February 26, 2006
Lithium Nickel Manganese Oxide Battery Promising For Hybrids

An MIT team has made an important advance in battery technology for hybrid vehicles.

Researchers at MIT have developed a new type of lithium battery that could become a cheaper alternative to the batteries that now power hybrid electric cars.

Until now, lithium batteries have not had the rapid charging capability or safety level needed for use in cars. Hybrid cars now run on nickel metal hydride batteries, which power an electric motor and can rapidly recharge while the car is decelerating or standing still.

But lithium nickel manganese oxide, described in a paper to be published in Science on Feb. 17, could revolutionize the hybrid car industry -- a sector that has "enormous growth potential," says Gerbrand Ceder, MIT professor of materials science and engineering, who led the project.

"The writing is on the wall. It's clearly happening," said Ceder, who said that a couple of companies are already interested in licensing the new lithium battery technology.

Their success came from making the material have a more crystalline structure.

Lithium ions carry the battery's charge, so to maximize the speed at which the battery can charge and discharge, the researchers designed and synthesized a material with a very ordered crystalline structure, allowing lithium ions to freely flow between the metal layers.

The battery still costs too much to manufacture.

A battery made from the new material can charge or discharge in about 10 minutes -- about 10 times faster than the unmodified lithium nickel manganese oxide. That brings it much closer to the timeframe needed for hybrid car batteries, Ceder said.

Before the material can be used commercially, the manufacturing process needs to be made less expensive, and a few other modifications will likely be necessary, Ceder said.

Unfortunately the press release provides no indication of how the storage density compares to the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries currently used in cars.

Note that this MIT group is not the only team pursuing better lithium batteries for hybrids. President Bush's recent big speech on energy policy was made at Johnson Controls in Milwaukee. Well, Johnson Controls is pursuing lithium ion batteries for hybrid vehicles.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN (September 28, 2005) – Johnson Controls today launched an advanced lithium-ion battery development laboratory in Milwaukee, to create advanced power-storage solutions for near-future, hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs). The facility – located at the company’s Battery Technology Center – features a “dry room” and an array of highly specialized tools and equipment for designing, developing and testing power-storage and power-management concepts based on lithium-ion technology.

The new laboratory facility and development equipment were installed at a cost of approximately $4 million.

Johnson Controls, the world’s largest manufacturer of automotive original equipment and aftermarket batteries, has been at the forefront of research and development activities to create enhanced batteries for future-generation HEVs. The company operates battery technology centers in the United States and Europe.

For more than a decade, Johnson Controls has supplied nickel-metal-hydride batteries for hybrid-vehicle applications in Europe. The company believes lithium ion technology is likely to replace nickel-metal-hydride as the battery technology of choice in hybrid-electric and electric vehicles in the future.

With the big players in the auto industry all pursuing hybrid vehicle development a lot of money is flowing into development of better hybrid vehicle batteries. The shift to hybrids is driving battery technology advances which will eventually culminate in pure electric vehicles. We'll go to hybrids and then to pluggable hybrids and then to pure electric vehicles.

My guess is that the money flowing through the auto industry for battery development means that batteries will be ready for storing solar electric power long before photovoltaics become cheap enough to provide a significant source of electricity that needs storage.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 February 26 07:57 PM  Energy Batteries


Comments
Rob said at February 26, 2006 9:33 PM:

I'm certainly not an elictrical engineer, but why can't a hybrid use a capicitor that charges really fast to slowly charge a battery for long term electricity storage?

Invisible Scientist said at February 26, 2006 11:12 PM:

There are already ultra-capacitors made in Germany, that are being incorporated into pure-electric buses that use zinc-air fuel cells:

http://www.electric-fuel.com/ev/index.shtml

These buses were demonstrated in NY, and these are already competitive with diesel buses, as far as the cost of operation is concerned. But the problem is that there is no infrastructure to service these zinc-air fuel cells, which are
competitive, but they must be re-fueled all over the country, which means some kind of cohesive policy to make
it happen, which is very difficult, and so only in New York City and other compact cities this is practical.

But for the case of lithium batteries in hybrid cars, the problem is that the batteries are already very small, as if they are capacitors themselves, and so batteries themselves must be able to get charged reasonably fast, and they must be able to give power reasonably fast. For this reason some kind of improvement must be done for the lithium batteries.

But as batteries in general become powerful and cheap enough in a few years, it will be possible to use pure electric cars that get charged at some station on the highway, and very soon the range of such a car will be raised to 300 miles between charges. At that moment, there will truly be a revolution in cars, because no need will be for exotic fuel service stations like ethanol, hydrogen etc, since all of the USA is already connected to the power grid, and it is easy to find a plug on any highway to charge your car.... Since electric cars are much more energy efficient than gasoline cars that are perhaps only 20 % energy efficient, it follows that by building a lot of coal fired plants (without even building nuclear power stations), there will actually be less pollution and more efficiency. With modern manufacturing, once batteries are available, pure electric cars can be commercialized in a couple of years, because pure electric cars are simple: no transmission, no gear box, no need for dozens of belts and shafts, etc. Each wheel gets its independent electric motor, and that's it. 10 times simpler than an internal combustion engine with transmission oil, motor oil, exhaust pipe, etc... For well under $10,000 you can have a decent pure electric car, IF you have cheap batteries.

IF we had cheap and good batteries, then it is very easy to build hundreds of high-tech coal fired plants that are super-clean, and these coal-fired plants can be built within one or two years, since these are simple compared to nuclear stations. And within another decade, the nuclear science would become more mature for decent reactors, so that coal would buy us time...

The MAIN issue is decent batteries, and many companies, including MIT, are making progress.

Invisible Scientist said at February 26, 2006 11:22 PM:

Oh, I forgot to mention: Just when Bush was visiting that Johnson battery company, the poor corporatin was getting ready to fire many of their research scientists and engineers, due to lack of money. This is absolutely pitiful, and total disgrace...

What we need is an emergency Bronx Project to spend $100 billion per year for research on all these alternative energy methods, with at least $10 billion going into pure battery research.

All that hydrogen and ethanol things are pure gimmicks that were intentionally chosen to be impossible projects, to divert attention from the real stuff that might offend the oil companies.

al said at February 27, 2006 8:58 AM:

Invisible scientist,


Hydrogen and Ethanol aren't pure gimmicks it's just that their technology and economics haven't reached a point of making sense. well, the hydrogen dream may be far far away from fruitation but the ethanol one is within reach. The may reason is that there are many ways of making ethanol not just fermentation. You can make the stuff from ethylene, acid cellulose hydrolysis followed by fermentation, or Fischer trospsch synthesis. These three methods may be more realistic than corn based production.

A lot of these new technologies are at their infancy and they're driven by necessity since many countries have realized that sending billions to the middle East isn't helping anyone not even the region itself. What I fear is that the very moment prices fall the technligies might be shelved just as it happened after the 70's twin oil crisis.

Batteries logic or dissilution.

Some one once noted that the transition to alternatives may actually shift the balance of energy and subsequent power from the current holders to the new entities. for instance, introduction of platinum catalyst fuel cells may put too much power on the hands of producers like South Africa as demand for the scarce element escalates. The same may happen to other rare element that prove to be very vital in power storage or as catalysts.

When such fears are alleyed people tend to sway towars something domestic and whose supply is reliable: domestic corn; even though it may not be very economical.

al said at February 27, 2006 9:31 AM:

Randall,


What do you think about this?

When fed with a high concentration of CO2, S0x, NOx, and light algae grown in reactors grow faster producing biomass and free fatty acids as by product. These free fatty acids can cheaply be converted to biodiesel and the biomass to biofuels.

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/12/greenshift_lice.html

Dezakin said at February 27, 2006 1:16 PM:

Ethanol makes sense for recycling waste sure, but as it is now its a subsidy for the farm belt, and so I can't support any of it.

Philip Sargent said at February 27, 2006 1:34 PM:

A much simpler answer to why we don't have entirely capacitor-based electric storage is that the energy density (J/kg of J/m^3) is very low even though the power density (Wpeak/kg) is excellent.

e.g. see diagram in slide 15 of
www.cambridgeenergy.com/files/CEF-Tarrant.pdf

[A presentation from a meeting I helped organise last October.]

Garson Poole said at February 27, 2006 4:42 PM:

According to this article from the MIT News office, researchers at the MIT Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems have just made a major advance that increases the energy storage density of ultracapacitors. The linked article is a press release from a University news office and it uses phraseology that appears somewhat hyperbolic. They claim that the advance "holds out the promise of the first technologically significant and economically viable alternative to conventional batteries in more than 200 years." Currently, "physical constraints on electrode surface area and spacing have limited ultracapacitors to an energy storage capacity around 25 times less than a similarly sized lithium-ion battery. The LEES ultracapacitor has the capacity to overcome this energy limitation by using vertically aligned, single-wall carbon nanotubes" The article continues:

"This configuration has the potential to maintain and even improve the high performance characteristics of ultracapacitors while providing energy storage densities comparable to batteries," Schindall said. "Nanotube-enhanced ultracapacitors would combine the long life and high power characteristics of a commercial ultracapacitor with the higher energy storage density normally available only from a chemical battery."

The Futurepundit blog may have already mentioned this advance but I could not find a search box on the blog home page to look for previous references.

Invisible Scientist said at February 27, 2006 6:36 PM:

I am impressed. Since so many nerds are working in parallel, the oil companies won't find enough assassin to silence them all, and so there is hope...

Moldy said at February 27, 2006 8:57 PM:

So,..if the progress is toward a totally electric vehicle, then what do we heat our cars with in the winter months?
M

kelly said at February 28, 2006 7:33 AM:

When I was a kid my daddy told me the story about the guy who invented a pill that when dumped into a gas tank filled with water would make a car run.

He told me how them oil companies killed him off.

Engineer-Poet said at February 28, 2006 9:34 AM:
al writes:

Hydrogen and Ethanol aren't pure gimmicks it's just that their technology and economics haven't reached a point of making sense. well, the hydrogen dream may be far far away from fruitation but the ethanol one is within reach. The may reason is that there are many ways of making ethanol not just fermentation.

Sorry, but your statement shows you haven't thought that through well enough.  I've been ripping on both hydrogen and ethanol (more, and still more) for a while now.  Both of them have built-in handicaps which are easily recognized:
  1. Hydrogen has huge losses in conversion from almost every renewable energy source; the only feasible renewable supply which does not incur those losses is still a laboratory curiosity.
  2. Hydrogen is cheaply made from natural gas and coal.
  3. Hydrogen requires enormous amounts of new infrastructure.
  4. Ethanol has severely limited amounts of feedstock compared to our consumption, and cannot replace even the motor-fuel fraction of the petroleum we burn.
In short, the problems of both ethanol and hydrogen are severe, but are being glossed over so that the fossil-fuel interests do not have their long-term prospects threatened.  They are both distractions and boondoggles.
michael vassar said at February 28, 2006 2:13 PM:

I agree that batteries will provide the storage capacity to make solar viable before solar becomes cheap enough to be viable, but how about their role in making wind viable. Wind is already cost competitive with coal per KW/H, but it's not a feasible replacement for coal because wind is intermittent. How much cheaper would batteries have to be before wind would be a viable alternative for 20% or 30% of the grid?

Ken said at February 28, 2006 2:42 PM:

Better cheaper batteries sooner ought to be a multi-billion a year priority. Since there is good progress made with much more modest budgets it seems likely that serious money would achieve serious results.
Moldy - I'm astonished at the current lack of insulation in the panels or reflective coatings on glass in cars. And the lack of design features like convection based ventilation to keep parked cars cool. It's unlikely to cost much compared to the costs of years of extra fuel used by air conditioning. Well insulated, such small spaces ought to be relatively low cost to keep cool or to heat. Perhaps future electric cars could have a mains powered heater to preheat it ahead of driving off and reduce the initial heavier power requirements of getting from cold to comfortable.

Randall Parker said at February 28, 2006 4:03 PM:

E-P,

I think the push for ethanol comes from a combination of farmers, ADM, and greenies who have excessive irrational sentimentality for solutions that involve harnessing plants.

Hydrogen appears to have been supported more by the auto industry as a distant prospect they could point to as an eventual solution.

Invisible Scientist said at February 28, 2006 4:57 PM:

The main reason the auto industry seems to like the hydrogen theory, is that it will require very complex fuel cells and other components such as exotic storage mechanisms for hydrogen, in such a way that if one adds all the components together, the complexity will be similar or worse than the existing internal combustion engines. On the other hand, if the batteries become simple and cheap, then since electric motors are already cheap, and since electric motors mounted near each wheel would make transmissions, gear boxes, etc, unnecessary, then the automobile companies will not make a lot of money since manufacturing such pure electric cars will become very simple, and very cheap, and the margins will be very low in this competitive world. This is one reason the Detroit automobile companies were trying to emphasize the high margin luxury SUVs instead of the low margin small cars that are cheap. It turns out that Detroit was making money only from the big high end cars, not from the cheap cars for the ordinary citizen.

Visualize this: The minute there are cheap and strong batteries for cars, then many competitors will be able to manufacture large quantities of pure electric cars well under $10,000. This would be a disaster for Detroit.

Russ said at February 28, 2006 5:06 PM:

Invisible Scientist,

Do you think the same pressures towards complexity apply to Japanese and European Auto manufacturers?

aa2 said at February 28, 2006 5:17 PM:

Invisible Scientist - "Visualize this: The minute there are cheap and strong batteries for cars, then many competitors will be able to manufacture large quantities of pure electric cars well under $10,000. This would be a disaster for Detroit."

I agree completely.

If they were more farsighted and global in their outlook, I think there might be a decent business model. Think of the billions of people in the world today who can't afford their own car, let alone the gas for it... But who might be able to afford a cheap electric car and the electrical costs.

However like you are saying the margins might be very low.. and when I think about it other players might be able to get involved much easier. Think of all the companies in washing machines versus cars.

Seismic said at February 28, 2006 8:06 PM:

Invisible Scientist - "Visualize this: The minute there are cheap and strong batteries for cars, then many competitors will be able to manufacture large quantities of pure electric cars well under $10,000. This would be a disaster for Detroit."

I DISAGREE completely.

Most of the cost of producing a car does not come from making an internal combustion engine. Replacing the internal combustion engine with an electric one will save some money for sure but not nearly as much as you think.

Quite the opposite would have with the advent of electric cars - Detroit would experience a boomtime. More of the big SUVs could be sold (where most of the profit is) than with small econocars. Driving would become cheaper so more leisure time activities would result (ex: vacations)

Only the oil companies would have to worry.

Invisible Scientist said at February 28, 2006 9:39 PM:

Seismic:
It is not just the internal combustion engine, but all the supporting infrastructure, such as the carburetor, the radiator and its piping, the transmission, transmission oil system, half a dozen belts, the exhaust mechanism, the gears, and many other complications that make the cars so expensive to build (AND service.) The electric motor, on the other hand is much simpler, much lower maintenance, so that not only the building of the car is much less work, but additionally, there would be a lot less replacement and servicing of parts needed for the car that is already sold, and so the parts companies also would suffer severely. Moreover, the life expectancy of an electric car would be much longer than a regular car, since only the batteries and some of the moving parts in the electric motor might be changed once in a while. As I said, there would be no gears or transmission, etc in an electric car, since every wheel would get its own small electric motor.

Engineer-Poet said at February 28, 2006 11:09 PM:

Body panels get dents, scratches and deteriorate due to environmental insults.  Interiors wear, fade and accumulate damage.  Dash, audio and other controls become flaky, climate control gets cranky, things start to rattle.

Most cars are worn out long before their engines are useless.  Electrics will be no different, just a little more so.

Invisible Scientist said at February 28, 2006 11:21 PM:

Engineer-Poet: The internal combustion engine has a FAR more complex infrastructure that is needed to support it, such as the starter, the transmission, the gears, the belts, the carburator, the exhaust system, the radiator, etc, whereas the electric motor system is extremely simple and has a lot less moving parts that wear out, and the parts of the electric motors that wear out are cheap to replace. Outside the internal combustion engine and the associated infrastructure that supports it, naturally, as you said, the rest of the car would share many features such as the audio system, the interior, climate control, cruise control, etc, with the pure-electric car. But overall, for those cars that are not luxurios but relatively spartan which are designed for the ordinary citizen, replacing the internal combustion infrastructure with 4 simple electric motors that are connected to each wheel, would be dramatically more economical, and much more durable. The cost of replacing a broken car radio, is much smaller and much rarer than servicing the car with many components that are diming you to death...

Seismic said at March 1, 2006 6:23 AM:

Invisible Scientist -

I am not disagreeing with you when you say that the internal combustion engine (and related equipment) is a more complex than an electric motor. It is just that it represents a small percentage of the total cost of building a car. yuo may be able to save a couple thousand dollars (on a $20,000-30,000 car) but not 50% of the cost.

The biggest advantage with an electric car is with the operating cost. As they drop, automobile usage will increase.

Invisible Scientist said at March 1, 2006 6:33 AM:

Seismic:
I believe that the price savings on a 20,000-30,000 car would be much higher than a couple of thousands of dollars. But more importantly, for a more spartan $15,000 car that the ordinary citizen drives, the price savings might approach 50 % due to the simplicity of the car, since it would include very few components.

But also, the operating cost which includes servicing the electric car would be much lower not only because of the electricity that will be cheaper than gas, but also because a lot less repairs will be needed as the car gets older. Moreover, the replacement of the car will not be necessary for a much longer period of time, so that an average electric car can be kept for 30 years with only minimal repairs... AND THIS is a big loss for car companies, that are used to selling the ordinary citizen a new car every decade or sooner...

Seismic said at March 1, 2006 7:22 AM:

Your right - if you think that every would start driving electric golf carts.

However real world experience shows us that the cheaper driving gets, that bigger/pricier cars get. If anything a world full of electric cars would include some big, luxurious electric cars.

Nick said at March 1, 2006 11:18 AM:

Invisible Scientist, Seismic,

I was just talking to an automotive quality engineer about hydrogen. He attended a presentation at Behr, a producer of engine cooling systems. They were quite happy about the idea of hydrogen, because fuel cells require extensive cooling. In an electric world, all that business goes away.

Suddenly it becomes really clear why Detroit likes hydrogen. I'm sure the same applies to the rest of the established car companies, though I think Toyota (and Honda, to a lesser extent) sees a near-term competitive advantage for them in hybrids, and that's more important to them than the eventual transition to electric that hybrids will facilitate.

NickZ

Seismic said at March 1, 2006 6:53 PM:

Nick: Suddenly it becomes really clear why Detroit likes hydrogen. I'm sure the same applies to the rest of the established car companies, though I think Toyota (and Honda, to a lesser extent) sees a near-term competitive advantage for them in hybrids, and that's more important to them than the eventual transition to electric that hybrids will facilitate.

-------------------
Actually it is only clear that Behr is happy about hydrogen. It is not clear that Detroit gives a damn whether its cars are powered by fuel cells or batteries. Your statement is a conspiracy theory without any basis in fact.

Keep in mind that all these advances are still in the lab and no one is certain when any of them will become economically feasible. My money is on the battery being viable sooner - but that is just a guess not a fact.

Ken said at March 1, 2006 7:24 PM:

Fuel cells or batteries - The one I favour is the one that will do the job best. As far as electric vehicles are concerned Reversible fuel cells and Batteries are effectively doing the same thing. Fuel cells may offer the possibilty of getting filled up somewhere but some batteries (such as Vanadium Redox) potentially offer that possibility. Recharging for either can be done via the grid but a major switch would probably exceed transmission capacity. On the other hand Really good batteries or fuel cells could replace some transmission capacity by making electricity transportable in a similar way to the way coal and oil are shipped around. It would be ironic if that leads to hot dry middle eastern countries being able to harvest solar power and ship it around the world! Not that there isn't enough room for solar closer to home for most people in most parts of the world.
As for EV's generally, apart from the battery/fuel cell they ought to be much simpler and cheaper than the ICE versions. It amazes me that IC engines and the complimentary gearboxes and necessary components can be produced as cheaply as they are - a couple of dollars for a precision bearing, ten times that for a badly made plastic turn light. Even so an electic motor is much simpler, virtually maintenance free and much more efficient. When Moldy mentioned car heating, it's never been free, just making use of a fraction of the energy that an ICE wastes on a continual basis. Of course if the combustion part is merely shifted to a coal power plant with it's own inefficiencies some of the gains would be lost. Still, it's good to see some progress towards batteries that can do the job. Like Solar, there are compelling reasons to push progress as far and as fast as it can go.

Nick said at March 2, 2006 2:27 PM:

"Actually it is only clear that Behr is happy about hydrogen. It is not clear that Detroit gives a damn whether its cars are powered by fuel cells or batteries. Your statement is a conspiracy theory without any basis in fact."

Well, it's quite clear that GM doesn't like batteries - just read some of CEO Wagoner's historical comments criticizing hybrids as uneconomic, and look at their now regretted decision to pursue hydrogen instead. They have said that they don't expect to actually produce hydrogen cars for many years, which makes you question their commitment to ANY fundamental replacement of the ICE. This, perversely, would confirm your point: this suggests that they don't give a damn between fuel cells or batteries because they don't like either.

I think a part of their animosity towards batteries is skepticism towards battery capacity, which is certainly somewhat justified. Also, their corporate culture perceives the EV1 as a failure. On the whole, it's certainly a judgement call to suggest that the federal and GM hydrogen programs are just PR intended to forestall improved CAFE regulations (which would give a BIG push to hybrids), but I'm far from alone, and well in the mainstream to suggest it.

Seismic said at March 2, 2006 6:39 PM:

Nick says:

Well, it's quite clear that GM doesn't like batteries - just read some of CEO Wagoner's historical comments criticizing hybrids as uneconomic, and look at their now regretted decision to pursue hydrogen instead.

--------------------

Are electric cars currently ready for primetime - Not yet. What you have are some interesting laboratory developments and prototypes being worked on. Maybe one of these will mature into a viable electric car technology maybe not. Current hybrid technology is interesting but not yet economical enough to acquire a dominant portion of market share from IC only cars. Someday maybe, (I hope) hybrids will be economical vis-a-vis IC cars but that day is not yet here. You can't fault CEO Wagoner for not staking the entire future on a technology that is still not there yet. Will electric car technology beat out hydrogen technology? Probably, but it hasn't happened yet.

Until you can get normal car (ex: Honda Accord/Toyota Camry) to run 300+ miles on an single charge (and be rechargeable in 10 minutes) on a reliable long lasting battery you don't have viable electric car technology.

Paul Dietz said at March 2, 2006 6:49 PM:

Until you can get normal car (ex: Honda Accord/Toyota Camry) to run 300+ miles on an single charge (and be rechargeable in 10 minutes) on a reliable long lasting battery you don't have viable electric car technology.

That means the charging power is on the order of a megawatt. And they say electric cars won't need cooling?!

Randall Parker said at March 2, 2006 7:16 PM:

Paul Dietz,

Any idea what percentage of the electric used to charge a battery is lost as heat? What's the answer for lead acid versus NiMH versus lithium ion?

Seismic,

A lot of people do not need long range for their commuting car. Give them a 100 mile range and the ability to recharge at home and if the fuel cost savings is big enough some will switch. Keep in mind that people need fast recharging at a refueling station. But at home many will not be as rushed. Though whether home recharge will be practical will depend on where people live. Apartment dwellers will have a tougher time of it than suburban home owners. But I know enough couples who have 3 cars and tract houses that I can see a shift toward having a shorter range vehicle for commuting only.

My point is there's a spectrum of needs and the market will move gradually toward electric for this reason. Picture percentage of miles driven under electric power as a function of time. Under that curve (since some of that electric will be from an engine charging the battery) another curve will show percentage of miles driven under electric power that did not come from a car's engine doing the recharging.

The next generation of hybrid batteries beyond NiMH (most likely based on lithium as Johnson Controls and others are pursuing) will make pluggable hybrids begin to become viable for shorter range use. Ditto for shorter range all electric vehicles.

Seismic said at March 3, 2006 6:19 AM:

Randall Parker:

Give them a 100 mile range and the ability to recharge at home and if the fuel cost savings is big enough some will switch. Keep in mind that people need fast recharging at a refueling station. But at home many will not be as rushed.
------------------------

You are right there would be a market for such a car (for people like myself) but this would be a niche market item at best until such time as the price/performance benefits drastically improve. On the other hand to castigate the CEO of GM for not supporting electric/hybrid cars that are still not economically viable seems a bit of a reach. You don't gamble the fate of a multi-billion dollar corporation potential/maybe/possible developments that are still in the lab.

Nick said at March 3, 2006 9:26 AM:

Seismic,

There are several important points here.

First, plug-in hybrids won't have the problem of an all-electric, of having to replicate the full driving range of an ICE on the battery. Just 20 mile range on battery will dramatically improve fuel economy, and it can improve incrementally from there.

Two, I think at this point the whole automotive industry has conceded that hybrids are, at the least, a big part of the future, almost certainly more important than hydrogen. GM has publicly stated that they took the wrong path.

Three, battery techology is rapidly improving. This isn't idle hope - read trade journals for the industry (and related industries) and it becomes clear that batteries have been improving steadily for the last 20 years (7-10% per year for such things as cost, and energy density), and that the rate of improvement is accelerating dramatically. There is a wide variety of technologies in a range of states of development.

On a philosophical note, I would point out that many of them will fail. Why? Not because they are't feasible and big improvements, but simply because others will be better. I suspect that this is a cognitive trap that many technological pessimists fall into: look how many patents are never used! How many press releases never pan out! Well, of course many of the patents are flakey, and the press releases a desperate bid for investors, but a big part of the failure rate is just good old natural selection.

A good example of the next wave of nano-lithium batteries is the A123systems battery used in the Black & Decker/Dewalt 36-volt professional portable tool line coming out in the next couple months. This kind of battery will cut the effective cost of hybrid batteries by 75% (by increasing the depth of charge) and in one stroke cut the cost differential between hybrids and non-hybrids, increase fuel-efficiency (by increasing the % of regenerative braking greatly), and reduce charging times to the time needed for convenience (with high amp supplies, of course).

Four, the criticism of GM is regarding why they chose hydrogen over hybrids. Both were a gamble: why did they choose hydrogen? It certainly seems possible to a lot of people that they chose it, in cooperation with the current administration, because it was much more cost-effective for them than an increased CAFE, which would have hurt their light truck sales which are essential to their profitability. I don't fault them for that - they're fighting for their life. I would fault the Bush administration for not finding a much more productive way to help out the car industry, say by leveling the health care funding playing field, or (even better) subsidizing new car development the way the PNGV program did.

Nick said at March 3, 2006 9:45 AM:

Let me expand/rephrase that last paragraph:

Four, the criticism of GM is regarding their choice of hydrogen over hybrids. Both were a gamble: why did they choose hydrogen? It certainly seems possible to a lot of people that they chose it (in cooperation with the current administration), because they had to do something: it was far in the future, and therefore much more cost-effective for them than either a voluntary push into hybrids or the other alternative, which was an increased CAFE. An increased CAFE would have pushed them to both hybrids and lighter vehicles, which would have hurt their light truck sales which are essential to their profitability. I don't fault them for these strategic decisions - they're fighting for their life. In fact, I admire their tenacity - look at the fate of domestic TV manufacturing - long gone. I find their 70% market share (and 85% domestic content, at least for GM) at this point really admirable. I would, however, fault the Bush administration for not finding a much more productive way to help out the car industry, say by leveling the health care funding playing field, or (even better) subsidizing new car development the way the PNGV program did.

Randall Parker said at March 3, 2006 4:42 PM:

To amplify on a point that Nick alludes to about pluggable hybrids:

Future generation hybrids will use the engine only for generating electricity. They will not have transmissions. The drive power will be generated by electric engines on the axles or on the wheels. So some of the advantages of pure electric cars will show up in pluggable hybrids. The engines and fuel will be there as battery chargers for slow charging batteries.

As for hydrogen: You have to appreciate the context. The automakers were getting jerked around by the state of California that was demanding zero emissions vehicles. Totally unrealistic. But California had a law or regulation that required some portion of California vehicles sold to be zero emissions. Hydrogen or batteries were the two choices. Batteries seemed like a distant prospect. So they hoped hydrogen would solve it. Well, that was unrealistic as well.

Paul Dietz said at March 5, 2006 7:13 AM:

Future generation hybrids will use the engine only for generating electricity. They will not have transmissions.

This does, however, require more electrical components. Parallel hybrids require only a single motor-generator; series hybrids require a separate generator and one or more motors (in your concept, one motor per wheel).

The separate generator scheme could make sense with microturbines or other non-IC engines.

Paul Dietz said at March 5, 2006 7:29 AM:

Any idea what percentage of the electric used to charge a battery is lost as heat? What's the answer for lead acid versus NiMH versus lithium ion?

I think this depends on the charging rate, and the putative 10 minute recharging battery is going to be different from existing batteries. Generally, for a given battery, the faster the charge, the lower the charging efficiency.

Nadero said at March 30, 2006 6:16 AM:

The "Power Chip" could be the solution for a hybrid oil-electric vehicle. Power Chip is capable to convert heat DIRECTLY into electricity, with a very high eficiency ("a diesel or gasoline generator is only about 10-15% efficient in Carnot terms. Power Chips are projected to achieve 70-80% of Carnot efficiency").

A goog idea is to "combust fuel in a small chamber (a chamber 12" on a side would be sufficient to provide 75 kw of power)."; PowerChips will convert the generated heat into electricity. So you will have a very high efficient hybrid, even without battery, much more than a Prius. Then, place a battery and you will have an plug-in hybrid higly efficient even with gas.

"In addition to high efficiency, Power Chips are expected to be very inexpensive to make." "20$/KW is the cost targer", so... 1400$ for 70KW.

See:
http://www.powerchips.gi/
http://www.powerchips.gi/slides/automotive/frame01.html
http://www.powerchips.gi/technology/Powerchipstech3Jan06.pdf

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