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Firefly revamps the lead acid battery

The Oasis battery from Firefly will keep the cabins in long-haul trucks going all night without contributing to global warming.

An injection of graphite foam is giving new life to the venerable lead acid battery, according to Firefly Energy.

A standard lead acid membrane. Michael Kanellos/CNET Networks

The Peoria, Ill.-based company has come up with a way to coat the membrane, a fan-like lead lattice that allows the battery to generate electrons, with graphite foam. This change results in a more efficient battery that can extract more electricity from the electrolyte, release more electricity per charge, and endure more charging cycles. The battery also will last longer. The foam gives the membrane a larger surface area for reactions.

Firefly's Oasis batteries are designed for long-haul trucks. Truckers typically run their diesel rigs all night, mostly to keep the air conditioning or heating going in their sleeping units, not to mention the TV. Next year, California will impose regulations that only allow truckers to run their rigs in idle for five minutes every hour. The new regulations are designed to cut down on diesel fumes and greenhouse gases. That leaves truckers the option of broiling (or freezing) or waking up every hour.

Firefly's batteries are designed to provide enough power to run the electronics in the sleeping cabin the entire night without depleting the batteries.

The company will come out with samples of so-called Group 31 batteries for long-haul trucks in the first quarter of next year and begin full production in the fourth quarter of 2008. Negotiations with large customers are already under way, according to Firefly executives.

Now with graphite foam. Michael Kanellos/CNET

Lead acid batteries were invented more than 100 years ago, but there haven't been many major architectural changes since manufacturers figured out a way to produce batteries that didn't need to be refilled with a hose a few decades ago, Firefly co-founder Mil Ovan said in an interview. Lead acid batteries, though, have a lot of advantages over nickel-metal hydride batteries (which are more expensive) and lithium-ion batteries (which can blow up.)

Firefly's basic technology comes from Caterpillar.

Initially, the membranes in the batteries Firefly will make will contain lead. The foam essentially covers it. But over time, it will try to remove the lead.