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Feature   January 1, 2000   by CARS Magazine

Batteries are changing as power demands increase

What can you say about batteries? In fact, lots - and we don't mean electric cars. Much more is being demanded of electrical systems in gas-powered vehicles, which has led to further development of conventional battery technology.

More this, more that, and by the way, more power, in less space, and lighter, too. That in a nutshell, is the future for automotive batteries, at this point in time, at least.

One of the emerging developments in batteries is a 12 volt dual battery system and a new modular family of 36 volt batteries that operate 14/42 volt architectures.

One example is called Inspira, produced by Johnson Controls.

The 12 volt Dual/Inspira system has a starting battery and a separate reserve battery to power a vehicle’s accessories.

That means if one battery is depleted by leaving the lights on, for example, the engine can still be started.

It also supports the new global 14/42 volt standard in emerging automotive technologies.

This new global standard for vehicle power that’s emerging is referred to as 14/42 volt architecture.

Using thin metal film wound in tight spirals, it can have 20 times more surface area per amp hour and a current path that’s 20-100 times shorter.

The greater surface area and reduced current path combine to create a battery capable of much more watts/kg than conventional batteries.

When combined in series to power the needs of 14/42 volt architecture, the product will consist of a 12-volt traditional battery, a 36-volt battery system and a control apparatus which will interface between the batteries and critical components of the vehicle’s electrical system.

Together, both consume less space and weigh less than a traditional battery. The small size allows the batteries to be located in places in the vehicle other than the engine compartment, where heat is a battery’s worst enemy and space is limited.

Since 1953, most motor vehicles have operated on a 12-volt power system. But the increasing complexity of today’s vehicle electrical systems has led to a need for significantly more power.

After years of research and planning, the industry is moving toward this new 14/42 volt global standard.

The challenge is to provide three times as much power in the specific configurations needed, without adding more heavy, bulky lead acid batteries.

Due to the complexity of today’s vehicle electrical systems and the fact that components, such as headlights, operate more effectively with lower voltage, dual voltage systems and batteries are required.

The new generation of battery is leak proof, and can be packaged in any orientation, anywhere–to fit even the most restrictive vehicle space.

Batteries can be combined in a modular fashion — packaged in a line or stacked on top of each other.

Higher voltage need have been predicted, and not just for high-end vehicles with lots of luxury accessories.

Some of the demand for additional power is related to the increasingly complex driver and passenger features, such as navigational systems, communication devices, entertainment systems, heated seats and windshields and other items.

But additional vehicle power can be used for much more than just these so-called luxury options.

High-voltage technologies can also improve a vehicle’s power, performance, efficiency, fuel economy and emissions levels.

As high voltage becomes available, it appears likely that additional electrical engine functions will be developed, such as electrical/electronically-controlled integrated starter alternators, valves, air-conditioning, clutch, steering and braking systems that would be more efficient, more reliable and cleaner than traditional, engine driven or hydraulically-controlled systems.

Remember, the last time vehicle power standards were changed was nearly 50 years ago, when voltages were increased from six to 12 volts. At the time, that must have seemed like a lot of power, but much has changed since then.

Manufacturers have yet to utilize a dual battery system; that is a starting battery combined with a larger reserve battery on heavily-optioned luxury vehicles.

These platforms could be available to consumers in the 2003 model year, equipped with 14/42 volt architecture to power critical components of the vehicle’s electrical system.

A 42-volt vehicle power system would have many potential benefits. More power would be available for all things electrical — from creature comforts like on-board navigation systems to tire pressure monitoring systems and electronic/electrically-controlled engine systems that can improve a vehicle’s power, performance, fuel economy and emissions levels.

What’s so special about a smaller, lighter weight battery? Does it really make a difference?

If you take a vehicle that gets 27-1/2 mpg and you remove 18 pounds from its weight by replacing it with a dual battery system, you can improve fuel economy by .15 mpg. And in automotive design, every cubic inch is crucial, so in this case, size does matter.

These batteries can last as long as current lead acid battery technology under similar conditions and even longer if located away from under-the-hood temperatures. SSGM

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