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Lead Battery Science Research Program Overview

Closing the performance gap with other battery chemistries is essential for the future of the lead–acid battery industry. Recent science and technology research have demonstrated the potential to double energy and power, and to increase energy efficiency and cycle-life. Unfortunately, such significant improvements in lead–acid battery performance cannot be achieved using existing, well-known R&D tools. The lithium battery industry has invested vast funds in basic science work aimed at advancing their products. It is vital that a similar approach is undertaken with lead batteries — specifically to find ways to optimize the basic processes (crystal growth and dissolution) involved in the capacity-bearing reactions, as well as to understand and efficiently suppress undesirable side-reactions such as hydrolysis, corrosion, uneven current and heat distribution. Research has shown that the addition of certain metal ions can dramatically change crystallization and local electrolyte concentration. A new element — carbon — added to the negative active-material has demonstrated a huge potential for improving specific battery parameters. Nevertheless, the mechanism of the interaction of carbon with lead, water, sulfuric acid and organic compounds is still not well understood. New theories and techniques are vitally needed to shed light on crystal growth mechanisms and elementary steps, nanoscale processes, specific adsorption, intercalation of sulfuric acid in carbon, and colloidal processes. Whereas, the equipment and scientific resources for such studies are not typically available at battery manufacturers’ laboratories, they are available in national research laboratories. In the USA, fourteen lead–acid battery companies have joined together through the management and administration of Electric Applications Incorporated to conduct a ‘Lead Battery Science Research Program’ (LBSRP) at the Argonne National Laboratory. This premier national research facility provides ultra-bright, high-energy X-ray beams from its Advanced Photon Source (APS) that allow the study of fundamental, yet unresolved, dissolution and precipitation processes occurring at the positive and negative electrodes of an operating battery. Starting at a millimeter resolution, the APS provides a view of battery operation at a macro level. With three orders of greater resolution, the APS provides the opportunity to examine individual particles in real time. Finally, with six orders of greater resolution, the APS enables precipitation/dissolution reactions to be studied at the atomic level. This presentation will give an overview of the operation of the LBSRP and the scope of its first six months of research.

Don Karner

President, Electric Applications Incorporated

Don Karner holds BSc and MSc degrees from Arizona State University. He spent fifteen years in the electric utility industry as the Executive Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer for the construction and operation of the PaloVerde Nuclear Generating Station. Don is now President of Electric Applications Incorporated in Phoenix, Arizona, that conducts testing of various battery technologies, performs energy-storage application development, and supports battery research and development.