Li-ion Cells are Growing – When Does it Stop?

There has been a lot of talk lately about new lithium-ion factories coming online and even more planned. What are they building though? Manufacturers are looking at how the size of the cell used in these EV’s can influence performance and Tesla’s new Giga factory in Austin Texas just began rolling vehicles off the line powered by a new Lithium-ion cell. Now Panasonic has delivered their first larger cells to Tesla in June, and they are big!

Figure 1: Lithium-Ion cells from Panasonic in three assorted sizes.

The first commercialized Lithium-ion (Li-ion) cells were cylindrical in shape. This allowed for high-speed automated manufacturing processes to be used. The original size was 18 milimeters in diameter and 65 millimeters in length (the 18650 form factor, the trailing 0 means it is a cylindrical cell, as square cells would have a third number here). These dimensions allowed for the first commercial laptops to use Li-ion cells and remain fairly slim. As the industry matured, and manufacturing ramped up to build more cells for applications, we learned that making bigger and longer cells can lower the cost of cell manufacturing. The standardization of the 18650 cell form factor spread across many industries and cemented it as the de facto shape and size. 

To achieve the cost savings, a new size emerged, the 21700 cell. This introduced a 50% increase in capacity with only a 15% increase in diameter. Tesla led the charge and soon all of the major Li-ion cell manufacturers began to produce their own 21700 cells. Not only did this help increase the ratio of active material to packaging, delivering higher capacity, it also provided more active surface area for the lithium-ion exchange to occur. These cells deliver higher current and better performance. 

In 2020, at Tesla’s Battery Day event, Elon Musk and Sr. VP of Powertrain and Energy Engineering Drew Baglino, introduced the world to the “perfect size”. The Tesla duo introduced the 4680 form factor (Dropping the last zero, per Elon, “Nobody could explain to me why there was an extra zero. So I… said, okay, well, we’re deleting the zero”). This new cell is 8x the size of an 18650 and provides more capacity due to the increased ratio of packaging to active materials. According to Tesla, this is the perfect size based on their analysis of the chemistry, construction methods, application needs, and manufacturing capabilities. 

Figure 2: Tesla’s new 4680 cell

However, here are a few problems with this new form factor that will need to be solved to commercialize and ramp production. The innovation Tesla presented to solve many of these challenges is a new “Tabless” cell concept. This is multi-tab design that resembles a shingled spiral of tabs that have been laser cut on the side of the anode and cathode. What does this design do for performance? This significantly reduces the electrical path thus reducing the internal resistance of each cell, allowing the larger cells to discharge and charge quickly without generating hot spots internally and reducing the heat generation in each cell in general. This improves upon the incumbent design most cell manufacturers use today that require 1-3 tabs be placed on the anode and cathode strips, which can be over a meter long, to transport current form the active materials to the contacts on the cell. 

Figure 3: The Jellyroll and tabs in a typical lithium-ion cell

Figure 4: Looking into end of the jelly roll, this is the “Tabless” design

The clever Engineers over at Bosch Research have long thought there could be advantages to this type of mechanical approach and went the extra mile to simulate it! Their research is fascinating; they found this approach to achieve a 10% improvement in 18650s and even more in larger cells enabling higher charge rates, and most significantly reduces heat generation, resulting in lower cell temperatures. 

How big is too big? The limiting factor indeed seems to be the heat rejection in the cell. Now that the heat generation has been reduced through the “Tabless” design, all cell manufacturers must determine what the optimal cell diameter is. The Bosch Engineers thought of this as well and have conducted studies to create models of the heat rejection from inside the cells. This is where Tesla, Samsung, LG, Panasonic and other manufacturers are limited in size. The rate at which heat is rejected radially is much lower than longitudinally due to the materials used in the anode and cathode of the cells. The “Tabless” design will increase the heat rejection rate longitudinally even more, but where is the sweet spot in terms of diameter? Bosch has developed the software to simulate these complex interactions, but it seems that Tesla has decided that sweet spot is at 46mm diameter, and 80mm of length. 

The first 4680 cells are rolling off the line at Tesla Austin, and other manufacturers are being urged to speed up their development of this form factor as well. It seems for now that 4680 is the right size and the length of time between standard industry size evolutions is decreasing. Green Cubes is a cell agnostic Lithium Battery Manufacturer. We can use any size cell and benefit from the economies of scale, performance improvements, and diversification of supply to best serve our customers. Green Cubes is leading the charge to modern electrification using the best cell for the job. 

If you would like to learn more about Bosch Research simulations, read Jake Christensen’s blog post.

If you want to know more about Tesla’s new batteries, read this article

Green Cubes Technology Announces New System Controller for Guardian DC Power Systems

Guardian Central Controller monitors and controls all system parameters for Guardian Lithium-ion batteries and rectifiers as a Power System

KOKOMO, IND. June 22, 2022 – Green Cubes Technology (Green Cubes), the leader in producing Lithium-ion power systems that facilitate the transition from lead acid batteries and Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) power to green Lithium-ion battery power, today announced shipping of the Guardian Central Controller (GCC) to accompany its Guardian family of Lithium-ion Battery Backup Units for stationary rack mount installations in the Telecom and Data Center industries.

Utilizing new hardware, the intelligent system controller boasts new features to support mission-critical customer needs including:

  • IPv6 native support
  • Dynamic IP address configuration
  • RS-485 MODBUS communication interface
  • Lithium-ion and VRLA Battery support
  • Guardian Battery Unit communications
  • SNMP Interface for seamless integration
  • Simple Ethernet connection for remote monitoring
  • Web or standalone PC application programming support

“The GCC is a compact intelligent system controller module that provides monitoring and control for a broad range of DC power systems deployed with Lithium-ion or legacy battery technology,” said Jeffrey VanZwol, Chief Marketing Officer for Green Cubes. “The GCC monitors all system parameters including DC voltage, rectifier current, rectifier temperature, system capacity, battery parameters, and circuit breaker status. The GCC provides uniform and universal management of our new line of Guardian Battery Back-up Units, Guardian rectifiers, third-party batteries, and other third-party ancillary systems.”

Alarm and warning notifications are indicated by front panel LEDs and through alarm contacts that allow remote signaling. External monitoring of alarms and system is accomplished through a USB or RS-232 port using PC-based PowCom™ software. Additionally, the GCC has an Ethernet port allowing control over a TCP/IP network and web-based support. SNMP Events and alarms can be integrated with customer OSS (Operation Support System) platforms.

For individual site conditions, the GCC supports programmable logic to monitor and control environmental and security conditions within the Telecom or Data Center. The GCC can monitor and control ancillary analog systems such as cabinet door alarms, temperature monitors, security and HVAC systems.

This announcement follows the release of the company’s Guardian family of Lithium-ion Battery Backup Units, announced late last year. Telecom and Data Center industries are required to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to support mission critical functions. These stationary applications require battery backup solutions that are reliable, safe and cost effective. Relative to traditional centralized Lead Acid back-up solutions, the Guardian family of Lithium-ion batteries from Green Cubes will support these same applications at a fraction of the weight, size and total cost of ownership.

The Guardian family consists of three sizes, ranging from 2 Rack Unit (RU) to 4 RU heights, fit in both 19” or 23” cabinets and support capacity ranges from 105 Ahr to 175 Ahr. The Guardian batteries provide a nominal 48 Volts output and will both charge and discharge up to 100 Amps. All Guardian batteries have active thermal management and embedded energy balancing technology to build scalable power systems for Telecom and Data Center applications.

About Green Cubes Technology

Green Cubes Technology develops and manufactures safe and reliable electrification solutions that enable its OEM and enterprise customers to transition from Lead Acid and Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) power to Lithium-ion battery power. Green Cubes utilizes proven hardware and software platforms to build the most reliable Lithium power solutions in its industries. With over 300 employees across six countries, Green Cubes has been producing innovative, high-performance and high-quality power solutions since 1986.

Green Cubes Technology Expands Executive Team

Industry Leader Expects Accelerated Growth from Continued Demand for Industrial Electrification

KOKOMO, IND. May 19, 2022 – Green Cubes Technology, a leader in electrification and clean, connected, cost-effective power solutions, today announced four significant executive appointments to its leadership team – Ken Gregory as Vice President of Supply Chain and Procurement, Alan Forster as Vice President of Sales for Americas, Rita Faunce as Vice President of Sales Operations and Customer Experience, and Rocio Castellanos as International Controller. These executives join Ken Johnson, who was appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) last year. The team will provide leadership to sales, supply chain, operations, manufacturing, and customer support functions for continued growth within Motive (including Ground Support & Materials Handling), Stationary (Telecom & Data Center), and Mobile (Industrial Automation) Power market segments.

“We’re very pleased to add so many talented professionals to Green Cubes’ executive team,” said Keith Washington, CEO of Green Cubes Technology. “This reflects the rapid growth of the company, and the leadership that each of these individuals bring to the company will help us continue to lead the charge to electrification.”

Mr. Gregory has a history of success with enterprise operations and transformation, customer experience, supply chain and channel/alliance sales across enterprise and consumer Information Technology, Education and Learning organizations. He has driven sustainable cultural and digital transformations in highly matrixed organizations resulting in increased revenue, enhanced customer confidence, organizational capability, and employee engagement. He brings over 25 years of core supply chain experience gained at IBM supporting its enterprise computer hardware segments. Mr. Gregory’s most recent experiences were at Pearson, a global leader in learning and education where he oversaw customer service and digital operations transformation.

Mr. Forster is responsible for managing and accelerating Green Cubes’ pipeline and revenue growth while developing its channel and sales enablement programs. In his recent role as Sales Director for the company’s Telecom and Data Center business unit (operating as Unipower), he helped rebuild sales and channel relationships, managed consistent quarterly growth, and increased sales channel coverage during the global pandemic. By working diligently with the Unipower team, he doubled bookings and revenue during a global supply chain and transportation slow down.

Ms. Faunce directs Green Cubes’ sales operations teams globally, drives its customer experience strategy, and will facilitate ownership of customer experience excellence. She has vast experience managing global teams in sales operations, customer service, and customer satisfaction with success in delivering customer facing programs that foster a spirit of transparency, continuous improvement, and mutual accountability in customer relationships. Ms. Faunce will implement continuous improvement plans, leverage customer insights and data, and work across multiple departments to ensure team members and leadership are aware of and dedicated to the goals of continuously improving the customer experience.

Ms. Castellanos joins Green Cubes as a key member of the global finance and accounting team. She is responsible for the internal and external financial reporting of all Green Cubes affiliated entities outside the U.S. In her role, she will support the entities in financial reporting topics and bridge the information to the U.S. headquarters. She will focus on continuous improvement of processes and deliverables to enhance financial performance visibility across the entities, as well as act as a strategic business advisor for International Operations. Ms. Castellanos brings over 20 years of experience and has worked for various companies including PwC, Swiss Life and Daniel Swarovski Corp.

The expansion of Green Cubes’ executive team follows the company’s announcement last year that it added a second 36,000 square foot domestic facility in Kokomo, Indiana, and expanded its product lines for Motive and Stationary Power to support accelerated growth in Material Handling and Telecom markets. The Kokomo facility is currently increasing its manufacturing throughput and is expecting a 150% increase in Motive Power shipments in 2022, relative to 2021. Additionally, Green Cubes previously announced that it established two new facilities in Europe and a Technology Center in Zurich, Switzerland.

About Green Cubes Technology

Green Cubes Technology develops and manufactures safe and reliable electrification solutions that enable its OEM and enterprise customers to transition from Lead Acid and Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) power to Lithium-ion battery power. Green Cubes utilizes proven hardware and software platforms to build the most reliable Lithium power solutions in its industries. With a global footprint across six countries, Green Cubes has been producing innovative, high-performance and high-quality power solutions since 1986.

5G Technology World: Battery Backup Chemistries for 5G Small-Cell Sites

As the number of cell sites increase and their sizes decrease, engineers have options to consider for battery backup. Differing battery chemistries offer more choices and different performance levels. Selecting the right battery chemistry for each application is critical to ensure reliable, long lasting, and cost-effective power delivery. Green Cubes Engineer JD DiGiacomandrea discusses the attributes that affect battery selection in an article published by 5G world.

Read the full article in 5G Technology World

Green Cubes Technology Announces Membership in CircuBAT Research Program

KOKOMO, INDIANA March 31, 2022 – Green Cubes Technology, a leader in electrification and Lithium power solutions, today announced its participation as a founding member in CircuBAT. CircuBAT is a Swiss research program that aims to create a Swiss circular business model for the production, application, and recycling of Lithium-ion batteries. Seven Swiss research institutions and 24 companies are joining forces to look for ways to boost sustainability in all stages of a battery’s life cycle.  

CircuBAT will focus on finding solutions that boost sustainability in all phases of a Lithium-ion battery’s life cycle. This will include extending the lifespan of batteries during their first application. Researchers hope to achieve this by developing optimal charging and discharging strategies as well as new concepts for battery construction that make repairs easy. The project also aims to put batteries to use as stationary energy storage systems after they are retired from their first mobility-related application. To that end, CircuBAT will look at the best ways of integrating these batteries at a local level and ensuring their safe and efficient operation. Finally, the researchers will look for solutions for remanufacturing batteries and recovering materials that enable large quantities of high-quality secondary raw materials to be used to produce new batteries.

Bern University of Applied Sciences BFH is the Leading House in the CircuBAT project. On the science side, an additional six Swiss research institutions are involved in the project: Empa, the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM), the University of St. Gallen (HSG), the Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences (OST), the Switzerland Innovation Park Biel / Bienne (SIPBB) and the EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). These institutions are joined by 24 companies from economy and industry, among them Kyburz, LeClanche, Buhler and Green Cubes Technology.

As a founding member of CircuBAT, Green Cubes Technology has made a multi-year financial investment in the program. The company will also contribute first-use lithium-ion batteries for experimentation and testing within the program, provide engineering design services to develop new more-efficient batteries, and contribute intellectual property to achieve the objectives of CircuBAT.

Green Cubes Technology will participate in two working groups. The “First Use” group will focus on extending the life of first-use batteries through extensive analysis of deployed batteries in the field. Green Cubes Technology will contribute performance data collected from its prolific installed base of Lithium-ion batteries. The “Second Life” group will focus on creating second-use and second-life opportunities to minimize the total CO2 footprint of lithium-ion battery systems during their lifetime.

Since its inception 30 years ago, Green Cubes Technology has gained considerable experience minimizing the environmental impact of its deployed batteries. This positive impact will be amplified with a system of second life batteries, where the installed base of first use batteries is redeployed when they reach a certain age limit. The Lithium-ion cells used in Green Cubes Technology’s batteries are non-toxic, and are currently recycled and reprocessed at their end of life. Going forward, these cells can be repurposed into less demanding second life applications such as backup energy storage.

“We joined the CircuBAT research program because its mission is very well aligned with ours,” said Keith Washington, CEO of Green Cubes Technology. “We all want the same thing and that is a circular economy for Lithium-ion batteries. We are looking forward to sharing our experience, and giving electric mobility batteries a second life with our Swiss partners in the CircuBAT research program, as they strive to make the Swiss economy as sustainable as possible”.

More information on the research program can be found on its website: https://circubat.ch/

About Green Cubes Technology

Green Cubes Technology develops and manufactures safe and reliable electrification solutions that enable its OEM and enterprise customers to transition from Lead Acid and Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) power to Lithium-ion battery power. Green Cubes utilizes proven hardware and software platforms to build the most reliable Lithium power solutions in its industries. With over 300 employees across six countries, Green Cubes has been producing innovative, high-performance and high-quality power solutions since 1986.

Green Cubes Technology Announces Motive Battery Charger Product Line

KOKOMO, INDIANA March 15, 2022 – Green Cubes Technology (Green Cubes) introduces the Lithium SAFEFlex Chargers to complement its market leading Lithium SAFEFlex Batteries. Green Cubes is the only manufacturer to offer enterprises both Lithium-ion batteries and affiliated chargers to the Material Handling industry, thus simplifying the electrification of Material Handling equipment. These chargers are offered in 15 Kilowatt (kW) and 30 kW models. Each model supports up to three simultaneous charging ports and performs voltage auto-detect for each of the charging ports. Efficient charging of multiple trucks lowers utility costs for enterprise customers.  

Material Handling Charger available in 15kW & 30 kW models
with 1, 2 or 3 outputs

Green Cubes’ state-of-the-art Lithium SAFEFlex chargers employ high-frequency battery charging technology for the most compact and efficient design, as well as the widest voltage range available on the market today. Multiple outputs and automatic voltage detection via CAN communication enable simultaneous charging of multiple trucks with a single utility connection. The chargers have universal AC power input, a touchscreen display and remote management with embedded Internet of Things (IoT) that provides real-time performance information of each charge session with a battery. Local and remote administrative staff can review and manage charger/truck integration and overall fleet performance in real-time.  

3 output model shown here with cables and accessories

“Green Cubes is leading the charge in the electrification of Material Handling equipment,” said Jeffrey VanZwol, Chief Marketing Officer of Green Cubes. “We continue to innovate and offer disruptive products that not only offer superior total cost of ownership, but also minimize the environmental footprint for our enterprise customers.”  

“We are excited to offer a more comprehensive power solution for our customers and partners,” explains Robin Schneider, Director of Marketing. “The modular design allows an entire fleet, from 24V pallet jacks to 80V forklifts, to be serviced with a single charger product that delivers opportunity charging around the clock.” 

Lithium SAFEFlex Chargers are available in 15 and 30 kW models with 1, 2 or 3 outputs to charge 24, 36, 48, 72, 80 and 96 Volt Lithium-ion batteries.  The operating temperature range from -4F to 122F allows for operation in a wide range of environments.   Green Cubes will highlight its complete portfolio of Lithium power solutions for the Material Handling industry, including the Lithium SAFEFlex Chargers and Lithium-ion batteries, at Modex 2022 in booth B7229.  Additionally, Green Cubes will present the future of Lithium power solutions at the event titled, “From the State-of-the-Art to the Future of Lithium-ion Power for Industrial Trucks” on Wednesday, March 30 at 10:30 in Theater H.

To learn more about the chargers visit  https://greencubestech.com/product/lithium-safeflex-chargers-fbc-series/ or watch the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VELZJeX3vNI.

Forklift Action: Opportunity Charging with the State-of-the Art SAFEFlex Chargers

Opportunity charging is a practice applicable to both Lead Acid and Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries for motive power systems and especially useful for Material Handling (MH) Equipment. Fast charging is a key differentiator for Lithium- ion batteries. Because the chemistry allows fast charging without damaging cycle life, Green Cubes’ Lithium SAFEFlex Li-ion batteries can be charged opportunistically during breaks and don’t require battery swaps.

Our state-of-the-art Lithium SAFEFlex chargers employ high-frequency technology for the most compact, efficient for the widest voltage range available on the market today. Multiple outputs and automatic voltage detection via CAN communication enable simultaneous charging of multiple trucks with a single utility connection.

Read the complete article at Forklift Action.

IEEE Xplore: Chemistry Options for Lithium-Ion UPS and BBU

Industrial rack-mounted uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) or battery backup units (BBU) are used in data centers or telecom central offices to provide backup power for servers and switching equipment in the event of power failure. Historically, these UPS’s have relied on lead-acid as the predominant battery type. Currently, lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are gaining market share over the incumbent lead-acid battery technology. To differentiate UPS from BBU power sources, we define a typical UPS as double-conversion with ac-dc-ac power conversion, while BBU is the embedded battery with dc voltage input and output. While the input/output of a UPS is more universal by providing either single-phase 120–240 VAC or three-phase 208–480 VAC, the BBU dc output voltage is typically matched to the equipment it is powering. DC powered equipment is gaining acceptance in multiple industries for the simplicity, and efficiency. More and more installations are relying on BBU’s and dc plants to power their equipment directly. Figure 1 presents a BBU and a dc plant installed in a telecom rack with space for other equipment that needs a backup power source.

Read the full article in IEEE Xplore

The New Warehouse: EP 252: Battery Talk 2022

A podcast hosted by Kevin Lawton.

On this episode I was joined by not one but five guests! I call this one battery talk Robin Schneider of Green Cubes joins Kevin Lawton, Harold Vanasse of Enersys, John Gelsimino of Arcon Equipment, David Suarez of One Charge and Chris French of PowerBattUSA for a podcast discussion on the current state of batteries in the material handling industry including challenges with lithium-ion and sustainability of lithium-ion.

Listen to the podcast at The New Warehouse.

Material Handling Wholesaler: Lithium-ion Threatens Lead-Acid Batteries Dominance in Material Handling

For decades, lead-acid batteries were one of the only games in town as a source of power for material handling equipment such as forklifts and pallet jacks. But rapid advances in technology are fueling a broader playing field, with options that now include lithium-ion batteries, thin plate pure lead batteries, repurposed lithium-ion products, and an additive that can double the life of lead-acid batteries.

Warehouse managers, meanwhile, simply want a power source that is affordable, maintenance free and requires zero downtime. To be sure, lead acid is still the dominant battery in use in material handling equipment, primarily because of its affordability.

It’s also easier just to keep the status quo, said Maxim Khabur, marketing director at One Charge of Garden Grove, Calif. “The change requires energy and a capacity to embrace risk, so once the first-comers seize the most benefits, the rest have to follow after they realize they are losing on cost and effectiveness of operations,” Khabur said. “The change in charging pattern calls for new small chargers to be installed around the facility instead of getting them all into a ventilated charging room (not needed anymore), and however small the change is, it presents an argument for “not changing anything.”

Read the complete article starting page 6 in Material Handling Wholesaler – Feb 2022

Green Cubes Technology Awarded Patent for Modular Batteries for Medical and Industrial Mobile Workstations

KOKOMO, INDIANA 15 Dec, 2021 – Green Cubes Technology (Green Cubes), the leader in producing Lithium-ion (Li-ion) power systems that facilitate the transition from lead acid batteries and Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) power to green Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery power, today announced the patent award for modular Lithium-ion batteries for medical and industrial mobile workstations. These battery modules simplify transportation and disposal of Lithium-ion batteries.

The patent specifies a method of utilizing battery modules to build a scalable power system within the base of a mobile workstation. This modular approach enables the workstation operator to 1) select multiple increments of battery power for the workstation, 2) physically ship battery modules using less restrictive Department of Transportation (DoT) regulations, and 3) more easily dispose of the battery modules once they reach their end of life. When a traditional Lithium-ion battery in a mobile workstation reaches its end of life, it cannot be readily recycled because they weigh more than the typical eleven-pound threshold imposed by battery recyclers.

As indicated in USPTO patent # 11,189,875, the individual battery modules each weigh within the allowable limit to permit recycling at the end of their life, which can be conveniently done at many home improvement stores. Should the operator of the mobile workstation need to replace one or more battery modules, those individual battery modules can be easily replaced within the base of the workstation, and the expired battery module can be readily recycled. Battery modules within the workstation base can be connected together, so the power provided by the battery modules can be effectively combined and used to power the workstation for longer run times.

“We have utilized this patent to design integrated Lithium-ion power systems for some of the leading medical and industrial mobile workstation manufacturers,” said Jeffrey VanZwol, Chief Marketing Officer of Green Cubes. “Green Cubes pioneered the migration from Lead Acid to Lithium-ion power for the mobile workstation market, and effectively eliminated Lead for the material footprint of the modern mobile workstation. This patent enables our Lithium-ion power systems to provide even higher levels of convenience through the entire life cycle of our products. As a leader in rechargeable power solutions, this patent demonstrates that Green Cubes is committed to minimal ecological impact by enabling its customers to easily recycle Lithium-ion batteries.”

About Green Cubes Technology
Green Cubes Technology develops and manufactures a complete portfolio of lithium power systems that enable its OEM and enterprise customers to transition from Lead Acid and Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) power to Lithium-ion battery power.  Green Cubes utilizes proven hardware and software platforms to build the most reliable lithium battery systems in its industries.  With over 300 employees across six countries, Green Cubes has been producing innovative, high-performance and high-quality products since 1986.

What Does the Future Hold for Your Rube Goldberg Battery Power System?

Rube Goldberg  adjective

accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply
a kind of Rube Goldberg contraption … with five hundred moving parts
— L. T. Grant
Source: Miriam Webster Dictionary

Did you know that Rube Goldberg is the only person to be listed as an adjective in the Miriam Webster Dictionary? The most celebrated cartoonist of his day, Mr. Goldberg often drew overly complicated machines used to achieve simple tasks to satirize industrialization and the self-destructive embrace of “progress.”

Comics such as “The Self Opening Umbrella” (shown above) show how a gentleman may rid himself of the inconvenience of opening an umbrella through the use of technology. Goldberg, who drew more than 50,000 comics in his lifetime and won a Pulitzer Prize for his work, often used these machines as a way to show how the “cure” of industrialization was much worse than the “disease” it aims to remedy.

If Mr. Goldberg were alive today, I wonder what he might make of the lead-acid battery (LAB) industry in general, and Exide Technologies in particular. If ever there was a Rube Goldberg Machine that required so much input for such little return, it would certainly be the LAB industry. The overly-complicated and destructive way they go about providing stored power would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. 

Take, for instance, Exide Technologies. One of the largest manufactures and recyclers of LAB in the world, Exide would have you believe that their Total Battery Management — which they claim recovers 99% of lead — is a safe and sustainable form of energy. And if you look at the industrial battery market today, where LAB has a dominant 96% share, you’d think they still had a lot of people convinced.

But look a little closer and you’ll see that Exide’s contraption is just as ridiculous as the self-opening umbrella. In 2013, Exide was forced to close a LAB recycling facility in Vernon, CA after admitting to illegally storing, disposing, and transporting hazardous waste for more than two decades. Exide originally agreed to pay $50M to clean up the site, but it soon became evident that was not nearly enough. Cleanup estimates for that site alone were ballooning into the hundreds of millions of dollars — and that didn’t include medical costs for the tens of thousands of people potentially affected. There were also other sites in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Texas that had to be shut down because of environmental, leaving more than 50 derelict sites around the country.

Exide, by necessity, had to spend more and more of its resources fighting lawsuits and paying damages instead of operating their business and doing the necessary R&D work to drive innovation. And with no way to push those additional costs to consumers or partners, they were forced into bankruptcy in 2020. Now, everyone who has been negatively impacted by LAB over the last 150 years will want their day in court. And whether it be Exide Technologies or another LAB manufacturer, whether they are currently operating, or their derelict sites have been shuttered for years, the damage caused by lead pollution never goes away and a day of reckoning is coming.    

The “Self Opening Umbrella” begins its chain-reaction series of events when:

Raindrops (A) fall on dried prune (B) causing it to swell and push against stick (C) which forces iron hand (D) to rub wheel against flint (E) in empty cigar lighter.

As a postscript, Mr. Goldberg adds “If you are hard up and can’t afford a new prune for each successive rainstorm, stay in the house and wait for the original prune to get old and wrinkled again.” With LAB manufacturers and recyclers faced with existential environmental and safety threats, maybe it’s time to ask how many prunes they have in reserve. 

The moral of the story is this: now there is a way to punish for the past damages LAB manufacturers have caused. Anyone in the lead acid business will be increasingly hampered by these pressures until LAB is either outlawed or becomes financially untenable. Moreover, it is not only the lead acid manufacturers and recyclers at risk. Any company that uses LAB as part of their business — to power their forklifts or 5G networks — will become increasingly susceptible to disruption because of these factors. In other words – LAB’s Rube Goldberg Machine could soon become your problem. And that was Mr. Goldberg’s warning all along.

Keith Washington – CEO