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GM, Ford and Chrysler teaming up to transform car batteries


An ultracapacitor may not allow you to time travel like a flux capacitor, but it could help reduce emissions in vehicles, which is pretty good too.

In a deal announced today, Maxwell Technologies said it will be working with the United States Advanced Battery Consortium to develop a hybrid ultracapacitor/lithium-ion battery for non-electric cars.

OK, so that’s pretty technical, but essentially it boils down to this: the ultracapacitor/lithium-ion battery replaces the traditional lead-acid battery in the hood of your car, and it stops and starts when the car is idling, reducing both emissions and fuel use. The new battery also works in a broad range of temperatures (from -40°C to +65°C) and can last up to 10 years.

USABC is a subgroup of the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, which is owned by the three major US automakers: Chrysler Group, General Motors (GM) and Ford (F).

Using these new power sources could reduce emissions from a car by around 50%, according to Maxwell’s (MXWL) CEO and president Franz Fink.

The project is for $2.68 million, and Fink said it is scheduled to go for about two years, with a prototype developed in less than a year. Funding for the project will be provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, with Maxwell taking on 51% of the cost.

One bonus? The new power sources shouldn’t cost much more per car than the current acid-lead batteries. Fink said the cost per car is expected to be around $200, compared with between $150 and $200 for a traditional battery.

Mark Verbrugge, director of the chemical and material systems laboratory at GM and the company’s representative in USABC, said that by around 2019, he expects the vast majority of cars purchased in the US will employ start-stop technology. There are already a lot of these types of vehicles being sold, but they use a two-battery system using lead-acid batteries.

He said that for drivers the biggest difference with a stop-start car is the added fuel economy. Though there is one other major change.

“What you do notice is that at a stop its quiet,” he said. “There’s no engine running.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the U.S. Department of Energy’s role in funding the USABC. It has been updated.