June 27, 2009
PolyPlus Makes Lithium Metal Battery Coating

PolyPlus claims to have solved a key problem for lithium air batteries.

A company based in Berkeley, CA, is developing lightweight, high-energy batteries that can use the surrounding air as a cathode. PolyPlus is partnering with a manufacturing firm to develop single-use lithium metal-air batteries for the government, and it expects these batteries to be on the market within a few years. The company also has rechargeable lithium metal-air batteries in the early stages of development that could eventually power electric vehicles that can go for longer in between charges.

Lithium metal reacts extremely rapidly with water and this poses practical and safety problems. You can click through and read the article about how PolyPlus has developed layering to try to protect the lithium from water. I can see this working in ocean autonomous vehicle applications they are pursuing since failure isn't a safety hazard for humans. I wonder if it can be made reliable enough for use in cars.

The lithium metal oxygen approach is also what IBM chose to pursue to make practical electric car batteries.

With Nissan aiming to produce a pure electric vehicle in Smyrna Tennessee, Ford bringing out the pure electric Transit Connect in 2010 and pure electric Focus in 2011, and Chinese car maker Hafei (state-owned - just like GM) and Coda bringing an electric car to market in California in fall 2010 we are about to have lots of real consumer choices for pure electric vehicles. Now, the Coda is going to cost $45k. Electric vehicles are not yet cheap. But the many battery development ventures might bear fruit in a few years and make lithium batteries a lot more affordable.

Since I see Peak Oil as coming Real Soon Now (though we might get away with Robert Rapier's Peak Oil Lite for several years) I see the development of electric vehicles and better batteries as urgent matters. How fast can we develop substitutes for oil? The answer to that question will determine how far down our living standards drop when yearly world oil production declines become the norm.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 June 27 03:33 PM  Energy Batteries

JAY said at June 27, 2009 8:16 PM:

Peak oil theory is silly. Oil reserves will grow faster than demand for the next hundred years.

DHL said at June 28, 2009 5:54 AM:

Peak oil is really political peak oil, with governments suppressing the production of oil while by all accounts it really is abundant. They are doing the same with coal and nuclear energy production. Therefore the electric energy infrastructure in this country will not support a move to electrify the auto fleet. Wind and solar technologies will not be able to produce anything like the amounts of electricity needed.

This will be another example of how central planning is a failure every single time. Free markets, with millions of people participating and making billions of decisions daily are geometrically more intelligent that a hand-full of politicians making decisions for everyone.

CyclemotorEngineer said at June 28, 2009 8:29 AM:

An unregulated, free market leads to concentrations of decision-making power through monopolization and collusion. Mistakes made by entities "too big to fail," whether governments or multinational corporations, have the same effect. Free markets need to be tempered with anti-trust and environmental regulation to prevent such concentrations and encourage respect for the commons. It is also a legitimate function of government to educate its population about the implications of a growing human population in a world of finite resources.

JAY said at June 28, 2009 9:19 AM:

Regulated markets lead to vast concentrations of power and corruption in the government. Private power comes and goes. Government power lasts forever.

Nick G said at June 28, 2009 10:30 AM:

Jay & DHL,

If you're going to make large claims, especially if they disagree with the Original Post, it would be helpful to provide some backup: sources, links, authors with credentials, etc.

It would be a lot more interesting to read, and might actually convince someone.

pond said at June 28, 2009 11:42 AM:

I worry a bit that 'single use' li batteries might be confused with 'disposable' li batteries.

There is some concern about li supplies and whether, indeed, there's enough li to power today's auto fleets - let alone the fleets of 2020 if infinite expansion continues.

So I hope if these batteries are marketed, they will all be recycled so the li can be used again, even in the 'single use' batteries. Unlike the single use batteries filling landfills today. We're supposed to recycle them, but how many of us do?

Maybe we need deposits on batteries?

Randall Parker said at June 28, 2009 12:57 PM:


By all accounts oil is abundant? Have you looked at historical discovery rates, historical production rates by country and by oil field, and other relevant data? Do you know what some of the big oil company CEOs are saying?

Here's the CEO of Shell Jeroen van der Veer sees a problem developing in 2015:

Jeroen van der Veer, Shell’s chief executive, said in an e-mail to the company’s staff this week that output of conventional oil and gas was close to peaking. He wrote: “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.”

The boss of the world’s second-largest oil company forecast that, regardless of government policy initiatives and investment in renewables, the world would need more nuclear power and unconventional fossil fuels, such as oil sands.

Even with coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewables van der Veer thinks getting enough energy will become a big problem. If Peak Oil wasn't coming up he would not say that.

This is a key area of focus for us. The peak-oil theory, as first published by King Hubbert, who was an American former Shell employee, is correct for easy-to-access oil, at least. In his time, this theory was true for easy to access oil in the USA, but he could most certainly not have envisaged the future development of the Gulf of Mexico or today’s development of oil sands.

It is true that “easy oil and gas” - or conventional oil and gas that are relatively easy to extract - will not be able to match the pace with which demand is growing. The main reasons are the maturing of existing fields in many parts of the world, the scale of the investments required to enhance oil recovery from these fields and to bring new projects on stream, and of course the limited access for the international energy industry in some countries.

I have been warning for sometime about the end of the “easy oil” era, and I think the message is slowly beginning to sink in. And so is the logical consequence: we need all the energy we can get.

What is less obvious to many people is that even if we develop and deploy all the energy we can together - including unconventional oil and natural gas, including alternative energy, including nuclear and including more coal - we will still struggle to match demand. Unless we can curb the consumption of energy through radically more efficient technology.

The CEO of the French oil company Total thinks the world will never see more than 89 million barrels per day.

The world will never be able to produce more than 89m barrels a day of oil, the head of Europe’s third largest energy group has warned, citing high costs in areas such as Canada and political restrictions in countries like Iran and Iraq.

Christophe de Margerie, chief executive of Total, the French oil and gas company, said he had revised his forecast for 2015 oil production downward by at least 4m barrels a day because of the current economic crisis and the collapse in oil prices.

To put that in perspective we peaked at around 86 million bbd briefly last year.


Oil reserves are shrinking, not growing. OPEC's official reserves are an exception. But they are lying. Matthew Simmons argues (see his book Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy) that the Saudis have greatly exaggerated the size of their oil reserves. All the OPEC countries inflated their reserves in a couple of years in the late 1980s in order to win higher production quotas within OPEC. Since then they have not adjusted their reserves downward and they also have not found new big fields. There's no equivalent to Ghawar that they can point to as sources to justify their official and wildly inaccurate official reserve numbers.

You can also check out a book by Dr. David Goodstein, Vice Provost and Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Caltech, entitled Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil where he argues that the peak of oil production is rapidly approaching.

I pointed to some online sources of information on Peak Oil in my post. Try reading them.

Randall Parker said at June 28, 2009 1:01 PM:

CEO of Shell Jeroen van der Veer's email to Shell company employees about Peak Oil:

Regardless of which route we choose, the world's current predicament limits our maneuvering room. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to population growth and economic development, and Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand. As a result, society has no choice but to add other sources of energy - renewables , yes, but also more nuclear power and unconventional fossil fuels such as oil sands. Using more energy inevitably means emitting more CO2 at a time when climate change has become a critical global issue.

Onshore oil production peaked a long time ago. Deep offshore is going to peak next. Then all hell breaks loose.

Fat Man said at June 28, 2009 11:56 PM:

"Heard On The Street: Exxon Mobil's Weapons of Gas Destruction" by Liam Denning in The Wall Street Journal on June 26, 2009 at page C12:

Exxon Mobil has a loaded gun pointed at the U.S. natural-gas market -- and it isn't the only one. The ammunition is liquefied natural gas. Exxon is scheduled to start up another three LNG projects in Qatar this year. They will produce more than three billion cubic feet a day of natural gas and freeze it for transportation. Europe and Asia are potential markets. But the U.S. could be a magnet for LNG cargoes, despite not really needing it, a paradox that spells low prices.

* * *

So why would anyone ship LNG to the U.S.? In part, it's simple economics. Many projects were sanctioned and financed when lower natural-gas prices prevailed. In Exxon's case, valuable liquids also produced in its Qatari projects take the market break-even price of the natural gas itself "towards zero," says Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Sankey. Factoring in processing and shipping costs, that gas can be landed in the U.S. for less than $2 per million British thermal units, reckons Noel Tomnay, head of global gas at Wood Mackenzie. The current Nymex price is about $4. Futures prices for this winter are closer to $6 per million BTUs.

* * *

Randall Parker said at June 29, 2009 9:02 AM:

Fat Man,

I added a missing URL to your href and pruned the quote.

Natural gas prices: It sure seems like the price gap between oil and natural gas is going to stay wide. Crude oil contains 5.6 million BTU/barrel. If natural gas sells for, say, $4 per million BTU (it is near that now) that's the equivalent of $22.4 per barrel of oil. At $70 per barrel of oil one pays 3,125 times as much to buy one's BTUs as oil rather than natural gas.

A November 2007 Rice University Baker Institute study Natural Gas in North America: Markets and Security predicted that given an oil price of $70 the long term equilibrium price of natural gas should be $9.40 MMBTU at Henry Hub. That $9.40 is much higher than the current price of about $4.

This is really important because if the price gap between oil and natural gas is going to stay this big then I can imagine large scale conversions of cars to run on natural gas when the price of oil goes up above $100 per barrel and gasoline hits some price north of $4 per gallon.

If LNG the shale plays are going to prevent natural gas prices down this'll make it easier to adjust to the production declines that'll happen after Peak Oil.

Nick G said at June 29, 2009 9:31 AM:

Exxon is scheduled to start up another three LNG projects in Qatar this year. They will produce more than three billion cubic feet a day of natural gas

That's about 1 TCF, or 4-5% of the US market. If 25% goes to the US, that's only about 1% - significant, but not enormous.

Fat Man said at June 29, 2009 9:56 AM:


Anonymous said at July 24, 2012 7:07 AM:


The domain name LithiumMetal.com is for sale on Ebay.


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