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Exide Lead Acid Batteries – Making Rube Goldberg Proud

On December 16, 1894, W.W. Gibbs, President of the Electric Storage Battery Company (ESBC) made a stunning announcement. Gibbs, who founded ESBC in 1888, asserted that he had just purchased all the patents and rights necessary to make ESBC the sole supplier of electric storage batteries in the United States. These patents were purchased from the General Electric Company, the Edison company, the Thomson-Houston, the Brush, the Accumulator company, the Consolidated Electric Storage Company and the General Electric Launch Company. Whether or not he actually had a monopoly is beside the point. Over the next hundred years, ESBC continued a relentless series of mergers and acquisitions to remain one of the largest manufacturers and recyclers of lead acid batteries in the world. Known today as Exide Technologies, the company would have you believe that their “closed loop recycling process” (cleverly dubbed Total Battery Management by their marketing department) recovers 99% of lead and is a safe and sustainable form of energy storage and motive power.

If he were alive today, I imagine Rube Goldberg would find Exide ripe for satire. Goldberg, who was five years old when W.W. Gibbs started ESBC, was an American cartoonist best known for depicting gadgets that performed simple tasks in overly complicated ways. For instance, in his classic 1931 comic entitled Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin, Goldberg shows a gentleman eating soup with an outlandish contraption strapped to his head and arms. When he lifts the spoon to his mouth, a string tied to his elbow jerks a ladle which flings a cracker past a toucan perched above the professor’s head. When the toucan jumps for the cracker, seeds are dumped into a pail, pulling a cord which ignites a lighter, setting off a rocket attached to a sickle, which cuts a string allowing a pendulum to swing back and forth thus wiping the professor’s chin. Rube Goldberg’s machines skewered our proclivity for the blind use of technology. Why do we expend such vast resources and cause such great damage in exchange for such paltry returns? 

Why indeed?

Lead is a heavy metal, and exposure to even small amounts of it poses significant health risks. Lead poisoning is irreversible and there is no cure. Children are most susceptible, and even low levels of exposure can cause reduced IQs, learning disabilities and developmental problems. High levels of exposure can cause mental retardation, comas, convulsions, and death. Once we became aware of the real and serious hazards of lead, we took concrete steps to remove it from our surroundings. Since 1977, lead has been banned in paint used in all residential and public properties. We’ve also reduced or removed lead from gasoline, electronics, and construction materials. But one very significant source of lead remains: lead acid batteries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), today around 85% of the world’s lead consumption is for the production of lead acid batteries. 

The fact is, lead acid battery power is neither safe nor sustainable, and when you begin to look at how complicated and dangerous the Total Battery Management system really is, the Rube Goldberg Machine begins to build itself. Even taken at face value – that 99% of lead is recovered in the recycling process – you’re still left with 1%. And after all, how bad could 1% really be? Just ask the residents of Vernon California.

A suburb of Los Angeles, Vernon was home to one of Exide’s lead acid battery recycling centers. Built in 1922, Exide took over operations in 2000. When it was operating, the lead acid smelter at the facility processed an average of 120,000 tons of lead – or approximately 11 million batteries – each year. Residents around the facility complained about the industrial pollution and the negative health impacts it had on the community. Over its last two decades of operation, regulators issued nearly 90 hazardous waste violations and sought to close the facility down, but Exide prevailed in the courts and continued to operate. 

In 2013, Exide was forced to close the facility after admitting to illegally storing, disposing, and transporting hazardous waste for more than two decades. The California standard for lead in residential soil is 80 parts per million. Soil with lead above 1000 parts per million is considered hazardous waste. In 2008 lead levels in the soil around Exide were found to be 50 times the hazardous waste limit. In 2015, California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control announced that as many as 10,000 residential properties and as many as 100,000 residents may be have been affected. Now in the midst of the largest cleanup of its kind in California history, officials estimate costs could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2020, Exide and four of its subsidiaries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and sold substantially all its operating assets. Later that same year, a federal bankruptcy court allowed Exide to divest itself of responsibilities for multiple waste sites including Exide’s battery recycling plant in Vernon, CA. So far, Exide has avoided paying for any of the healthcare costs associated with their activities, and as long as they comply with the Federal agreement, they avoid criminal charges. But the residents of Vernon, as well as their lawyers, have not given up the fight to recover the damages Exide has caused to them, and their children, and their children’s children.

I imagine Mr. Goldberg would find great irony in a “Total Battery Management” system that was so outlandishly complicated and dangerous and provided such little value. Instead of toucans and rockets, he might depict battery change rooms and watering stations. Leaking acid might eat through strings and toxic fumes might turn large fans. Spent batteries might be flung into a smelter and “recycled” in order to perpetuate the machine, but the air, water, and soil would be damaged beyond repair. Maybe he could find humor in this “closed loop recycling system” whose very existence is predicated not on providing stored energy but rather in maintaining the status quo of a would-be monopoly hanging on to an outdated technology. And then perhaps Mr. Goldberg would be able to do what so many scientific studies, white papers, and peer-reviewed journals have failed to do: convince society that the time for lead acid batteries has passed. After all, how long will we continue to eat soup with toucans strapped to our heads before we realize there’s an easier way to wipe our chins?

Keith Washington – CEO

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Lead Acid – The Neurotoxic Rube Goldberg Machine of Energy Storage

For both our employees and community, I want to address the health, safety, and environmental problems with Lead Acid.  The single-biggest environmental issue with Lead-acid batteries involves the Lead component of the battery. Lead is a heavy metal with dangerous health impacts. Ingestion of Lead is especially dangerous for young children because their brains are still developing and Lead is a neurotoxin. Historically, sources included Leaded gasoline, Lead-based paints, and tin/Lead solder used in electronics manufacturing, pipes, and building construction, but those have largely been eliminated over the years. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), today around 85% of the world’s Lead consumption is for the production of Lead Acid batteries.

To mitigate the risk of the toxic impact, the often-cited claim is that Lead-acid batteries are 99% recyclable. However, Lead exposure that takes place during the mining and processing of the Lead, as well as during the recycling steps is the very source of environmental contamination and human exposure. There are many places where the process is poorly controlled often carried out without the necessary processes and technologies to control Lead emissions.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has written extensively on the case of Exide Technologies, a Lead-acid battery manufacturing company. Exide had to close down a large battery recycling plant in California after it failed to meet emission controls and waste management standards. California regulators believe as many as 10,000 homes could be contaminated with Lead from the plant. The cleanup will take many years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. As a business, Exide has gone through multiple bankruptcies due the environmental impact cost of Lead. Battery recycling plants in other states have also been cited for contaminating the environment with Lead.

The WHO has reported cases where contamination from Lead-acid battery recycling resulted in a number of negative health effects — including the harm to children. Thus, while the 99% recycling claim sounds impressive, it understates the problem of Lead contamination via the recycling process. The situation would be much worse if these batteries are not recycled, as a single Lead acid battery in a landfill has the potential to contaminate a large area and cause harm to thousands of people. The health, safety, and environmental risk of Lead recycling far outweighs the benefit, particularly now that Lithium offers a clean, safe, and cost-effective alternative. From a productivity point of view, distribution centers that use electric lift trucks go through so many complicated steps to make Lead Acid work, including:

  • Battery change rooms
  • Extra batteries needed to support high volume operations
  • Safety equipment for acid spills (spill kits, eye wash, protective clothing and PPE)
  • Blood testing of employees for Lead poisoning
  • Watering
  • Equalizing
  • Fumes
  • Long charge times, waiting, and down time
  • Maintenance on the added equipment and process steps
  • Inaccurate fuel gauges and unknown cycle life due to deep discharge effects

With our customers, this means providing clean reliable energy storage and motive power for industrial applications.  The complexity of the process to make Lead Acid batteries work would make any Rube Goldberg Machine maker proud. This “machine” concept is named after the American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, whose cartoons 100 years ago often depicted devices that performed simple tasks in indirect convoluted ways. It’s well past time for Lead Acid to have a place in the real world of industrial energy storage and motive power applications.  It’s time to get the Lead out of batteries and the contamination of our environment from the Lead recycling process. It’s time to move to Lithium SafeFlex and the opportunity to realize the benefits of clean, reliable, innovation.

Keith Washington – CEO

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Safer Forklifts with Iron Phosphate Li-ion Batteries

For Forklift Safety Week, Green Cubes Technology would like to highlight the benefits of Iron Phosphate Li-ion Batteries (LFP) over conventional lead-acid batteries in preventing workplace injuries in the warehouse environment.

The ongoing maintenance required to keep flooded lead acid batteries running presents a danger to the workers tasked with charging, watering and changing batteries in forklifts and other material handling equipment. The highly corrosive electrolytes in batteries can cause respiratory irritation, eye damage, skin irritation, and erode tooth enamel. The sheer size of material handling batteries means that crush injuries also occur during battery changes and repetitive use injuries are very common.

New LFP Li-ion batteries eliminate most of these issues because they are self-contained and maintenance free. Iron phosphate, a subset of Li-ion is the safest chemistry available, and its long cycle life means that it will last the lifetime of the truck. Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) is safest with:

  • Its stable chemical make-up, demonstrated by the high thermal runaway temperature.
  • The separator limits the chemical reaction of the electrode and helps to prevent thermal runaways by closing its porous structure at high temperatures.
  • The electronics of the Li-ion battery also provide protection against safety events, with incorporated fuses and protection against over-charge, over-discharge and high and low temperature charging.

Li-ion batteries greatly reduce the risk to the workforce when they are implemented for forklifts. For more detailed information, please see our recent article “Creating a Safer Workplace with Iron Phosphate Li-ion Batteries” in Workplace Material Handling & Safety.

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Cold-Chain Distribution Enabled by Li-ion Powered Material Handling Equipment: A New White Paper by Green Cubes Technology

On-line ordering, panic buying, and vaccine distribution are all increasing the need for cold-chain technology. Temperature-controlled supply chain is more important than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic. SAFEFlex enables 100% uptime and utilization of material handling equipment in cold storage and sub-zero environments. SAFEFlex is a drop-in replacement lithium-ion battery for lead acid battery power for electric material handling equipment.
Click here to download our free whitepaper titled “Best Practices for Using Lithium-Ion in Cold Storage Facilities”.

SAFEFlex provides material handling equipment crucial benefits, including:

  • There is no cold-temperature capacity loss with integrated battery heaters.
  • One-hour fast charging is enabled within the cold storage area (to -40 degrees).
  • Forklifts will never leave the freezer, and palletjacks can be charged in refrigerated trailers, so risksfrom condensation are minimized.
  • A permanently installed battery can support 24/7 continuous operation with an opportunity charging regime.
  • Maintenance is minimal, unlike lead acid batteries.
  • Cycle-life enables a useful product life of up to ten years

SAFEFlex batteries increase the velocity of distribution businesses with existing fleets of MH equipment including Walkie Pallet Jacks, End Riders, Narrow Aisle Forklifts, 3-4 Wheel Counterbalance Trucks, large Turrets, and other equipment. When compared to traditional lead-acid batteries, lithium batteries charge faster, last longer, and deliver more usable energy with each discharge. Batteries don’t need to be swapped, watered, or equalized at room temperature, streamlining operations and increasing efficiency at cold storage facilities.

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Lithium SAFEFlex: Multi-Voltage Battery

Optimize efficiency with less down time!

OVERVIEW

Green Cubes Technology’s multi-voltage, single 4/0 cable battery completes a full charge in less than one hour to maximize your operating efficiency. The 48V 600Ah, 24-85-21 equivalent battery provides the needed power without sacrificing hours in the day. In addition to offering our standard customizable features found in the Lithium SAFEFlex line, the battery also utilizes the existing single connector 4/0 cabling which delivers cost efficiencies and minimizes the chance of cable damage over traditional packs. This battery can meet the demands of heavy, three shift operators who need to maximize every available minute. The multi-voltage battery is designed to withstand the most demanding applications and increase your team’s overall productivity.

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Lithium SAFEFlex: Safe and Sound Week is August 12-18, So Let’s Take a Look at Material Handling Battery Safety and how to Avoid Injury

By: Trisha Skarda – Inside Sales and Marketing Coordinator for Green Cubes Technology’s Motive Power Division

The United States Department of Labor has several cases that are related to battery incidents causing bodily harm and injury.  Just a few of the cases are titled, “Employee burns hands and arm when contacts battery rack”, “Employee sustains leg fracture when pinned against a battery” and the most tragic “Employee is struck in head by pallet jack battery and is killed”.  These are disastrous and unnecessary accidents that could have been avoided. 

Continue reading Lithium SAFEFlex: Safe and Sound Week is August 12-18, So Let’s Take a Look at Material Handling Battery Safety and how to Avoid Injury
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Lithium SAFEFlex: Three Considerations When Evaluating Motive Power Solutions

Contributed Commentary By Anthony Cooper, General Manager of the Motive Division at Green Cubes Technology

The choice for motive energy battery solutions usually narrows down to two: lead-acid or lithium-ion. Both provide the energy that makes motive power equipment, such as forklifts and pallet jacks, operate. However, the similarities don’t go much further.

So, before switching to new, improved energy sources, companies should have a complete understanding of the latest technology advancements and diversification of the battery landscape. This includes diving deeper into differences in recyclability, power density and the cost versus the gain of both types of batteries.

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Green Cubes Technology’s Lithium SAFEFlex Batteries: Greener, Cleaner, Meaner

After 150 years, real innovation is finally shaking up the industrial battery landscape.  Green Cubes Technology’s SAFEFlex lithium-ion batteries are environmentally friendlier, more energy efficient and save money when compared to traditional battery technologies.  The advancement of battery technology and diversification of the landscape is requiring decision makers to be more knowledgeable before they can confidently switch to newer, better energy sources.  To help with this education, we’d like to look at some of the claims made and how they measure up to what Green Cubes Technology can offer.

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Case Study – AGV Opportunity Charging

Overview

A multi-billion dollar corporation is a global leader in providing logistic and material handling solutions. As the number of products produced and shipped around the world increases, this corporation continues to utilize its innovation in helping to provide unique solutions. One area of growth is through robotic or Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). AGVs offer an innovative and flexible solution to today’s companies to help with improving throughput and the overall efficiency of their operations.

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Case Study: Heated Lithium Battery for Freezer Truck Environments

Overview

A major food manufacturer operations a large fleet of delivery trucks for their products.Due to the nature of food products,the insulated vehicle cargo area needs to be kept the trucks ta such a low temperature of -10F. In order to keep the trucks at such a low temperature the fleet is connected to an electrical grid at night in order for the refrigeration freezers to be run overnight.

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Green Cubes Technology’s Solutions: Batteries

Green Cubes Technology (GCT) is an established global company with over 30 years of experience in the power systems market.

Cell Technology:
Extensive Product Field Enables a Broad Range of Cell Chemistries

GCT’s market applications range from automotive to medical to industrial, which drives the company to research and implement the latest cell technologies to guarantee optimized system performance. Our cooperation with the leading global cell manufacturers allows us to provide our customers with powerful, efficient and cost effective solutions.

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Lithium SAFEFlex: Efficiency Brief

Minimize Lift Times and Maximize Efficiency with Lithium SAFEflex

Over an eight-hour shift, over three shifts a day, missed seconds can add up.

  • How efficiency can your lift trucks get from A to B?
  • How fast can it lift its load onto a loading dock, lift gate, or stack?
  • How long can your lift truck move its maximum load, as its maximum safe speed, before being recharged?
  • How long does it take to recharge your lift truck batteries?
Continue reading Lithium SAFEFlex: Efficiency Brief
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Green Cubes Technology’s Solutions: Interfaces

Green Cubes Technology (GCT) is an established global company with over 30 years of experience in the power systems market.

Power Interfaces:
Flexible Designs to Meet Diverse Power Applications

GCT’s system architectures allow for flexibility when challenged with the multiple power sources of today’s markets. Converting power from a wall plug or renewable energy source is a critical part of the power system. GCT can provide an off-the-shelf power supply or develop a custom power supply when further optimization is required. Our system design approach ensures that the system monitors the power source for multiple limits and maximum power point tracking. Continuous development and reuse of our various input circuit blocks, combined with our proven convertors and chargers, allow customization of the overall system while maintaining superior quality standards.

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Lithium SAFEFlex: Case Study – High Power Battery Solutions for Busy Warehouse Operations

Overview

A new GCT customer is the global leader in the manufacturing of furniture and home products. In order to produce such a high volume of furniture they operate very large plants along with incredibly sizable warehouses. In total, the customer has over 13 million sq ft (300 acres) of facilities for the production and warehousing of their products. To ensure the customer maintains its position as the number one manufacturer of furniture, they continuously focus on quality and improvements in their operations.

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Lithium SAFEFlex: Battery Sizing Chart

For over 30 years, Green Cubes Technology has helped OEMs safely convert from lead acid systems to the right lithium technologies for their operations. Among the many providers of lithium solutions, we stand apart for our precision-engineered conversions of industrial tools, small electric vehicles, hospital systems and telecom towers. Our reputation and years in the business stand behind us to keep us innovating and driving ahead.

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Lithium SAFEFlex: Safety Review

Why our lithium systems are safe for the Material Handling Market

Overview

In the battery power market today, there are a myriad of available battery types to choose from. It’s a critical decision which not only impacts how well the product will operate, but also how safely it can operate. Factors such as how much power is required, the time required to charge, operating temperatures, operating environment, packaging dimensions and weight are all examples of key parameters that must be considered. The Material Handling / Motive Power battery market requires some of the highest power products In the world, so safety is a necessity.

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Lithium SAFEFlex: Maximize Your ROI

Lead-acid batteries tend to slack off as they approach the end of their shifts. As lead-acid batteries get close to the end of their cycle, they produce less and less voltage, meaning that lift times get longer. By contrast, the Green Cubes Technology Lithium SAFEflex battery system provides constant power during its cycle time. With a battery that works hard until it needs to recharge, companies can recapture lost efficiency and a gain a return on investment in less than a year.

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Lithium SAFEFlex

For over 30 years, Green Cubes Technology has helped OEMs safely convert from lead acid systems to the right lithium technologies for their operations. Among the many providers of lithium solutions, we stand apart for our precision-engineered conversions of industrial tools, small electric vehicles, hospital systems and telecom towers. Our reputation and years in the business stand behind us to keep us innovating and driving ahead.

Continue reading Lithium SAFEFlex