Future trucks may come laden with supersized high-voltage battery packs, but 12-volt low-voltage batteries will still have a vital – and growing – role to play.
Clarios, which sells about 150 million batteries yearly, continues to invest in that space, most recently with the acquisition of battery maker and recycler Paragon.
“The low-voltage network is critical to the new user experiences, data collection methods and power system transformation underway in vehicles,” said Clarios CEO Mark Wallace. “Paragon’s team has the skills, culture and commitment to add new capabilities that will accelerate our partnership with key OE customers, especially around advanced Li-Ion programs.”
While battery-electric and hydrogen-fuel-cell-electric trucks will be fitted with high-voltage battery packs, regardless of which future zero-emissions technology emerges, “every one of those have a low-voltage network,” Wallace said during a press briefing at the IAA Mobility show in Munich. He was speaking at the House of Journalists gathering of global automotive and trucking press held in conjunction with the show.
Clarios, which manufactures batteries for the heavy-duty and automotive segments, set an internal goal to be the supplier for 200 new battery-electric vehicle (BEV) platforms.
“We have already won over 140, so we are going to raise that target,” said Wallace. This, as the global vehicle population is expected to swell to 1.9 billion vehicles globally by 2040.
On the heavy-duty front, Clarios continues to test the first “smart” absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery in anticipation of a 2024 rollout in the North American market. That battery will be equipped with electronics and software so it can provide the fleet with real-time health information, potentially eliminating battery-related downtime.
While it may seem counterintuitive, the low-voltage electrical system will have an increasingly important role to play in electric trucks.
“The low-voltage network continues to grow in complexity,” Wallace said. The system is being asked to do more, such as power the increasing array of power-consuming devices and ever-larger screens found inside the cab and to provide driver comfort without idling.
It’s also there to provide critical safety functions. If, for instance, an electric truck is involved in a collision the high-voltage network is required to shut down to prevent injury to first responders. The low-voltage system will be relied on to provide critical functions such as unlocking automatic door locks, power communication devices to send SOS signals, and to provide steering and braking capabilities to get the truck safely off the road.
In fact, Clarios now views the 12-volt battery network as a part of a broader system, rather than a “black box” primarily relied on for starting the vehicle.
“We really have to be a systems-level-capable supplier to bring the right solution,” said Wallace. And that means seeking more efficient and environmentally friendly alternative materials and chemistries. The company is working on a sodium-ion battery that could function without lithium, eliminating the emissions and costs associated with mining and securing lithium supplies.
Federico Morales Zimmermann, vice-president and general manager, global customers, products and engineering at Clarios, says the heavy-duty industry will continue transitioning from lead acid batteries to AGMs. Unlike lithium-ion or flooded battery types, AGMs don’t require crash protection requirements, giving OEMs greater flexibility in where to package the batteries while maintaining room for the high-voltage battery packs that will drive electric vehicles.
As efforts to decarbonize the trucking industry continue, Clarios is also cognizant of the need to recycle the batteries it produces, something both Clarios and its new Paragon acquisition are known for. The company said its batteries are designed to be 99% recovered, making them the most recycled consumer product in North America, ahead of aluminum, glass, paper and tires combined.
“Through our system, up to 200,000 batteries are turned into new ones daily,” said Morales Zimmermann.
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