of an existing manufacturing base and address environmental concerns through the removal of one-half to two-thirds of the lead content.
By "taking the lead out" and replacing the plates with carbon foam, it is possible to obtain longer battery life while enhancing the battery's desirable characteristics, particularly in terms of fast discharge and recharge conditions. Additionally, by replacing most of the lead with a much lighter material, Firefly has drastically lowered the specific weight of the battery, which can help by either increasing output from the same weight or in creating a smaller package but with normal power output.
Firefly's battery runs cooler than normal lead acid cells, giving it longer life and a significant stealth advantage in military applications, particularly in desert environments. On the commercial side too, there is significant potential. With a large number of automobiles and trucks in America running on short-lived batteries, manufacturers that can deliver a cost-effective yet better battery technology stand to gain the most.
"Apart from these, there are markets for hybrid and electric vehicles that also require high performance batteries," notes Sabesan. "And while Firefly is initially looking to focus on select commercial and military markets, it is reasonable to expect that this novel technology will find equally viable markets elsewhere if the company should choose to enter them, given that the overall size of the worldwide lead acid market is over $16 billion per year in sales."
Frost & Sullivan recognizes Firefly Energy's development of a new class of lead acid cells that can significantly impact the market, and acknowledges the company's efforts with the prestigious Award for Technology Innovation of the Year.
About Firefly Energy, Inc.
Firefly Energy (www.fireflyenergy.com) is a Peoria, Illinois-based company which has developed a next generation lead acid battery technology that has the opportunity to address major portions of the $30 billion worldwide battery marketplace. Firefly's graphite foam-based battery technology can deliver a unique combination of high performance, extremely low weight, low cost and, all in a battery which utilizes the best aspects of lead acid chemistry while overcoming the corrosive drawbacks of this same chemistry. This product technology delivers to battery markets a performance associated with advanced battery chemistries (Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium), but for one-fifth the cost, and can be both manufactured as well as recycled within the existing lead acid battery industry's vast infrastructure. The company was formed after its technology, technical founder, and initial seed funds were spun out of Caterpillar, Inc. (www.cat.com), a Fortune 90 company, in May 2003, and is headed by co-founders Edward Williams (CEO), Mil Ovan (Senior VP), and Kurtis Kelley (Chief Scientist). Investors include Caterpillar (www.cat.com) (NYSE: CAT), BAE Systems (www.baesystems.com) (London Stock Exchange over the counter symbol: BAESY), Chicago-area Venture Capital firm KB Partners (www.kbpartners.com), the State of Illinois' Illinois Finance Authority, and Electrolux (www.electrolux.com) (SSE: ELUX-B).
About Frost & Sullivan
Frost & Sullivan, a global growth consulting company, has been partnering with clients to support the development of innovative strategies for more than 40 years. The company's industry expertise integrates growth consulting, growth partnership services, and corporate management training to identify and develop opportunities. Frost & Sullivan serves an extensive clientele that includes Global 1000 companies, emerging companies, and the investment community by providing comprehensive industry coverage that reflects a unique global perspective and combines ongoing analysis of markets, technologies, econometrics, and demographics. For more information, visit http://www.awards.frost.com or http://www.batteries.frost.com.