San Diego’s PowerGenix Engineers a New Strategy for Nickel-Zinc Battery

Dan Squiller concedes that the rechargeable lithium-ion battery has become the dominant power source for electricity-hungry technologies that include everything from laptop computers to electric vehicles. But he contends lithium-ion batteries have some drawbacks too—they’re expensive, potentially flammable, and difficult to recycle.

As the CEO at San Diego’s PowerGenix, Squiller also maintains that there is a place for the company’s competing rechargeable nickel-zinc battery technology.

So Squiller has been on a sort of technology walkabout since 2004, when PowerGenix moved from the Bay Area to San Diego in a bid to restart development of its proprietary technology. What he has been searching for is an application where nickel-zinc technology makes sense—and after some false starts, he has focused on what he calls “a huge opportunity” in the emerging market for “micro-hybrid” electric vehicles.

Dan Squiller

Micro-hybrid technology already has been integrated in some BMW and Mercedes-Benz models sold in Europe today, says Squiller, who describes it as “a starter system on steroids.” When the vehicle stops for a stoplight, for example, the micro-hybrid system simply turns off the car’s conventional internal combustion engine. When the driver touches the accelerator, the micro-hybrid system instantly restarts the engine.

“Just that can improve gas mileage by 5 to 8 percent, with the added cost [to the car’s sticker price] being less than $1,000,” says Squiller. He contends that nickel-zinc batteries are ideal for micro-hybrid systems because they are better suited to handle the heavy stop-and-go duty cycle than conventional lead-acid batteries, and they are far less expensive than lithium-ion batteries. (Nickel-zinc has a better charge acceptance rate than lead-acid, provides a quick power surge, and is made of … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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