Hybrid technologies swept the nation almost 20 years ago and automakers have invested millions in new technologies to keep up with growing demand. One of the most expensive and ongoing investments have been in updating hybrid battery technology. Today, there are 3 types of hybrid batteries utilized in vehicles: Lithium Ion, Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH), and Lead Acid batteries.
In this article, The Hybrid Geek explains the types of batteries and which vehicles utilize them. We will outline the benefits and drawbacks of each battery. If you’re interested in the difference between a standard battery and hybrid batteries, check out our previous blog here.
Lithium Ion Battery (Li-Ion)
Made up of carbon and highly reactive lithium, the Lithium Ion stores high amounts of energy. Hybrid vehicles with Li-Ion batteries are attractive to drivers wanting energy efficiency with a decent “get-up” or more horsepower than a typical hybrid. Because these battery weighs less, the vehicle moves faster than your typical hybrid is expected to.
You may recognize the term lithium ion as it’s also the technology used in portable electronics, such as laptops. Its use in hybrid vehicles is relatively new, but supporters tout 150,000 miles/15 year battery life. This is a longer life expectancy than other hybrid battery packs, a desirable feature for cost-conscious consumers. Li-Ion are also recyclable and offer a quick 30 minute charge time.
Although they have many benefits and are now considered the best choice for hybrid vehicles, there are also a few possible disadvantages. Most notably, the high cost of a Li-Ion battery pack (some as much as $5,000) and the expectation vs reality of its performance. However, as their age on the market grows, lithium ion batteries will continue to decrease in cost.
It is also important to note that lithium ion batteries are most efficient when they are smaller. Larger batteries may experience overheating due to improperly absorbed electromagnetic waves. The technology is still being updated in order to produce larger li-ion batteries which store even more energy; necessary to power a hybrid vehicle without reverting to the internal combustion engine during lower speeds.
Nickel Metal Hydride Battery (NiMH)
Most hybrid vehicles on the market use a nickel metal hydride battery. They use hydrogen to store energy plus nickel and another metal, such as titanium, to secure the hydrogen ions. NiMH batteries have been on the market for a long time, making them more affordable than Li-Ion batteries. Offering about 4-5 miles per kilowatt hour, the NiMH battery packs produce more energy than lead acid batteries. They are easily rechargeable but store less energy than lithium ion battery packs.
NiMH battery packs are less expensive and more predictable when it comes to performance. These battery packs have been in use longer, in many consumer electronics as well as hybrid vehicles. Like the other types of hybrid battery technologies, NiMH battery packs are versatile and more compatible. Fully electric vehicles and hybrids utilize them including the Toyota Prius, the first hybrid introduced to the US market.
Finally, nickel metal hydride batteries are more stable due to the less active materials used to produce them. Unfortunately, they have a higher discharge rate than lithium ion batteries meaning they lose a larger percentage of their charge. Due to high levels of toxicity, NiMH and Li-Ion batteries are both harmful to the environment when improperly disposed of.
Lead Acid Battery
The most affordable of the three types of hybrid battery packs available, lead acid batteries are a good choice for first time hybrid drivers. As the oldest auto battery used, lead acid battery packs offer safety and proven performance in hybrid and standard automobiles.
Drawbacks to lead acid batteries for hybrid drivers include less stored energy. A hybrid vehicle with a lead acid battery can travel just 10 miles in fully electric mode and 20 miles when traveling in hybrid mode. When it comes to hybrid vehicles versus fully electric vehicles, a lead acid battery is necessary. They are critical to allow hybrid vehicles to save energy at lower speeds or when idling, a process referred to as “regenerative braking.”
Luckily, lead acid batteries are recyclable and most automotive stores offer an incentive rebate when consumers turn in their old battery. Since lead acid batteries have been utilized in hybrid vehicles, attractive cars for environmentalists, more has been done to upgrade the batteries. They have a longer battery life and a reduction in their weight; advantages in comparison to their previous construction.
Whether you opt for a fully electric vehicle or a hybrid, it’s helpful to know the pros and cons of your battery packs. Every driver is seeking a unique set of benefits for their investment and the battery can make or break your decision.
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