For today's heavy-duty tractor-trailer fleet, the truck battery is much more than just a tool for starting the engine. It's the source of power for all those cab and bunk convenience items drivers want and need to make their jobs easier and life on the road more comfortable. Demand on the batteries keeps growing all the time, especially now, with anti-idling restrictions forcing truck operators to shut their vehicles' engines down during non-driving periods.
Battery manufacturers have come up with new designs and solutions to trucking's power needs. Bruce Essig, national sales manager for Odyssey Battery by EnerSys, says the Odyssey battery is a true dual-purpose Group 31 battery that offers fleets the best of both starting power and deep cycling capability, with a CCA (cold cranking amperage) rating of 1,150 and deep cycle rating of 400 cycles to 80% depth of discharge. An AGM (absorbed glass mat) lead-acid battery, the Odyssey is completely sealed, which means it's safe for the environment and can be installed anywhere on the truck, including under the sleeper berth when space is at a premium.
According to Essig, EnerSys is the original developer and patent holder of the AGM lead-acid battery. “AGM is a fiberglass pad that's put between the positive and negative plates. It works like a sponge, absorbing and redistributing the acid within the battery.” What sets the Odyssey battery apart from competitive AGM products, he explains, is that it uses pure lead vs. lead alloy technology.
“Our Group 31 battery has been subjected to some of the most demanding vibration tests known, including the100-hour vibration test, and has passed without issue based on its military grade technology design,” he states. “The bottom line is that our AGM lead-acid type battery may be more costly initially, but it gives the fleet operator five times the life of a traditional battery with no external corrosion.” In December the company released the Odyssey battery in several new sizes — 75/86, 25, 35 and 65 — to address the varying needs of light- and heavy-duty fleet vehicles.
Exide Technologies' Doyle Choate, director of U.S. heavy-duty and commercial aftermarket sales, says that while higher electrical loads on trucks is not something new, the problem does continue to grow. “Added to that is the trend toward shutting down engines, whether it be to save on fuel or as part of the no-idle issues. The combined result is that we're using more of the battery's energy potential in a shorter span of time.”
Choate says Exide believes AGM technology is the best solution to today's truck fleet requirements. A year ago, it launched the Exide RoadForce AGM-200 lead-acid battery for heavy-duty and commercial starting applications. The battery, he explains, offers increased power and enhancements — like being completely sealed with individual cell safety pressure valves — over conventional, flooded Group 31 products.
The real value of the product, according to Choate, is that because of the AGM format, more lead can be put inside the same battery box. For example, the RoadForce battery has 15 to 20% more lead compared with a conventional flooded battery, which gives it more energy potential. “Thicker plates allow it to deep cycle and recover without damaging the chemistry of the battery, and there's adequate surface area to produce the high CCAs needed for starting the truck as well,” he says.
“For a city delivery truck that operates perpetually undercharged because of short intervals,” Choate adds, “the RoadForce battery stands up with its deeper power reservoir. And because of the chemistry, it will accept a charge more rapidly — 40% faster than a conventional flooded lead-acid battery.” The RoadForce battery is available in 700 and 925 CCA ratings. A big advantage of the RoadForce AGM-200 battery, he adds, is that it can be used as a combination battery or separately for either starting or deep cycling functions, such as for a battery-powered auxiliary power unit (APU).
Firefly Energy, a new company that's just recently entered the market, will be offering a truck battery it calls the Oasis, which is specifically designed for use in sleeper cabs when a truck's diesel engine is turned off. The battery is said to provide 50% longer run times when powering accessories that collectively make up a truck's “hotel loads.” Oasis, currently being industry tested, will be available on a limited basis this summer. It is scheduled to go into full production by the fourth quarter of 2008.
Mil Ovan, Firefly Energy senior vp and co-founder, says the Oasis battery is the first commercial product to use what's called microcell foam technology. “We've taken a basic lead-acid chemistry battery and replaced the lead metal grids with a lightweight, high-surface-area carbon foam material that prohibits the growth of sulfate crystals, [making it] non-corroding. By doing so, the battery can cycle more deeply and repetitively, is more environmentally friendly, lighter in weight, and offers more run time in the same footprint as a standard Group 31 battery. It also has a much higher cold temperature capacity and excellent vibration resistance. “Ultimately, this battery will last a lot longer than a traditional lead acid battery,” Ovan adds. “The Oasis offers a fast recharge to 100% capacity.”
That's important to trucking, where in an environment of high fuel prices and idling restrictions fleets are encouraging drivers to turn off their engines whenever possible, Ovan points out. Many states now have anti-idling laws, the most prominent being California, where idling is restricted to five minutes per hour unless trucks meet very strict particulate emissions standards.
The Oasis battery, in combination with an APU, says Ovan, will help drivers cope with anti-idling laws and high fuel prices. They'll be able to run their sleeper compartment air conditioning units and other accessories without putting tremendous strain on classic lead acid batteries, particularly those not optimized for deep discharges.
The makers of Optima batteries concur, saying growing no-idle legislation means that the power to run truck accessories, whether en route or on the side of the road, will need to be transferred from the engine to an alternative power source. The cleanest source of power, the company states, is electricity.
Optima Batteries has developed a product that solves many of the emerging issues facing truck owners with respect to the electrical system. The dual-purpose Optima Yellow Top battery, according to the manufacturer, has a higher starting voltage to provide stronger cranking power than traditional batteries. It also has deep cycling capability, allowing it to be discharged to a low voltage and charged back up to maximum voltage, Optima reports.
The Optima battery has more than 15 times greater vibration resistance than traditional flat-plate batteries. Vibration from daily driving causes traditional batteries to lose active material from the plates, thus negatively impacting their ability to provide deep cycle power. But due to their tightly compressed cells, Optima batteries do not shed material under such conditions, thus saving fleets money and maintenance time.
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