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Batteries for hybrid electric vehicle

Getting the Lead into Hybrids

Usually when someone needs to go faster, they’re told to, “Get the lead out!” But one chemical and materials science engineering senior design team is trying to boost power by putting the lead in. That is, putting lead-acid batteries into a standard four-door sedan.

Jake Whitaker, Anup Khatri and Branden Bates are continuing the work done by previous College of Engineering capstone design groups by designing a box to hold the batteries for an experimental plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Though this may sound like an easy assignment, the characteristics of lead-acid batteries – and what is required of them to power a sedan – make this a unique challenge.

“The problems we’re dealing with are directly related to what we’ve learned in class,” says Whitaker, a senior in chemical engineering. “But it still has been a challenge.”

Besides the physical characteristics of the box that sits below the passenger compartment, the design trio also must decide which materials and chemical coatings to use to protect the box. The batteries generate a lot of heat and use acid to store electricity, so the design must be able to insulate the batteries, protect from acid leaks, prevent corrosion and promote air flow.

If that weren’t enough, the team also must design the integration of the batteries with the climate control systems for the passenger compartment. This is challenging because the heating and cooling systems of a car require a lot of electricity, especially in extreme weather climates. And because plug-in hybrids rely on electricity stored from charging at home more than from energy recovered from braking, every ounce of energy must be carefully conserved.

The team is well on their way to solving the problem; the physical box was built by Fork Refrigeration and installed with one minor unconventional twist. For the Design EXPO, a Plexiglas floor was installed in the passenger compartment so people can peer at the batteries below. But like many of the EXPO projects, the real reward comes from the process of design than from coming up with an end solution.

“Calculations in class are done with nice and neat problems,” says Bates, a senior in chemical engineering. “But the framework of this problem doesn’t fit neatly. We’ve had to work around a lot of issues. Plus, we’ve learned a lot by interacting with different groups and people around town, like Fork Refrigeration.”

"We’ve learned a lot by interacting with different groups and people around town, like Fork Refrigeration.”

Team Members:

  • Branden Bates
  • Anup Khatri
  • Jake Whitaker