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Reinventing the Batteries that Power Automobiles
Reinventing the Batteries that Power Automobiles

 

Clean Tech Challenge semifinalist Andrew Thorsvik, a graduate student in the Department of Engineering and Technology Management and an Operations Manager at Intel, and his co-semifinalist Jonathan Thorsvik have developed an alternative electric power source for automotive vehicles that eliminates the environmental and health risks associated with lead-acid batteries, has triple the life expectancy, and recharges many times faster than traditional automotive batteries.

Until recently, the lead-acid battery was the electric power source for motor vehicles. While these batteries are relatively inexpensive, they come with a short life expectancy (around five years), a low weight to energy ratio, and they pose significant threats to the environment and public health.

During the first round of the Clean Tech Challenge, the team presented a battery design that combines supercapacitor and lithium-ion (Li-ion) technologies and can replace lead-acid batteries without any modifications to existing hybrid or gas-powered vehicles. They believe their product is better aligned with the electric power needs of automobiles and better for the environment and public health.

Using a proprietary circuit design, Li-ion cells power supercapacitors (devices that store and discharge energy) which provide the charge to start a vehicle and the electricity to meet the demands of other onboard devices (e.g., lights, displays, stereo, etc.). The battery contains no lead or sulfuric acid, is fully recyclable, has a service life of 10-15 years, a much better weight to energy ratio than lead-acid batteries, and charges in minutes rather than hours.

The team currently has three prototype batteries powering vehicles on the road. With support provided by the Clean Tech Challenge, they have purchased materials to build additional prototypes they plan to install in additional automobiles.


“We think that if this technology was adopted by the industry there would be huge environmental gains,” said Andrew Thorsvik. “Just the fact that our design doesn’t use lead or acid could have a massive impact by eliminating the need for highly toxic materials to power automobiles.”

After the Clean Tech Challenge wraps up, the team plans to continue building prototypes of their Li-ion/supercapacitor battery and installing them in vehicles currently on the road. Using the “smart” design of the battery, they plan to add features such as a “no-dead-battery” guarantee. In the long run, they hope to launch their own manufacturing facility and move the driving masses away from the deleterious lead-acid batteries currently powering vehicles and toward a longer-lasting, more efficient, environmentally sound and public-health-conscious alternative.

     

 

Authored by: Shaun K McGillis
Posted September 5, 2014