June 24, 2009
IBM Push For Practical Electric Car Batteries
An IBM consortium is going after the development of lithium air car batteries which could give electric cars 300+ mile ranges.
On June 23, IBM announced a multiyear effort to increase the performance of rechargeable batteries by a factor of 10. The aim is to design batteries that will make it possible for electric vehicles to travel 300 to 500 miles on a single charge, up from 50 to 100 miles currently. "We want to see if we can find a radically different battery technology," says Chandrasekhar "Spike" Narayan, who manages the Science & Technology Organization at IBM Research's Almaden lab in San Jose, Calif.
To do that, IBM (IBM) is leading a consortium that will create batteries using a combination of lithium and oxygen rather than the potentially combustible lithium-ion mix that now dominates advanced consumer electronics and early electric-vehicle batteries.
Good luck to IBM in their attempts develop better electric car batteries. With Peak Oil approaching we need great battery tech to enable a transition away from oil.
Hoping that Tesla Motors will deliver the cost effective electric car? Elon Musk of Tesla says they've gotten their production cost down to $80k per car. Highly affordable to all neurosurgeons and star sports players.
Due to the low production rate, the Roadster cost will never be what Eberhard promised, but an incredible effort by the development, supply chain and manufacturing teams has brought the Roadster material cost down from $140k to approximately $80k as of this month. Combined with a steady production volume of 20 to 30 per week in the third quarter this year and a good take up rate of the higher priced Roadster Sport, we expect to cross over into profitability next month.
This is a small vehicle.
Peak oil will be "approaching" for the next two hundred years.
Peak Oil is another boogeyman. There are plenty of ways to access needed hydrocarbons that will last at least this century. That said, there are many good less hysterical reasons to develop technologies that reduce our eceonomic desire for low cost imported oil. I wish IBM et. al. the best.
I'm fascinated by the energy density of Li-air. 13 KWHs per kilogram. The Chevy Volt battery could weigh 3 lbs!
Unlike the sports car Roadster, The Sedan Model S of Tesla is $50,000, and it is big enough to carry passengers.
The more expensive model of Model S has a range of 300 miles, but it is much more than the $50,000 above.
But ultimately the prices will decline.
The only issue is the shortage of Lithium in the world, but this can be extracted from sea water, and it can be recycled fro batteries also. So a finite amount will be enough for the world. What we need is nuclear energy as a viable power source in the world.
You know Randall uses the word "Peak Oil" to rile you all up. How funny is that.
Every time I see him use the phrase I have this picture of a little gremlin poking a big red balloon hoping to see what might happen... then laughing it's little head off as the other little gremlins look over surprised.
The absolutely best SEO trick to get traffic to your web site, and stir up the ants IMHO. :)
Peak oil will be "approaching" for the next two hundred years.
Peak oil is already receding. It doesn't matter how much oil there is, the economy cannot spare enough materials to maintain the production rate let alone increase it.
There are plenty of ways to access needed hydrocarbons that will last at least this century.
Can you name one that costs less than drilling oil? See above about "enough materials to maintain the production rate" (money is a proxy for materials and labor). And if you're talking about biomass, the NPP of anything except algae is way too small to sustain our consumption rates... and algae are a long way from economically viable.
We can't run out of stuff to push electrons around; even PV is cheaper than $5/gallon gasoline. EVs are the future.
I push their buttons and they respond. I feel so powerful.
Should I link to charts showing historical oil discovery rates? I've been familiar with the basic facts for so many years. But perhaps you and I are still outliers in terms of our level of knowledge. Maybe these skeptics do not know that (to take just some of the core basic facts as examples):
- world oil discovery peaked in 1965.
- US production peaked in 1970.
- world land-based oil production peaked in 1980.
- near offshore oil production peaked.
- non-OPEC oil production seems to have already peaked.
- deep water and unconventional oil are about the only major categories whose production might increase.
I get that for ideological reasons some people do not want to believe. Julian Simon once beat Paul Ehrlich in a bet over natural resources and they want to project from that to all time and all natural resources. I get the free market libertarian belief system. But there is all this evidence for Peak Oil. They just dismiss it by scoffing. How irrational.
I am a free-market libertarian. I also recognize that markets are based on information and often operate on a very short term (day traders), when the information is often faulty (like the projections from CERA, IEA and EIA) and the investments needed to maintain civilization have time-scales of years and decades. Something has to bridge that gap.
The Li O2 battery would be more of a fuel cell. And it would probably be better to switch the Li2O for a fresh battery than to use grid power to reform metallic Li. The problems that I foresee are that (1) the mixture of Li and O2 is much more combustible than the Li Ion chenistry (the linked article has to be wrong on this point), and Li2O, the end product, is wicked caustic.
E-P once wrote up the idea of a Zn Air battery system. Zinc is a lot less combustible than Li, and ZnO is used on babies to prevent diaper rash. I don't know how the energy density would compare. I would guess that Li provides more Js per kg, but fewer per liter than Zn. Zn is also much cheaper, and much more abundant than Li.
According to Wikipedia, the energy density of zinc-air fuel cells is as follows:
Energy/weight 470-1370 Wh/kg
Thus the zinc-air battery actually has a lot more range than the current generation of lithium-ion batteries. Zinc-air batteries would almost certainly give 300 miles of range, but these are fuel-cells, not rechargeable batteries. The zinc-air batteries must be swapped and the zinc must be recycled, which would be equivalent to "recharging" the battery, but this is a VERY easy chemical process which just requires electricity to process and deoxidize the zinc.
The only issue is that for zinc-air fuel cell batteries, the battery swapping infrastructure of the Better Place company is not yet ready. By 2012 this infrastructure will be ready in Israel, Denmark, The Bay Area, Hawaii, and also in parts of Australia, but most parts of the world are not yet ready to complete this infrastructure that is equivalent to gas stations.
I would think for fleet applications, swappable zinc-air batteries would work very well.
In particular, what about water shipping? Ships could swap batteries every day or two (just as they picked up coal 60 years ago - that's why the US wanted the Philippines military bases, and why they're not needed in the oil era). The shorter range would be a bit inconvenient, but still workable.
How about a floating nuclear reactor in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (or floating wind turbines) that would recharge batteries as part of a refueling operation?
I wonder at what price oil does nuclear propulsion become cost competitive.
Rod Adams has been pushing nuclear for ships for some time.
Randall, I think mid-Atlantic battery swapping makes a lot of sense.
I envision a world where container shipping is coated in PV, and large towed PV arrays provide a large % of power.
See my discussion of shipping.
Here's what I said there about nuclear.
I don't have any information about the cost-effectiveness of nuclear for merchant shipping - I would be skeptical that it could beat the alternatives.
Don't forget that commercial nuclear plants are built as large as possible to maximize cost-effectiveness. The US Navy doesn't have to worry about cost-effectiveness - it chooses nuclear not on a cost basis, but on an operational effectiveness basis (maximium range without refueling).
The US Navy maintains a rigorous, labor intensive, costly safety program. On the other hand, the Emma Maersk, the largest container ship in the world, sails with only 13 crewmembers!
oops - "mid-Pacific battery swapping makes a lot of sense.", not Atlantic. Atlantic not so big, fewer good islands...
Re Rod Adams: he's been promoting his vision of small nuclear plants for quite some time. My litmus test for nuclear proposals is their effect on weapons proliferation, esp relative to the complete fuel enrichment cycle - I'd be curious how his system rates in that regard, as well as costwise.
PV can't provide even a large fraction of the power needed to push a container ship; do the math (I have). And I doubt batteries will be overly competitive either; the weight of zinc required to run a car is much greater than the weight of fuel, which becomes more and more significant as the range of the ship increases and the energy supply becomes larger compared to the powerplant. To recharge batteries mid-ocean requires docking facilities equal to the ports served by the ships using the station on either shore... an enormous undertaking.
The NS Savannah was designed as a show vessel, not a workhorse, but it was only a few years after it was decommissioned as "uneconomic" that oil prices shot well above its parity point. Had it remained in service until 1974, it would probably have many descendants today. In lieu of nuclear, wind ("skysails" for downwind, "gyromills" for any direction) will always be there.
PV can't provide even a large fraction of the power needed to push a container ship; do the math (I have).
I suspect that you didn't read my article, linked above. Here's the math:
The first question is: is it cost effective? Sure - it's just straightforward calculations: PV can generate power for the equivalent of diesel at $3/gallon (40KWH per gallon @40% efficiency = 16 KWH/gallon; $3/16KWH = about $.20/KWH, or $4/Wp, which large I/C installations have already surpassed.
So, I said "I envision a world where container shipping is coated in PV": I think it's pretty clear that will happen, regardless of the fraction of power it will provide.
Let's look at the Emma Mærsk . With a length of 397 metres, and beam of 56 metres, it has a surface area of 22,400 sq m. At 20% efficiency we get about 4.5MW on the ship's deck at peak power. Now, as best I can tell it probably uses about 10MW at 12 knots (very roughly a minimum speed), 20MW at 15 knots, and 65MW (80% of engine rated power) at 25.5 knots (roughly a maximum). So, at minimum speed it could get about 45% of it's power for something close to 20% of the time, for a net of 9%. Now, if we want to increase that we'll need either higher efficiency PV, or more surface area from outriggers or something towed, perhaps using flexible PV.
Now, "I envision a world where...large towed PV arrays provide a large % of power." is more speculative, but doesn't it make sense?
And I doubt batteries will be overly competitive either; the weight of zinc required to run a car is much greater than the weight of fuel, which becomes more and more significant as the range of the ship increases and the energy supply becomes larger compared to the powerplant.
The economics change a great deal for shipping. Here's the math:
Assume 20MW engine power at a cruising speed a speed of 15 knots (17.25 mph) or 20MW auxiliary assistance to a higher speed, and a needed port-to-port range of 2,000 miles (a range that was considered extremely good in the era of coal ships - the average length of a full trip is about 4,500 miles (see chart 8 ). That's 116 hours of travel, and 2,310 MW hours needed. At 200whrs per kg, that's 11,594 metric tons. The Emma Maersk has a capacity of 172,990 metric tons, so we'd need about 7% of it's capacity (by weight) to add batteries.
So, li-ion would do. Now it would be more expensive than many alternatives that would be practical in a "captive" fleet like this - many high energy density, much less expensive batteries exist whose charging is very inconvenient, but could be swapped out in an application like this. These include Zinc-air, and others.
To recharge batteries mid-ocean requires docking facilities equal to the ports served by the ships using the station on either shore
Well, this is what was done in the coal era. Further, battery swapping could be much, much faster than cargo loading/unloading.
The NS Savannah was designed as a show vessel, not a workhorse, but it was only a few years after it was decommissioned as "uneconomic" that oil prices shot well above its parity point.
That parity point compared operating cost (excluding 1950's era capital costs, maintenance and disposal, etc) of nuclear to conventional operating costs, including fuel oil at $80/ton in 1974 dollars. I was comparing nuclear to non-oil alternatives - they will be more competitive.
9% at minimum speed is "not a large fraction". Plus, it comes at the cost of large amounts of superstructure which will both subtract from the usable cargo capacity and interfere with loading and unloading. Last, it is going to be susceptible to damage. Last, I doubt that a return to the logistics of the coal-ship era is at all practical; the refueling ports and facilities don't exist on the scale required for today's traffic.
If you are intent upon going electric, zinc-air fuel cells are probably the way to go. You offload the job of energy collection to dedicated infrastructure, you achieve higher energy/weight than Li-ion (450 Wh/kg or so), and you replace recharging or swapping with pumping of slurries. Or you can go to direct-carbon fuel cells at 2-3 kWh/kg.
9% at minimum speed is "not a large fraction".
Sure. OTOH, it's nothing to sneeze at. And, on the 3rd hand(!), that doesn't include towed flexible (probably rolled) PV.
All I've been saying is that PV will be increasingly cost-effective (as oil prices rise, and PV prices fall) and that I think that ship owners are going to maximize it.
it comes at the cost of large amounts of superstructure
Hmmm. What are you envisioning? I would anticipate PV built into existing deck, above waterline hull, and superstructure surfaces, such that it would be low cost and pretty much invisible (except for the different look of the finishes). I would also anticipate that this would largely happen with new ships, rather than as a retrofit.
it is going to be susceptible to damage.
Yes, that might reduce the usable area, depending on what could be done with design tweaks.
One possibility: building PV into the roofs of a % of containers. From what I've seen, most container ships, dual mode trucks and rail don't have roofs over the containers. A container roofed with PV could provide power wherever it went. This would, of course, require some planning and standardization.
I doubt that a return to the logistics of the coal-ship era is at all practical; the refueling ports and facilities don't exist on the scale required for today's traffic.
Well, it's certainly doable, if necessary - I think you may be understimating the effect of containerization: some port capacity is being turned into condos (or was, in the housing bubble). Shortening the range of ships would be a kind of boundary analysis - unlikely to actually happen to a great extent, but it's useful to know it's feasibility. OTOH, the 2,000 mile legs that I analyzed are actually pretty long. Also, the batteries don't have to last the whole leg - ships would be very likely to operate in PHEV mode.
Finally, as you note, I low-balled the energy density assumption. Change that from 200WH/kilo to 450, and the leg becomes 4,500 miles, or the average actual full trip length.
So, PV and batteries are certainly feasible. I would say they're inevitable on almost all transportation, in the long run (the least likely, based on utilization & economics would be small, private garaged vehicles, but the new Prius has added it). In Australia, they're already standard on RVs. The only question is how they'll compete for market share with other tech (like fuel cells). I think it's highly useful to know that they're feasible, and that they put a cap on the costs of shipping.
On a container ship most of the surface area is containers. So the PV would need to be placed over the containers once all containers are loaded.
Now, I do not see that as a big obstacle for an obvious reason: the containers are much harder to load and yet they get loaded. The PV covering would need some sort of modular way to get hooked up into an electrical grid from one container top to the next. So there'd be need to develop a way to do fast and sturdy hooking up of electrical cables. But this seems within the realm of feasibility.
I am unclear on whether doing this will ever make economic sense. But we are staring in the face of Peak Oil and PV costs are going to still decline quite a lot.
I suspect that automated handling can do quite a lot to reduce costs. Also, I envisioned "building PV into the roofs of a % of containers". My idea is that only a portion of containers would have PV, and those would be placed on top, and connected to each other. Same thing with dual mode trucks and rail, which also stack the containers.
> So the PV would need to be placed over the containers once all containers are loaded
So this cannot be a rigid structure (without a lot more additional weight - which will probably kill all the gain from adding PV).
Large non-rigid flat structures only function in the marine environment until the first big storm.
Nick suggests some subset of containers that have PV roofs built into them. One problem I see there: utilization rates. If those containers carried cargo that was immediately unloaded at receiving ports and packed with new cargo to go out on the return trip then that could work. But otherwise the containers get placed on trucks or train flat beds and the PV on them does not get used most of the time. This % utilization problem has to be solved since PV is already so expensive.
I do not know enough about shipping and container management to judge the practicality of what Nick proposes. In Long Beach harbor and immediately surrounding areas how much packing and unpacking of containers happens?
One problem I see there: utilization rates.
Randall, some thoughts.
1st, I had in mind something that would be used by all common carriers: container ships, dual mode trucks and rail. With a little planning and standardization, a critical mass of carriers would provide electrical connections for the containers. I would expect that shippers using the PV-equipped containers would get discounted shipping rates.
2nd, many containers do get unpacked and sent right back at the port - in years past, this has caused inventory problems, when there has been an imbalance in trade, and containers have stacked up at ports.
A potential problem: only a % of containers can be PV powered (a wild guess: 15%). This would require planning - a purely market-based system would potentially cause boom and bust.
A benefit for shippers: containers with PV must be on top, so they'd be unloaded first.
Eventually, it might pay to build in batteries to the containers as well, to harvest light when not connected to a carrier.
Inadequate area, susceptibility to damage, issues of loading/unloading time, utilization problems... don't you think this has all the elements of "if all you have is a hammer"?
There are plenty of possibilities out there that aren't hammers. Skysails aren't hammers, and 100 klb of pull at 20 knots is about 4.6 megawatts. Works day or night. If you want to get fancy, a gyromill with a 100 meter effective diameter up in winds at 50 knots relative could give you on the order of 27 megawatts, plus whatever you get from the cable tension. You could probably design landing gear that could put down on top of containers, maybe hold itself down with electromagnets for security.
I am big on PV, but sometimes PV just sticks you inside a mental box.
E-P, I agree that wind looks very useful for shipping. If you read the article to which I linked, that would become clearer. BTW, I've updated the PV portion with a bit of our discussion, and I'll probably add a bit more about wind, using your helpful information.
Inadequate area, susceptibility to damage, issues of loading/unloading time, utilization problems...
PV is one of a fairly wide variety of potential solutions, all of which are likely to be used, and the mix of which will depend on unknowable technical advances, and economies of scale which will depend on accidents of timing and synergy. OTOH, I think there's an awfully good chance that very cheap, flexible PV will solve these problems. On calm days (when it would be most needed) the ship could unroll a towed surface that was a mile or two long. I mentioned PV instead of wind because this discussion was about batteries, and PV is an electrical source.
sometimes PV just sticks you inside a mental box.
OTOH, it's usually more helpful to resist the temptation to analyze those who disagree with us. And, as it happens, you and I really don't disagree that much.
As an engineer, I'm well-attuned to the practical difficulties of proposals. My job isn't done until the thing works, with five-nines reliability. And I'm quite used to finding myself inside a mental box with walls composed of my own informational deficiencies and conceptual ruts; that's why I recognize them when I see them. No slur implied.
Towed PV arrays are a cute idea, but those practical difficulties keep getting in the way. How do you make an array strong enough to endure swells, but light enough to carry and thin enough to be reeled onto a spool of acceptable size? How do you reel in an array that's been damaged by e.g. floating debris? How do you keep the added drag low enough to make the thing worth towing? Do you have to reel it in every day as the sun gets too low to avoid that drag overnight? Having seen what it takes to reel in a solar cover for a swimming pool in a dead calm, I doubt these problems have easy solutions.
There are similar issues with gyromills, and I have no idea how you deploy and retrieve a non-rigid wing of the size of a Skysail. But these people have prototypes and money, so they must know something.
No slur implied.
I just like to explore all of the logical possibilities. Who knows, perhaps shippers will want the simplest tech possible, even if it's not the cheapest. That might mean one system, like a zinc-air battery configured like a fuel-cell. Truckers think that way: they want standardized engines, tires, etc. OTOH, my sense is that naval engineers don't think that way.
Perhaps it's their isolation at sea, and a desire for redundant, dissimilar systems. For instance, US Navy ships have 3 diesel engines for electricity and a powerful battery to ensure a seamless transition from the active engine to the first backup (they used to have the 1st backup on at all times, but the battery allowed them to end that kind of waste).
Or, perhaps its a heritage of complex systems, like the unfurling of a 4-masted schooner.
those practical difficulties keep getting in the way
Yes, you've raised some good ones. On the one hand, perhaps nautical PV will go the way of Beta - a good idea, that didn't find it's niche. OTOH, I think we're going to need everything (wind, PV, batteries, etc) and I'm encouraged by the furious pace and diversity of chemistries for PV. It's like batteries: GM has evaluated 150 different proposed battery chemistries in the last couple of years! I suspect that these problems will be solvable.
Now, I did have thoughts about a couple of your objections:
How do you keep the added drag low enough to make the thing worth towing?
I envision inflated tubes, underneath and near the sides, that would create a hydrofoil-like effect.
Do you have to reel it in every day as the sun gets too low to avoid that drag overnight?
I would think. You'd also need that ability in the face of incoming high waves.
Having seen what it takes to reel in a solar cover for a swimming pool in a dead calm, I doubt these problems have easy solutions.
Hmm. Have you seen the automated rigging furling/unfurling system that's been developed for luxury windjammers? It's quite amazing.
If naval engineers like multiple dissimilar systems, why is it that the biggest container ships are powered by single direct-drive diesel engines? (The same thing was noted about supertankers many years before.) I think the money guys have a bigger influence there.
Unfurling a 4-masted schooner isn't comparable. A schooner's sails are multiply redundant; one sail will work even if the one next to it is reefed or torn away. Not so with water-borne PV schemes.
Yes, I've seen roller-furling sails. Pulling in a sail which rides in a track and is held up by a sheet is a bit different from this proposal, especially if you have to deflate and compact flotation tubes on the underside as you go. A glitch in any part of the system brings operations to a halt. It's the layering of complexity which suggests to me that such is the wrong direction to go.
On the other hand, a Skysail is parallel to a gyromill which is parallel to a zinc-air fuel cell. A ship with all three could function even if the first two failed or were idled by conditions. If you didn't carry enough zinc to run the entire route at speed you would not be able to keep a schedule in adverse conditions, but you'd still get there. That's the kind of thing which would make the FMEA folks I've worked with breathe a lot easier.
If naval engineers like multiple dissimilar systems, why is it that the biggest container ships are powered by single direct-drive diesel engines?
Well, as I understand it, the Emma Mærsk has a 80MW diesel engine, and 30MW of electrical powertrain.
A schooner's sails are multiply redundant
That's part of what I'm getting at: I'm envisioning a multiple system approach.
It's the layering of complexity
You could be right. OTOH, many times these things evolve - I'm assuming it would start relatively small. The first photocopy machines seemed like rube goldberg inventions to their competitors, but they worked. Think of the complexity of an ICE! Again, it's all a matter of engineering, tech availability, economies of scale, accidents of timing, etc. These things are unpredictable.
a Skysail is parallel to a gyromill which is parallel to a zinc-air fuel cell. A ship with all three could function even if the first two failed or were idled by conditions. If you didn't carry enough zinc to run the entire route at speed you would not be able to keep a schedule in adverse conditions, but you'd still get there.
That's exactly what I had in mind: a ship with 3 or 4 systems. I think PV will be there at some scale, it just a question of whether it provides a bit of auxiliary power, or something much larger - perhaps 25% of overall transportation energy. Wind is clearly practical and sufficiently cheap, but it seems unlikely to provide more than about 40% of overall transportation energy. I could see a battery being the single biggest source, with a liquid fuel (FF diesel, synthetic diesel, biodiesel, ethanol, etc) backup for roughly 5-15%, depending on production from the other systems.
In the end, the takeaway conclusion is that there are multiple ways to skin the water transportation cat, and that water shipping will certainly continue to be economical.