Electric Cars Pb-Acid Wise

By Hugh Abner
[44 Years and Counting Manufacturing Batteries and Battery Machinery]

After over 40 years, actually 44 plus a month, of knocking around in the Pb-acid battery industry a person should be able to find a topic or two that will fit beneath the title given here. If you are looking for formulae, data or other hard science stuff it will not be here but you could get pointed in the right direction.

Actually many things come to mind but there is so much talk today about electric vehicles it just seems natural to go right into it.

Now names are going to be hard to remember so many of those will be left out. Actually many of the names I do remember will be left out just to keep the peace.

My ambition as I was finishing college was to live in Florida. The battery industry for the most part has fulfilled that wish but the penalty has been the loss of a huge amount of shoes and clothes. All you acid cutters know what I am speaking of so for now I will by-pass that early learning curve and continue toward the initial electric car experience.

This goes back to 1967 or so. After nearly two years of working through the first layer of a management training program – (Shoveling Pb-oxide paste into a hopper, stacking grids onto a pallet, hammering on cell covers and loading trucks one battery at a time.) – I knew all about management. The company agreed and they let me finally move to Florida so I could work in the laboratory where I learned to make metallic Pb appear out of a glob of paste. Along with that I learned how to freeze a battery and then squeeze millions of electrons from it. (Yes! Squeeze is the correct word. Some of you too used the old stacked carbon block resistor discharge racks so you know about squeezing).This was really great stuff and it kept me in touch with what was happening at the upper levels of things.

One of the upper level happenings was being able to sign up and be on the list to drive and use for personal trips the company’s electric test car. Immediately after learning of the list of potential test drivers I was hooked.

Fortunately one Friday afternoon I was invited to stop on the way home and join many fellow workers for the end of the week meeting at a nearby Holiday Inn Lounge. This was Major Master Degree level management training. The end of my introduction into the industry just had to be near at hand. The acceptance to be added to the test drivers list was given an immediate u-turn to maneuver though. I simply asked about the list and the people at the table went into an uproar. All the topics of conversation for that evening’s meeting all centered on our electric vehicle test program.

Our special little test car was not American. It was a Renault. It was indeed though electric powered and yes the batteries had all been carefully made in our well worn battery factory. We had special forms that gave the detail for each battery and the care given to them was regular and more than basic. That cannot be said for the little Renault though. If you have ever been behind a smaller than normal vehicle that was just old looking in that it had a light dust covering and the finish was a dull blue gray color then you begin to get the idea of our test car.

What you may never have seen though is this kind of car just creeping along at a speed that was only death defying due to the looks given by passers by. Even these looks were mild though compared to not only the looks but the words expressed to the test drivers as they often had to hold up traffic in order to change flat tires. Changing flat tires, not worn ones, was a main function provided by our special elite drivers.

So imagine further that you are behind the vehicle as described above and then picture this; the wheels did not reach straight down to meet the road. They were splayed outward. That is they were not straight and they were not like a bow-legged person’s legs for they pointed out away from the bottom of the car. Splayed is the only way I know how to express it. No wonder the tires blew out flat so often for the part of the tire made to touch the road was hardly in use. The road made contact with the side where you would normally have white walls or at least identification numbers.

All this was caused by our very precious batteries. They were heavy, heavy power sources. Not heavy in power but heavy in weight. The little Renault deserved better than this.

I did not get the real picture myself even at that Holiday Inn meeting. It was several weeks later that I ended up behind this odd little vehicle as I came to work one morning. What I did get from the meeting though was enough knowledge to know that I was not volunteering for test driving duty so I lived in fear for awhile that since I was the new kid in the building then I was surely going to be called upon. It did not ever happen though but from it all I formed deep feelings about electrical vehicles and these feelings remain with me today.

Maybe after reading this you too will have a more practical appreciation for a set of numbers such as these;

Pb- Acid: 25 Watt-Hrs. / Kilo Gram.

Lithium Ion: 150 Watt-Hrs. / Kilo Gram.

Now imagine our little Renault if it had six times less weight to live with. It gets your attention doesn’t it?

Our Pb-Acid industry though still has much work to do in powering the great load of heavy duty work of the future plus I think I noticed some very interesting news on the internet about a project of cooperation that is on the way between Exide Technologies and the U.S. Department of Energy ‘s Savannah River National laboratory. Could they really be up to removing some useless Pb weight so that the 25 Watt-Hr. number can grow? Maybe Carol at carol,knies@exide.com will tell us.

Another giant of ours, JCI, cannot be fooling us with all the Lithium-Ion projects they are jumping into for they have let it slip that they are spending millions to build a Pb-recycling facility in South Carolina. Something here tells me that they know Pb which has been thrown out of paint and fuel by the tons is still expected to have big needs. And to JCI a need for Pb means batteries.

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