Peugeot Expands Use Of Rare Earth Based Batteries With First Diesel Hybrid

by Jack Lifton on August 6, 2009 · 2 comments

in Batteries, Hybrids & EVs, News Analysis, Rare Earths

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French car maker, Peugeot, has matched its long history of making and marketing diesel cars, with the solid performance history of reliable and long-lived nickel metal hydride battery packs – similar to those made and used by Toyota in the Prius “full” hybrid – to introduce the first diesel hybrid powered car to enter the global marketplace in mass production.

Did Peugeot engineers and marketers choose reliability over hype?

I think that one reason that Peugeot chose to go with the rare earth based nickel metal hydride battery for its first-in-class diesel hybrid sedan was, simply, because it still could.

The critical metal in a nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery,  is the second most abundant of the rare earth metals, lanthanum. A state-of-the-art NiMH battery today, for a vehicle with the size and performance of the Toyota Prius, for example, uses between 12 and 20 kg of (primarily) lanthanum containing some neodymium and a little praseodymium in its overall construction. Additionally, the battery uses up to five times as much nickel metal as it does lanthanum and a small amount of cobalt. Thus the manufacturing of a NiMH battery pack requires a lot of rare metals as well as a lot of engineering.

The difference between a NiMH battery and a lithium-ion battery is primarily that the NiMH battery has been used in over a million full hybrids in which a battery powered electric motor is matched with a gasoline powered internal combustion engine, in a power train where both can be coupled to the drive shaft and either can be used to propel the car by itself.

Most of the full hybrid cars built in the last decade primarily by Toyota, Honda, and Ford are still on the road and provide daily testimony to the reliability of the NiMH battery pack for full hybrid operation.

By selecting the NiMH battery pack for expansion of the commercial full hybrid car to include the diesel hybrid, Peugeot is preferring caution to experiment. Lithium-ion battery powered full hybrids have not yet begun even to be tested in mass-produced cars, so therefore there is no long-term real time operating data for any of the more than 20 types of lithium ion batteries that are being proposed for use in electrified vehicles.

Peugeot is a conservative company with one of the longest histories of producing cars for mass consumption. It is also a long-standing mass producer of diesel engines and diesel engined cars and trucks.

By choosing the NiMH battery pack for use in a car that will define Peugeot’s continuing record of diesel engine innovation and leadership, Peugeot has also challenged Toyota for leadership in full hybrids in Europe. Honda recently did the same thing in Japan and the US, by introducing a smaller full hybrid sedan, priced at less than the category-leading Prius.

Toyota pioneered the full hybrid, mass-produced passenger car with its Prius. The third generation of the Prius, the 2010 model, has just gone on sale in Japan and the US and is a hit. Toyota has said that it will roll out an additional 3 models of the Prius “brand” along with additional Lexus hybrids in the next calendar year. Honda at the same time has expanded its full NiMH-using hybrid line, with a smaller Prius-fighter and a new Insight model. Ford this year expanded its line of NiMH using full hybrids, from 2 to 4 models, including the new Fusion hybrid, which many reviewers think is the best overall full hybrid of all, so far.

Now Peugeot has entered the fray with a diesel NiMH using full hybrid to get increased fuel economy, longer range, and lower carbon dioxide emissions (already lower than those of the Prius, which itself is no slouch in the low carbon dioxide emissions category).

While the press celebrates the spending of billions of dollars on the “development” of a hodgepodge of lithium-ion technologies and on the building of “factories” to make the different types of lithium batteries in mass production before anyone has any idea at all of their durability, longevity, safety, and cycle life, the rational investor should take note of the conservative direction taken by some of the world’s best car makers, Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Peugeot. They will continue to use what works and what is reliable as well as economical for their largest segment of customers, and they will always do so. That’s why Peugeot isn’t going bankrupt.

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