Lithium ion replacing lead-acid in 12 V boardnet
The lead-acid battery has been a staple component within light vehicles, powering the vehicle electrical system for more than 100 years. However, according to IMS Research’s (recently acquired by IHS Inc.) Opportunities for System and Semiconductor Manufacturers in Hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicles – 2012 Edition, the humble 12 V lead-acid battery looks to be replaced with a lithium-ion solution. In the best case scenario, IMS Research estimates there could be more than 15 million 12 V lithium-ion batteries produced in 2022.
A lithium-ion battery with a similar voltage has obvious advantages, namely space and weight saving. This is why the first types of vehicles to adopt this technology are likely to be motorcycles and high performance cars where space and weight are of most concern. For this technology to become widely available there are some challenges to overcome.
The price of a 12 V lead-acid battery is very competitive at less than $50 from supplier to original equipment manufacturer (OEM). To enter the volume car segments, the price of a lithium-ion battery needs to come down. “The price per KWh for a lithium-ion battery is around $600 and this will need to reduce significantly if it is to reach parity with a lead-acid battery,” explained Ben Scott, analyst with IMS Research. “An additional amount of silicon is also required which is needed to monitor the cells within a lithium-ion battery.”
There is already a well-established industry for 12 V lead-acid battery recycling, but lithium-ion batteries are not easy to recycle, which could hinder widespread adoption. With the introduction of a 12 V lithium-ion battery in the market, there is a danger of cross-contamination with the lead-acid battery recycling process. Water is involved in the recycling process, but mixing a lithium-ion battery with water in a recycling plant could potentially be devastating, as lithium mixing with water activates a volatile reaction. The dangers of mixing a lithium-ion battery with water is clear, as was seen recently when 16 Fisker Karma’s partially submerged in seawater by Hurricane Sandy, set fire.
Furthermore, OEMs may be forced to adopt a lead battery alternative in the near future. In Europe, currently lead is banned from being used in light vehicles, with the only exception in the battery. It is thought that in 2015 the European Commission may reconsider its position on the role of lead within the vehicle and ban it all together. Earlier in 2012, the European Commission requested to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to prepare dossiers nominating certain lead compounds, essential for the manufacture of lead acid batteries, as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) for inclusion on the Candidate List for Authorisation under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH). This will cause pressure on OEMs to use a lithium-ion replacement of the 12 V lead-acid battery and presents an excellent opportunity for suppliers.
That said, even if lead does become banned entirely from use in light vehicles, there will be a gradual phase out of this technology. “IMS Research predicts that lead-acid batteries will still be used in light vehicles, ten years from now,” says Scott. Lithium-ion battery technology is already being used for the high voltage traction battery in hybrid and electric vehicles. Now we are seeing lithium-ion batteries being used in low voltage applications. Denso is offering a lithium-ion battery pack for start-stop applications and this will be found in the newest Suzuki Wagon R. Toshiba is the third-party supplier of the battery. This battery pack is used in conjunction with a separate 12 V lead acid battery.