September 26, 2011
Lithium Silicon Batteries 8 Times More Energy Dense

What we need to make electric cars viable for the mass market.

Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere, in smart phones, laptops, an array of other consumer electronics, and the newest electric cars. Good as they are, they could be much better, especially when it comes to lowering the cost and extending the range of electric cars. To do that, batteries need to store a lot more energy.

The anode is a critical component for storing energy in lithium-ion batteries. A team of scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has designed a new kind of anode that can absorb eight times the lithium of current designs, and has maintained its greatly increased energy capacity after over a year of testing and many hundreds of charge-discharge cycles.

I might have to become optimistic about the future of electric cars and our ability to cope with Peak Oil.

The trick was to find a way to enable the lithium anodes to expand and contract without

“High-capacity lithium-ion anode materials have always confronted the challenge of volume change – swelling – when electrodes absorb lithium,” says Gao Liu of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD), a member of the BATT program (Batteries for Advanced Transportation Technologies) managed by the Lab and supported by DOE’s Office of Vehicle Technologies.

Says Liu, “Most of today’s lithium-ion batteries have anodes made of graphite, which is electrically conducting and expands only modestly when housing the ions between its graphene layers. Silicon can store 10 times more – it has by far the highest capacity among lithium-ion storage materials – but it swells to more than three times its volume when fully charged.”

The swelling breaks electrical contact. The solution was to find a liquid polymer with the right qualities to maintain contact. These researchers found one. Click thru and read the details if you are interested.

Long lasting very high density batteries would be a game changer. Electric cars could have more range than today's gasoline cars. Electric cars would have far fewer moving parts and much longer time between failures too.

Another story on this research finds only a 30% improvement on existing lithium batteries. Still a substantial improvement. But not revolutionary.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 September 26 10:19 PM  Energy Batteries

Elon said at September 26, 2011 11:51 PM:

I wish I had an electric car, even if it had less range. I'm sick of the price of gas.

Bryan Hobs said at September 27, 2011 1:19 AM:

I agree with you, it is about time to have long lasting batteries which we can use for our cars!

Brett Bellmore said at September 27, 2011 3:38 AM:

"Electric cars could have more range than today's gasoline cars."

Gasoline cars could have more range than today's gasoline cars, if they had gas tanks that weighed as much as electric car batteries, and were manufactured with the same "efficiency above all" philosophy which the low storage capacity of batteries has forced on electric car designers. Increasing battery capacity isn't likely to cause the manufacture of electric cars with thousand mile ranges, so much as it will allow electric cars to have the same cargo capacity and performance as gasoline cars.

xd said at September 27, 2011 7:57 AM:

If we assume that the minimum someone is going to sleep is six hours and they drive the rest of the day then the hard outside requirement for a single driver vehicle is an 18 hour drive time.
At 70 miles per hour that's a 1260 mile range.

Now I don't know about you guys, but the maximum I've ever driven in a single day is significantly less than that (about 800 miles) before I crashed at a motel for a night's sleep.

All's we need is for the battery to be fully charged during a night's sleep and go the maximum range during driving hours.

I suspect, though that we're placing artificial limits on what the market will bear.

In my own case a chevy volt's range is adequate for day to day driving. If it were possible to re-charge that range (40 miles) in about an hour at various locations round the city I'd even consider foregoing the gasoline engine.

For me to go all electric the two show-stoppers are the price of the vehicle - $40,000 is pretty high, and the lack of fast recharging facilities.

The lack of fast recharging facilities objection for me is overccome by the hybrid gasoline motor. When the volt comes to my area I'll be buying one.

As for peak oil: the problems associated with this are overblown. If all you have to do to solve peak oil is buy a different product albeit an expensive one then there's only a temporary not too difficult adjustment.

It would be different and much more challenging if there were *no* alternatives to gasoline/diesel based vehicles but there are plenty substitutes.

David A. Young said at September 27, 2011 9:31 AM:

There's a lot to like about electric cars, but if you can't give me AT LEAST 100 miles between recharges, then -- not interested.

Wolf-Dog said at September 27, 2011 12:03 PM:

Already the Renault-Nissan electric cars have a 100 mile range, and in various countries, robotic battery swapping stations are built so that the battery can be exchanged in addition to the charging pods in every parking space, similar to changing ammunition magazines in firearms.

The main expensive component is the battery.

1) Without the battery, the electric car would be significantly cheaper than a gasoline car because an electric car has a lot less components. The electric motors are much simpler than the internal combustion engines and the radiator, exhaust system, gear boxes, etc that are needed. Without installing the battery, a basic electric car without luxury equipment can be built for $15,000.

2) An electric car would be much more durable since it has a lot less moving parts and less components: it can probably last at least 30 years or more with minimal repairs, and this would also make it cheaper to use electric cars. When you buy a gasoline car, to calculate the annual cost of using the car, besides cosidering the cost of gasoline, you must also must divide the price of the car by the number of years you can use the car. So without the battery, if the price of the electric car is $12,500 and if the car lasts 30 years (without battery), then the annual cost of using this car without battery would be $15,000/ 30 = $500.

3) Currently a lithium ion battery that gives a range of 100 miles, is said to cost $15,000 and it can last 10 years. This means spending $15,000/10 = $1,500 per year to rent the battery. The cost of electricity is low, and so probably it would take $1,000 per year of electricity to use this car. Thus if the annual cost or renting the battery is combined with the cost of electricity, the cost of operating the car will be $1,500 $ $1,000 = $2,500 per year. This is a lot of money, but if the cost of the battery is reduced by 50 %, then the annual cost of renting the battery would be $750 per year, and combined with the cost of the electricity, it would be $750 + $1000 = $1750 per year. By 2020 it is likely that the combined cost will be under $1500 per year, or $125 per month. This would be competitive with gasoline long before 2020.

4) Finally, by 2020, combining 3) and 4) above, the annual cost of owning the car plus battery and electricity, can be as low as $500 + $1500 = $2000 per year, or $167 per month. This is not bad.

Locke said at September 27, 2011 7:42 PM:

How different will it be to buy a used car? Doesn't seem that we will be as concerned about the life of the power plant and transmission. How would it affect the used and new car market if a car never really breaks down, but only its electrical power storage system needs replacing? I've prided myself in owning long-lasting Toyotas and BMWs where the transmission and motor outlive the style and safety "life". Car companies haven't made too much off of me.

Would we buy a newer vehicle for its front, side, top and bottom and diagonal airbags, and best entertainment advancements, or for an updated style, and not because it broke down or cost too much to fix.

I see a used car battery evaluation device that could interface with a car's battery system and determine its health. Similar to an auto shop's 12 volt battery tester. "That's a sporty 2028 Fnord Rambler for a good price, but the battery pack will be shot by 2032"

Fat Man said at September 27, 2011 10:02 PM:

BEVs won't happen, but laptops with a real all day charge -- that would be pretty sweet.

theBuckWheat said at September 28, 2011 10:40 AM:

"I might have to become optimistic about the future of electric cars and our ability to cope with Peak Oil."

I am optimistic in the long run about moving away from burning hydrocarbons where we don't have to, but please don't ever fall for the sophistry of "peak oil". We do not burn crude oil in our cars, trucks and airplanes. We burn very carefully refined fuel products made of molecules that are assembled, atom by atom, by a process that breaks down the molecules from some raw, hydrocarbon rich, feedstock.

Crude oil is the primary feedstock for the only reason that, for the time being, it is the least costly source of those atoms. But when crude oil was in short supply during World War II, the Germans used coal as the source of molecules. Based on today's prices, it becomes less expensive to convert coal to diesel fuel when crude oil costs more than $80/bbl. But we can use other sources of hydrocarbons. A company in Carthage, Missouri was selling a form of diesel fuel that was made by rendering the waste products of slaughtering turkeys. It went bankrupt not because the process didn't work, but because the resulting product was more expensive than customers wanted to pay. The company had previously run successful tests to convert municipal solid waste and sewage sludge into diesel fuel. They computed that there was enough sewage sludge in the US to supply around half of its diesel fuel needs if properly converted.

The end issue is cost. Presently, fuels made by refining crude oil cost less than fuels made by refining coal, sewage sludge, or turkey carcasses. But the instant those later sources are less expensive, the market will start to use them. We don't fret about 'peak whale' because when overhunting caused the price of whale oil to rise, other sources of oil for lamps was found from coal and crude oil. Then electricity came into use for lighting of homes and streets. Today, even the use of Coleman lamps (that burn a form of gasoline) for illuminating camp sites is giving way to lights that use efficient LEDs and batteries. We can no longer buy whale oil, and who would light their home with it anyway? Neither would they use an open gas flame, as was done for decades.

The plain truth is that we are awash in hydrocarbons that can be converted to usable fuel products. The only issue is cost, that is if government will not intrude and distort economic decisions like it presently does with corn-based ethanol.

"Peak Oil" is a lie that is used in an attempt to stampede policymakers and the public into choices that cannot be productive in the long run, and certainly ones will raise costs and destroy liberty in the process.

BlogDog said at September 28, 2011 10:42 AM:

As long as considerations of running an air conditioner and exterior temperature (weather) variations are being addressed, I can support this. A 500 mile range with the AC running and a 6 hour recharge would leave me very interested at a price point of around $30K. I don't see it happening any time soon but more power to 'em (wink, wink) if they can get it done.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said at September 28, 2011 10:52 AM:

Here's hoping this'll be out in time for when my Volt's battery needs replacing, even if it's an aftermarket upgrade..

kerry said at September 28, 2011 11:10 AM:

"...optimistic about ...our ability to cope with Peak Oil." "Peak oil" will be will coped with in the same way as global warming.
"But wait! But wait!!! There is no global warming!"

Uh huh.

Tolbert said at September 28, 2011 11:19 AM:

And after Peak Oil comes Peak Coal and then Peak Uranium followed closely by Peak Thorium and Peak Hydrogen.

Squid said at September 28, 2011 11:26 AM:

With respect, this article could have been written in 2007. In fact, it was. See the Fall 2007 of the EETD Newsletter from Berkeley Labs:

I'm glad they're still working at it, but I can't help wondering what's changed that makes this story more relevant today than it was then.

Wamphyr said at September 28, 2011 11:28 AM:

I was thinking along the lines of a 'energy station' (like a gas station) where you merely swap out your batteries to charge up. Similar to what you do with the propane gas tanks for your gas BBQ grill, you drive in, and the battery cells are removed from your vehicle and swapped out with another set that's fully charged, and your 'old' one is put on a (solar based?) charger for a later customer to swap into their car. You'd be in and out in a few minutes - the only real bear is if the energy station runs out of topped up cells at the time you show up.

bill said at September 28, 2011 12:37 PM:

..."merely swap out your batteries..."

With a fork lift?

Corky Boyd said at September 28, 2011 12:39 PM:

Energy density is not the single detrmining factor in expanding the utility of battery powered cars. Power density (discharge rate) is also important and any new chemistry will have to deliver. The Li-Ion batteries had a major problem until around 2003 when a breakthrough allowed 10 to 15 times capacity discharge rates without destroying the chemistry of the battery. That's when GM, Tesla and others got on the bandwagon for EVs.

The main problem for EVs is still battery cost. When the fuel tank of the car costs more than the rest of the car, there are going to be marketing problems. It is worrisome that the failure of that single component (the battery pack) means you might have to scrap your car. Warranties will help, but they will have to come from companies that won't be bankrupt in 5 or 6 years.

JeffC said at September 28, 2011 1:32 PM:

You had me right up until you trotted out the peak oil nonsense ... WILL NOT HAPPEN not in your lifetime so quit acting like you really care about your grandchildrens vehicle choices ... utter nonsense ... NG cars will be around in mass production before electrics reach 10% ... and with 100's of years of NG available ... Peak oil my rear ...

future pundit ? really ? try green myth pundit ...

Engineer-Poet said at September 28, 2011 2:37 PM:

The vehement denunciations of the idea of Peak Oil are amusing.  Just what do you think happened in 2005 that turned the world economy inside-out?  It was the sudden halt in the 1-2% annual growth in oil extraction which has characterized peacetime for decades.  Further (and deliberately hidden by the way production stats are reported), current "fuels" now include an increasing fraction of light liquids and biofuels like ethanol which have much less energy per barrel than crude oil.

Coal-to-liquids is uneconomic.  The price always seems to be somewhere above the current price of crude.  It's always more expensive than oil, because it takes so much more equipment and expertise to convert, clean up and refine (just the cracking of F-T wax into liquids is equivalent to an oil refinery).  Relying on CTL is no different from relying on crude oil; prices can get high enough to make it attractive, but this forces a recession and both prices and demand fall again.  Investors in CTL projects aimed at mass markets will go bankrupt, as they have since the 1980's.  The only exception is niche products, like long shelf-life fuels for military stockpiles.

Given all of that, the silicon anode technology has a bright future (as do sulfur-impregnated disordered carbon nanotubes).  There's a clear path from portable electronics to power tools to electric bicycles and scooters right up to cars, with each price step downward opening up new and larger markets.  The difference between 2007 and 2011 is that the theoretical promise of 4 years ago is today's laboratory-demonstrated test cell.

And maybe it won't be lithium-silicon that wins.  Maybe it'll be lithium-sulfur, or magnesium-sulfur (a chemistry which has no possible national resource monopoly).  But if personal vehicles have a future, electrics running on batteries will be a huge part of it.

And so may wiring the road.  If Hanazawa's scheme works, you wouldn't need a 500-mile battery to drive 500 miles without fuel.  A 10-mile battery might do.

Anonymous said at September 28, 2011 4:37 PM:

[FP says: Do not post with Anonymous. Use a unique pseudonym or your future comments will be deleted.]

You still need a cathode...

"Anodes are a key component of lithium-ion battery technology, but far from the only challenge. Already the research collaboration is pushing to the next step, studying other battery components including cathodes."

It doesn't matter what the capacity of your anode is if your cathode doesn't match.

myob said at September 30, 2011 9:11 AM:

Peak Oil was originally about the "impossibity" of using liquid hydercarbons other than sweet low viscosity liquid petroleum. The original Peakists said you would have to rebuild the entire World's refineries. This was judged an "impossibility". The World completed the "impossible" conversion in the mid 2000s. Meanwhile, lots of sweet petroleum was discovered in other areas, including offshore.

Certainly there is a Peak Oil momment, about as distant in time as the Pharoahs are to us. But it doesn't have to be so. We are less than two decades from essentially inexhaustible and clean controlled Fusion generated electricity. Oh there will be a "Peak Hydrogen" time, in about 5 Billion years!

Forty years ago there were no good substitutes for any of the five major world's oil markets. One Oil market is completely gone. No one generates electricity with Oil today. Two others, HVAC and petrochemical feedstocks, have ceased growing at all, as satisfactory substitutes are being used. Only the Tranport Oil market was growing, but its growth has turned downward, in the industrialized world, over the past decade, too.

Yes, it was mostly conservation, better efficiency, and downsizing for the first thirty years, in Transport markets. That can slow but never replace petroleum in ground Transport. But in the last decade, Transport systems are now starting to be offered in the marketplace, as substitutes, that do not require Oil. They are still crude, but they will improve over time and become more attractive. But even if there is little further improvement, Volt PHEV technology could suffice for all Ground Transport.

JCee said at September 30, 2011 9:56 AM:

Coal directly to oil may be uneconomical but Coal->Gases ->Synthetic Diesel is not. Current estimates are ~$0.8-0.9 per gallon including feedstock for Synthetic Diesel. The big knock on using coal for Synthetic Diesel is the Greenies HATE it. It has a larger carbon footprint than oil especially if you burn coal for the energy source. O course if you build the refineries next to new nuclear power plants for energy it very well may come out to a push in carbon footprints with the higher efficiencies of diesel vs gasoline engines.
In the 90's and 2000's there were several major breakthroughs/patents on improving the efficiency of coal to synthetic diesel. Estimated efficiency for conversion is now ~70-85% vs 30-35% 20 years ago.

GRA said at September 30, 2011 4:35 PM:

"bill said at September 28, 2011 12:37 PM:

..."merely swap out your batteries..."

With a fork lift?"

See the video here:

Brett Bellmore said at October 2, 2011 6:45 AM:

Yeah, the idea that you couldn't do quick automated battery swaps on cars designed for it is absurd. It would just require that they BE designed for it, and some degree of standardization.

But as long as the batteries are this expensive, that might solve the 'recharge' problem, but it doesn't really lower the cost per mile.

Engineer-Poet said at October 3, 2011 7:35 AM:

A swappable battery pack doesn't need to have either the capacity or the cycle life of a permanent installation.  This may allow the cost to be cut.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©