Snapshot of Battery Technology for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Cars

  • Published on May 19th, 2008 by
 

Plug-in hybrid batteries chart, PHEV, lithium-ion batteries

Click the image to expand.

UC Davis’s Institute of Transportation Studies has prepared a sort of primer for “non-battery experts” on the pros and cons of different battery technology for use in plug-in hybrid electric cars (PHEVs). The report, called Batteries for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs): Goals and the State of Technology circa 2008, discusses:

  • the basic design concept of PHEVs and inherent trade-offs in different battery technology.
  • the current state of the most common battery chemistries, including nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li-Ion), and their abilities to meet the needs of PHEVs
  • potential trajectories for further improvement in battery technology




While not intended to be a definitive analysis, the report makes four conclusions:

  1. PHEV battery “goals” vary according to differing assumptions of PHEV design, performance, use patterns and consumer demand
  2. Battery development is constrained by inherent tradeoffs among five main battery attributes: power, energy, longevity, safety and cost
  3. Li-Ion battery designs are better suited to meet the demands of more aggressive PHEV goals than the NiMH batteries currently used for HEVs
  4. The flexible nature of Li-Ion technology, as well as concerns over safety, has prompted several alternate paths of continued technological development. Due to the differences among these development paths, the attributes of one type of Li-Ion battery cannot necessarily be generalized to other types

As PHEVs become more popular, it may be useful to understand the basics of battery technology. Most of us hear primarily about Li-Ion batteries for new plug-in model electric cars, but it turns out there are at least 8 types of Li-Ion batteries undergoing testing for automotive applications: lithium nickel, cobalt and aluminum (NCA), lithium iron phosphate (LFP), lithium nickel, cobalt and manganese (NCM), lithium manganese spinel (LMS), lithium titanium (LTO), and manganese titanium (MNS and MS).

While not understanding the technical details of this won’t affect your ability to buy a Chevy Volt, it’s interesting background information, and it gives us an idea of what electric-drive auto manufacturers are seriously evaluating right now.

Posts Related to Plug-in Hybrid Electric Cars:

Source: Axsen, Jonn, Andrew F. Burke, Kenneth S. Kurani (2008) Batteries for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs): Goals and the State of Technology circa 2008. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-08-14.

Via: Green Car Congress





About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.

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  • Ben Gitlow

    What is efficiency of charge discharge cyclde at practical rates of charge and discharge?

  • Ben Gitlow

    What is efficiency of charge discharge cyclde at practical rates of charge and discharge?

  • solarnano

    What about EEStor and their super capcitor battery? I think they deserve a mention, especially as they have the capacity to out perform any of the battery technologies in this snapshot.

  • solarnano

    What about EEStor and their super capcitor battery? I think they deserve a mention, especially as they have the capacity to out perform any of the battery technologies in this snapshot.

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  • Thanks for the information and conclusions about the different battery technologies. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a number of plug-in hybrids available soon from major manufacturers, in the US and around the world.

    For a concept car that combines plug-in hybrid and turbo diesel technology, VW seems to be in the lead, though not in a way that will necessarily affect the US.

  • Thanks for the information and conclusions about the different battery technologies. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a number of plug-in hybrids available soon from major manufacturers, in the US and around the world.

    For a concept car that combines plug-in hybrid and turbo diesel technology, VW seems to be in the lead, though not in a way that will necessarily affect the US.

  • Henry Gibson

    Lead-acid batteries and ZEBRA batteries have both powered hybrid electric vehicles. The ZEBRA has the highest energy density and is being used in the TH!NK with 100KM plus range. A single lead acid OASIS from Firefly has enough energy in it for more than six miles in a converted Prius, but the power rating from a single unit at this capacity is one half horsepower or about two miles an hour. The battery is capable of much higher power but at a large energy loss. Five Oasis units would give a Prius plus 30 miles of range for 350 pounds. The Firefly technology should be optimized into the EFFPOWER’s bipolar high power high voltage units for much better power and energy density. ZEBRA batteries are far more energy dense and compete well on this point with commercial Lithium batteries. High capacity batteries are not a problem for plug-in-hybrid vehicles; the cost of the electric drive is a very big problem and this is because of the lack of high volume production and competition. Just like regular cars, another problem is too large of motors. Low mileage plug-in-hybrids will meet the needs of most people and will achieve most of the energy savings that longer distance versions would.

    Full electric cars are a product of ignoring engineering and economic realities and should be forbidden because they perpetuate the falsehood about limited range and the false non-availablility of adequate batteries. ..HG..

  • Henry Gibson

    Lead-acid batteries and ZEBRA batteries have both powered hybrid electric vehicles. The ZEBRA has the highest energy density and is being used in the TH!NK with 100KM plus range. A single lead acid OASIS from Firefly has enough energy in it for more than six miles in a converted Prius, but the power rating from a single unit at this capacity is one half horsepower or about two miles an hour. The battery is capable of much higher power but at a large energy loss. Five Oasis units would give a Prius plus 30 miles of range for 350 pounds. The Firefly technology should be optimized into the EFFPOWER’s bipolar high power high voltage units for much better power and energy density. ZEBRA batteries are far more energy dense and compete well on this point with commercial Lithium batteries. High capacity batteries are not a problem for plug-in-hybrid vehicles; the cost of the electric drive is a very big problem and this is because of the lack of high volume production and competition. Just like regular cars, another problem is too large of motors. Low mileage plug-in-hybrids will meet the needs of most people and will achieve most of the energy savings that longer distance versions would.

    Full electric cars are a product of ignoring engineering and economic realities and should be forbidden because they perpetuate the falsehood about limited range and the false non-availablility of adequate batteries. ..HG..

  • Andrew McMaster

    Why can’t we get the European Gas sipping models over here immediately. What in hell is the hold up.

  • Andrew McMaster

    Why can’t we get the European Gas sipping models over here immediately. What in hell is the hold up.

  • Frederik Balcaen

    Electric is the future, but in the meantime you Americans should strongly consider turbocharged diesel cars. In my small country Belgium (and it’s a general trend in Europe) 70% of the newly sold cars are diesel powered (most turbocharged diesel), and mine is too. I do 75mpg when cruising at 85mph on the highway (which is not an economic speed!) and I have a mixed average of 45mpg since I bought the car (totaled some 85.000 miles). The car is a fairly basic Opel 1.7 litre turbo diesel (Opel is a European GM brand) so all the knowledge is present within the GM group! Despite the small engine it does 0-60 in some 10secs and do 120mph, but more importantly it is very powerful at low and mid revs, so you have the acceleration power in mid-revs equal to a far bigger gas engine. And low-rev acceleration is what counts especially for quick and safe overtaking. So you basically have the feel of a 2.5l gas engine in mid-rev range. And this engine of mine is only a very modest engine!

    This is probably the reason why Toyota Prius is not nearly as popular in Europe, because we have very economic cars without all the hype (and extra cost) of hybrid technology.

    Of course, we are used to smaller cars in Europe (well, probably smaller everything…). And smaller cars are lighter and inherently more economic, although the advent of modern turbocharged diesel engines has SLASHED average consumption of cars in only 10 years time in Europe. Before, I drove a Saab 900S (Turbocharged gas engine) and made about 25mpg. My Opel is only marginally slower in acceleration on paper (I wouldn’t say it is), but it does 45mpg with its turbocharged diesel engine!! That’s an 80% increase without noticeable loss of power!

    Are there any drawbacks?

    Yes: the specific carbon dioxide emission per gallon is higher (but this is more than compensated for by the phenomenal gain in efficiency); the higher burning temperatures mean that more nitrous oxides are formed (but there are catalyzers to offset this formation) and finally, there is emission of very fine dust particles that are suspected to be carcinogenic.

    But today, this is best available technology. I am very confident to have better mileage than an average Toyota Prius at a fraction of the cost and with more driving pleasure.

    Some 80% of the big luxury BMW 7 Series in Belgium is a 730d sold with a 3-litre turbocharged diesel engine. It does 0-60 in some 7 seconds and I know (by driving with it and seeing the on-board computer) it is feeling more powerful than the previous generation gas-powered 740i (especially due to massive mid-range torque) and this heavy 4000lbs luxury car does 8,4L/100km which equals to 28mpg!!

    The future is electric but in the meantime any reasonable choice should be turbocharged diesel. No clue why diesel is not popular in the states…

  • Frederik Balcaen

    Electric is the future, but in the meantime you Americans should strongly consider turbocharged diesel cars. In my small country Belgium (and it’s a general trend in Europe) 70% of the newly sold cars are diesel powered (most turbocharged diesel), and mine is too. I do 75mpg when cruising at 85mph on the highway (which is not an economic speed!) and I have a mixed average of 45mpg since I bought the car (totaled some 85.000 miles). The car is a fairly basic Opel 1.7 litre turbo diesel (Opel is a European GM brand) so all the knowledge is present within the GM group! Despite the small engine it does 0-60 in some 10secs and do 120mph, but more importantly it is very powerful at low and mid revs, so you have the acceleration power in mid-revs equal to a far bigger gas engine. And low-rev acceleration is what counts especially for quick and safe overtaking. So you basically have the feel of a 2.5l gas engine in mid-rev range. And this engine of mine is only a very modest engine!

    This is probably the reason why Toyota Prius is not nearly as popular in Europe, because we have very economic cars without all the hype (and extra cost) of hybrid technology.

    Of course, we are used to smaller cars in Europe (well, probably smaller everything…). And smaller cars are lighter and inherently more economic, although the advent of modern turbocharged diesel engines has SLASHED average consumption of cars in only 10 years time in Europe. Before, I drove a Saab 900S (Turbocharged gas engine) and made about 25mpg. My Opel is only marginally slower in acceleration on paper (I wouldn’t say it is), but it does 45mpg with its turbocharged diesel engine!! That’s an 80% increase without noticeable loss of power!

    Are there any drawbacks?

    Yes: the specific carbon dioxide emission per gallon is higher (but this is more than compensated for by the phenomenal gain in efficiency); the higher burning temperatures mean that more nitrous oxides are formed (but there are catalyzers to offset this formation) and finally, there is emission of very fine dust particles that are suspected to be carcinogenic.

    But today, this is best available technology. I am very confident to have better mileage than an average Toyota Prius at a fraction of the cost and with more driving pleasure.

    Some 80% of the big luxury BMW 7 Series in Belgium is a 730d sold with a 3-litre turbocharged diesel engine. It does 0-60 in some 7 seconds and I know (by driving with it and seeing the on-board computer) it is feeling more powerful than the previous generation gas-powered 740i (especially due to massive mid-range torque) and this heavy 4000lbs luxury car does 8,4L/100km which equals to 28mpg!!

    The future is electric but in the meantime any reasonable choice should be turbocharged diesel. No clue why diesel is not popular in the states…