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Lithium-ion Batteries
Nissan Motors's lithium-ion battery for their electric car is seen at the automaker's laboratory in Yokosuka. The same technology that powers an iPod could make its way into hybrid car battery packs.

The same technology that powers an iPod could make its way into hybrid car battery packs.

AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

The majority of hybrid car battery packs use nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Currently, NiMH batteries are a reliable energy source of energy for hybrids, have long lives and are relatively inexpensive. In fact, some of the lower-power battery packs can cost as little as $600. Of course, batteries capable of more power will cost more and high nickel prices and a limited potential for cost reduction has manufacturers thinking about alternatives.

The lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery is one of those alternatives. Many people are now familiar with lithium-ion battery technology through their use in various electronic devices. If you own a laptop or listen to music on an MP3 player, chances are it's powered by lithium-ion batteries. They're small and light, making them attractive to the rechargeable battery market. For hybrid cars, they offer high-power and high energy for their weight and volume, and they're more efficient than nickel-metal hydride batteries.

It's still a little early for lithium-ion technology in hybrid cars -- its reliability is unproven, and the cost is higher than that of NiMH technology. If more testing and investment continues, however, you might see smaller and lighter lithium-ion battery packs in hybrid cars very soon.

If lithium-ion batteries don't work out, a cheaper battery -- one made from surprising materials -- could become a possibility. Read about it on the next page.

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