2012 January 07 Saturday
Zinc Air Battery Design Slashes Costs

In MIT's Technology Review Phil McKenna reports on a potentially revolutionary advance in zinc-air batteries to enable heap grid storage.

Battery developer Eos Energy Storage claims to have solved key problems holding back a battery technology that could revolutionize grid energy storage. If the company is right, its zinc-air batteries will be able to store energy for half the cost of additional generation from natural gas—the method currently used to meet peak power demands.

Most of the non-fossil fuels based energy sources (hydro excepted) do not have the ability to load follow. In other words, they can't boost production when demand is higher. That's not just true for wind and solar. Look at nuclear and geothermal. They run continuously. Turning them down when there's less demand idles very expensive capital and therefore reduces return on investment. So a cheap way to allow electric power generated at one time to be used at another time would make solar, wind, nuclear, and geothermal all more cost competitive versus natural gas peaking generators.

They also claim twice the energy density of lithium ion batteries. That opens up the possibility of electric cars with twice the range.

While the potential for cost-cutting advances electric power for wind (e.g. bigger turbines, floating turbines), solar (e.g. thin films), and nuclear (e.g. LFTR and fusion) get a lot of attention we really need advances in storage technology even more. The widespread adoption of electric vehicles depends on cheaper and higher energy density batteries. Extensive displacement of fossil fuels for electric power generation depends on the ability to use clean baseload (geothermal, nuclear) and unreliable renewables (wind, solar) when demand for electric power is highest. That means cheap and long lasting batteries.

Note that the use of concentrating solar power to store heat energy for electric power generation in the evening loses its advantage over photovoltaics and other electric power generation sources if storage battery tech becomes cheap enough. Big solar projects are switching from thermal to PV and a solar concentrator maker has been driven out of business. So can solar concentrators compete in the long term against PV and cheaper battery storage?

Update: A recent study by a Nevada electric utility finds that fossil fuel back-up to solar power for cloudy days will add 3 to 8 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar power. That's a big hit for an electric power source that is already more expensive than coal, natural gas, nuclear, and wind. To put it in perspective, the average cost to US residential customers for electric power in 2009 was 11.51 cents per kwh. Imagine your electric power bill going up by about 50%. Not a pleasant thought.

This study above was done in Nevada, certainly not the cloudiest part of the United States. Would the cost be even higher in the east or midwest? How about cloudy rainy Seattle?

By Randall Parker    2012 January 07 09:04 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2011 December 26 Monday
Electric Battery Start-ups And Manufacturing Challenges

A long and good article in Technology Review about the interdependence of product innovations and manufacturing innovations in many non-computer industries along the way takes a look at some of the promising start-ups doing battery innovation for electric vehicles.

The challenge for the startups, then, is to figure out a way to make their technologies using current manufacturing know-how while developing products that are radical enough to disrupt established technologies.

Ann Marie Sastry clearly thinks her startup can do just that. Housed in a small industrial park in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sakti3 is working on a next-generation technology for solid-state batteries (see TR10, May/June 2011). The fabrication area in the back of the offices is strictly off limits to visitors, as are cameras and questions during a quick tour of the testing and design areas; CEO Sastry will reveal few details about the technology except to say that the battery has no liquid electrolytes and the company is using manufacturing equipment that was once employed to make potato-chip bags. But she is more forthcoming in explaining how the startup can thrive in the highly competitive advanced-battery sector.

New battery designs that not require a corresponding set of very difficult manufacturing innovations have much better prospects for making it to market. The article highlights how some of the solar photovoltaics makers failed because they required not just product innovations but also many supporting manufacturing innovations. This made them both highly dependent on large manufacturing investments and also much higher risk.

MIT materials scientist Gerbrand Ceder thinks his start-up, Pellion, might be able to double or triple energy density over the current lithium ion batteries. That'd be a big game changer.

Ceder has systematically analyzed various compounds for their potential as battery materials. Using the computational tools developed by his materials genome project, Pellion, a startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that he cofounded in 2009, has identified new cathodes for a magnesium-based battery. If it works, Ceder says, the batteries could have double or triple the energy density of today's lithium-ion batteries. Equally important, he says, they could "feed into the existing lithium-ion battery manufacturing." And that's critical, he says, because "if you have to invent a new material that can replace the existing one, it might take five to 10 years, but if you also have to invent a new design, it can take 10 to 20 years."

The article describes another promising battery start-up whose founder benefited from seeing the manufacturing problems of his previous start-up.

The article reports that the Chevy Volt battery pack weighs 435 pounds. So about 11 pounds per mile. If Pellion could get it down to 4 pounds per mile then 500 pounds would provide 125 miles of range. But that's a big if and it isn't going to have any impact for at least 5 years at best.

About 10 electric cars are coming to market in 2012. But already soe of the electric car start-ups have gone out of business and some plans for electric car battery factories in Europe have been canceled. The much anticipated Ford Focus Electric is coming in a few months at about $40k base price. So there's no sign in electric car prices that battery costs have substantially come down yet.

Will refinements to current lithium ion battery designs and their manufacturing processes do enough to achieve a halving and more of EV battery costs? Also, just what prices are showing up in contracts to supply EV batteries in 2012 and 2013? Substantially less than 2010 or 2011? Anyone know?

By Randall Parker    2011 December 26 10:09 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2011 September 29 Thursday
Sodium Manganese Battery To Cut Grid Storage Costs

If this works as well as claimed the cost of grid storage will go down.

A new battery developed by Aquion Energy in Pittsburgh uses simple chemistry—a water-based electrolyte and abundant materials such as sodium and manganese—and is expected to cost $300 for a kilowatt-hour of storage capacity, less than a third of what it would cost to use lithium-ion batteries. Third-party tests have shown that Aquion's battery can last for over 5,000 charge-discharge cycles and has an efficiency of over 85 percent

Click thru to read the details.

Electric power storage is most needed for intermittent sources such as solar and wind. But it can also help in areas which do not have enough long range power lines to provide power during peak demand periods. During off-peak electric power can be brought in to store in local batteries for use during peak.

The article mentions this type of battery chemistry is heavy. That is fine for stationary storage sites. But the weight probably rules them out for electric cars.

By Randall Parker    2011 September 29 06:27 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (19)
2011 September 26 Monday
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.

By Randall Parker    2011 September 26 10:19 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (25)
2011 September 16 Friday
Rapid EV Battery Cost Declines Not Realistic?

The great hope for electric vehicles (EVs) is for a rapid decline in the costs of batteries. An article in the Pro section of the Wall Street Journal reports on skepticism from the US National Academies of Science and Toyota that a rapid battery cost decline is possible. Recommend you read in full if you are seriously interested in the debate about the prospects for EV battery costs.

The Academies and Toyota Motor Corp. have publicly said they don't think the Department of Energy goals are achievable and that cost reductions are likely to be far lower. It likely will be 20 years before costs fall 50%—not the three or so years the DOE projects for an even greater reduction—according to an Academies council studying battery costs. The council was made up of nearly a dozen researchers in the battery field.

Even in lithium batteries other minerals make up a substantial portion of total costs. So just cheaper manufacturing will only go so far. On the other hand, costs of copper or cobalt or other minerals are kind of like once-in-a-lifetime costs for car buyers because at the end of a battery's useful life it can be recycled to extract out the most valuable minerals. So the trade-in value of an old battery will partially offset the cost of a replacement battery.

While Johnson Controls claims they can cut battery costs by 50% in the next 5 years they probably aren't the low cost leader. So 50% off their current (unrevealed) costs might be much less than 50% off the cheapest current producer. It is noteworthy that GM has given electric vehicle battery production contracts to two companies, neither of which is Johnson Controls.

If the National Academies council is correct then this does not bode well for our ability to adjust to Peak Oil. The Nissan Leaf's battery costs $15,600 according the article. The range varies greatly. In the US EPA range test it went 73 miles with very hot and cold weather cutting into range. Turn off the AC or heater, keep your speed down and 100 miles or higher range become achievable, at least in moderate temperatures. At the latter link note that Ford will include active heating and cooling of their Focus EV battery to enable it to maintain a higher range in winter and summer. So 100 miles range in a compact EV might be possible with a battery that is in the $15k price range.

Suppose 100 miles from a $15k battery becomes possible in the next couple of years. Well, one way to get to work when oil hits $200 per barrel would be to trade off range to save money. Only buy enough battery for 50 miles range or even 20 mile range if your commute is short. Then recharge daily. Such lower EVs would be useful only for local errands and commuting. But they'd keep people going to work even with $8 gasoline.

Perhaps bigger batteries could be rented only for longer trips. Downsizing even further would allow for longer range and/or lower costs. Even smaller commuter cars or electric scooters would be a better fit for many.

Smaller batteries in PHEVs (pluggable hybrid electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt) are another option. A 20 mile electric battery range in a PHEV could be supplemented with added gasoline range in the rarer situations where people with relatively short commutes need to go farther.

Also see Gail Tverberg's coverage of the same story. I'm not as pessimistic as Gail because I think we've got other options for keeping ourselves mobile such as even smaller commuter EVs with more limited range, electric scooters, electric bikes, and other cheaper options. Note that the evidence from Europe for the potential of mass transit suggests mass transit is going to remain a minor contributor for human transit.

By Randall Parker    2011 September 16 09:26 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (33)
2011 September 13 Tuesday
Lithium Titanium Battery Offers Fast Charge

Electric vehicles need better (cheaper, higher energy density, faster charging) batteries to take off. A lithium titanium dioxide design might solve at least the charge time problem. 50% charged in 6 minutes and expected to be long-lasting.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Sept. 8, 2011 -- Batteries could get a boost from an Oak Ridge National Laboratory discovery that increases power, energy density and safety while dramatically reducing charge time.

A team led by Hansan Liu, Gilbert Brown and Parans Paranthaman of the Department of Energy lab's Chemical Sciences Division found that titanium dioxide creates a highly desirable material that increases surface area and features a fast charge-discharge capability for lithium ion batteries. Compared to conventional technologies, the differences in charge time and capacity are striking.

"We can charge our battery to 50 percent of full capacity in six minutes while the traditional graphite-based lithium ion battery would be just 10 percent charged at the same current," Liu said.

Compared to commercial lithium titanate material, the ORNL compound also boasts a higher capacity – 256 vs. 165 milliampere hour per gram – and a sloping discharge voltage that is good for controlling state of charge. This characteristic combined with the fact oxide materials are extremely safe and long-lasting alternatives to commercial graphite make it well-suited for hybrid electric vehicles and other high-power applications.

Fast charging would make trips in electric cars more practical.

It has a complex production process and it is not clear whether it will turn out to be scalable.

By Randall Parker    2011 September 13 07:38 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2010 October 13 Wednesday
Silicon Lithium Battery Could Increase Capacity

A promising approach using silicon might boost lithium battery capacity by a factor of 10.

A team of Rice University and Lockheed Martin scientists has discovered a way to use simple silicon to radically increase the capacity of lithium-ion batteries.

Sibani Lisa Biswal, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, revealed how she, colleague Michael Wong, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of chemistry, and Steven Sinsabaugh, a Lockheed Martin Fellow, are enhancing the inherent ability of silicon to absorb lithium ions.

They believe they've figured out how to prevent silicon from cracking after a couple of cycles of absorbing and releasing lithium atoms.

Silicon has the highest theoretical capacity of any material for storing lithium, but there's a serious drawback to its use. "It can sop up a lot of lithium, about 10 times more than carbon, which seems fantastic," Wong said. "But after a couple of cycles of swelling and shrinking, it's going to crack."

Other labs have tried to solve the problem with carpets of silicon nanowires that absorb lithium like a mop soaks up water, but the Rice team took a different tack.

Their approach might increase lithium battery storage capacity by an order of magnitude.

With Mahduri Thakur, a post-doctoral researcher in Rice's Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department, and Mark Isaacson of Lockheed Martin, Biswal, Wong and Sinsabaugh found that putting micron-sized pores into the surface of a silicon wafer gives the material sufficient room to expand. While common lithium-ion batteries hold about 300 milliamp hours per gram of carbon-based anode material, they determined the treated silicon could theoretically store more than 10 times that amount.

We'd all benefit from a large increase in battery capacity. Of course laptop computers and cell phones would work much longer between charges. But also, an order of magnitude increase in battery capacity would make electric cars feasible for most uses. Oil price worries would gradually fade away. We'd breathe cleaner air and cars would last longer with less need for maintenance.

By Randall Parker    2010 October 13 11:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2010 August 16 Monday
85% Car Battery Cost Reduction?

If this works out such a huge reduction in car battery costs would be a game changer.

The new company, called 24M, has been spun out of the advanced battery company A123 Systems. It will develop a novel type of battery based on research conducted by Yet-Ming Chiang, a professor of materials science at MIT and founder of A123 Systems. He says the battery design has the potential to cut those costs by 85 percent.

This is not an imminent product. Click thru and read the details.

Suppose such a large cost reduction is possible. Well, 85% off of what? The pluggable hybrid electric Chevy Volt batteries might cost $8k. If that number is accurate then an 85% cost reduction would lower the Volt's battery cost to $1200. That $6800 cost reduction might lower the retail cost by a substantially larger amount due margins of the car maker and its dealers.

The pure electric Nissan Leaf battery pack might cost $15600. I emphasize the "might" in these cost estimates since GM and Nissan aren't stating on-the-record what they are paying for the batteries they are using. An 85% cost reduction on the Leaf battery probably wouldn't lower the Leaf's retail price by anywhere near as much because from the Volt's $41k price and the Leaf's $32.5k price it looks to me that Nissan is going to sell each Leaf at a substantial loss in parts cost per car while GM might be aiming to sell the Volts with a much smaller loss or maybe even a profit. So Nissan needs a big battery cost reduction just to put the Leaf's cost below its initial price.

If anyone comes across information about detailed parts costs of the Volt or the Leaf please post it in the comments or email it to me. Current prices do not tell us much about the costs of the EV and PHEV cars hitting the market this year and next. Without knowing those costs it is hard to guess at future cost reductions.

By Randall Parker    2010 August 16 10:18 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2010 July 25 Sunday
Planar Energy Roll-To-Roll Solid Lithium Battery Process

Technology Review has an article about an approach that might substantially boost the density of lithium batteries while also lowering their cost.

Planar Energy has developed a roll-to-roll process for making larger solid lithium-ion batteries. The company, which received $4 million in funding from the Advanced Research Projects Agency Energy program this spring, says it can print solid batteries that offer three times more storage than liquid lithium-ion batteries of the same size. This boost in energy storage is possible primarily because the company's all-solid batteries don't require many of the support structures and materials that take up space in conventional batteries, making more space for energy storage.

In the comments section John Pitts of Planar says the prototype Planar cell offers "substantial improvements over current, high-end Li-ion cells." He expects this prototype to enter durability testing in less than a year.

The design point for the prototype Planar cell, fully packaged, with a capacity of 5 Ah, is a specific energy of a little over 400 Wh/kg. The energy density of this cell is a little over 1200 Wh/l.

Since 2005's yearly oil production peak probably won't be surpassed in 2010 we might already be past the final world peak in oil production. So a lot is riding on efforts to cut the cost and boost the energy density of batteries. Electrification of more parts of our economies would do the most to insulate us from the effects of Peak Oil.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 25 04:52 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2010 May 18 Tuesday
Lithium Air Batteries Still A Distant Prospect

Lithium air batteries are one of the great hopes for high energy density batteries that would enable long range driving under electric power. MIT battery researcher Yang Shao-Horn thinks lithium air batteries aren't coming to market in the next 10 years.

But before the technology goes commercial, researchers have to pass a gantlet of scientific challenges. A material may "breathe" oxygen into the battery excellently, but it has little commercial potential if it's platinum or gold. Lithium in the anode reacts explosively with even a little water, so it must be sheltered with a stable and, yes, cheap substance.

Argonne guesses lithium-air could be 10 to 20 years from commercial readiness; Shao-Horn of MIT has said 10 years is probably too optimistic.

The battery range problem effectively means that Peak Oil will cause a big relative increase in the cost of long range driving as compared to shorter trips. If you can get by with 10 or 20 mile range for work and shopping then future high gasoline prices won't hit you hard. But 400 mile trips will require an internal combustion engine and expense diesel or gasoline fuel.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 18 10:46 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2010 January 04 Monday
Yet Another Promising Battery Chemistry

Yet another company with a new lithium battery chemistry is touting their chemistry will cut costs and make electric cars more affordable. British company Qinetiq claims 1.6 times the energy density of existing lithium batteries at half the cost.

The battery is based on lithium-ion iron-sulfide chemistry, which has a number of advantages over the chemistry of existing batteries, says Gary Mepsted, technical manager for Qinetiq's power sources group. The new battery would cost half as much as existing vehicle batteries and could last longer and recharge more quickly that other lithium batteries.

It is a measure of the perceived future demand for vehicle batteries that so many companies and academic research groups are announcing advances and prospects for future cost drops for vehicle batteries. I see a couple of factors driving this interest. First off, the remaining oil is mostly in harder to reach places with an increasing fraction of all oil exploration happening in deep water and in the Arctic The remaining land-based oil is heavvier and more expensive to process (e.g. Alberta tar sands). Second, the political movement pushing for carbon taxes to stop global warming further raise the expectations for more expensive liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

With competitive biomass energy fuels looking like a distant prospect pluggable hybrid and pure electric cars become the major contenders for cutting liquid fossil fuels usage.

Anyone know what percentage of a lithium battery is lithium? I'm curious to get an idea of what percentage of the battery's cost comes from raw materials. Do we need to wait for carbon nanotube batteries in order for vehicle batteries to become really cheap?

By Randall Parker    2010 January 04 11:42 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2009 December 23 Wednesday
Digital Quantum Battery To Far Exceed Lithium Batteries?

Game changing technologies do pop up on occasion. If this technology works out it could revolutionize the auto industry with capacity at least double current lithium batteries.

A "digital quantum battery" concept proposed by a physicist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign could provide a dramatic boost in energy storage capacity--if it meets its theoretical potential once built.

The concept calls for billions of nanoscale capacitors and would rely on quantum effects--the weird phenomena that occur at atomic size scales--to boost energy storage. Conventional capacitors consist of one pair of macroscale conducting plates, or electrodes, separated by an insulating material. Applying a voltage creates an electric field in the insulating material, storing energy. But all such devices can only hold so much charge, beyond which arcing occurs between the electrodes, wasting the stored power.

The amount of oil in the ground is finite. New discoveries are mostly in deep water and very expensive to extract. During a deep recession oil prices are hovering around $75 per barrel. Some experts believe world oil production has already peaked. In the United States 71% of oil gets used for transportation and oil provides 95% of the energy used in transportation. We need the ability to move around without using liquid fuel. We have no shortage of ways to generate electricity. Workable high density and cheap batteries for cars would make the adjustment to Peak Oil very easy to do. Will nanoscale capacitors be the ticket?

By Randall Parker    2009 December 23 05:15 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (63)
2009 November 29 Sunday
Electric Engine Advantage: Nature Watching

Regular readers know I'm a big fan of a general movement toward more use of electric power for transportation, heating (using heat pumps), and for other applications where fossil fuels are currently used directly. Yesterday I discovered another reason to like electric motors: They are quieter on a river that is rich with wildlife. You end up finding more of the noisy wildlife.

In my case the wildlife was on the Silver River in Florida. In particular, we were looking for the Rhesus monkeys that are descendants of monkeys that escaped (I am told) from the sets of Tarzan movies back in the 1920s. We went up the river on internal combustion engine power and didn't find the monkeys. We couldn't use the electric motor because it wasn't powerful enough to make much speed up-river and the battery wouldn't last. But on the way back down river power of the electric engine was sufficient. We found one of the Rhesus money troops (easily 50 monkeys) because under electric power we could hear the sounds they make on the branches swinging from tree to tree.

What's needed once again: Better batteries. We could have put more lead acid batteries on the boat. But we would have needed to trade off on other things we carried. With better batteries and another Minn Kota electric motor we could have made the whole trip on electric power.

Parenthetically, we went all the way down to where the Ocklawaha River joins the Silver. The differences between the two rivers are stark and I wonder if either agricultural run-off into the Ocklawaha or the fishing allowed on the Ocklawaha explain the differences. The Silver has huge numbers of birds. We probably saw 20 bird species. It also has lots of turtles and alligators (all small fwiw). We went several miles up the Ocklawaha and saw 1 gator, no birds, no turtles, and no monkeys. What's with that? Overfishing or agricultural run-off or something natural?

You can also kayak on the Silver and we saw over a dozen kayakers and canoers. But we wanted to see both rivers and so went under engine power.

By Randall Parker    2009 November 29 06:24 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 November 07 Saturday
Silicon Nanowires Boost Lithium Battery Energy Density

Yet another electric battery start-up touting a big advance in battery technology.

A start-up based in Menlo Park, CA, plans to sell a new type of anode for lithium-ion batteries that, the company says, will let electric vehicles travel farther and mobile devices last longer without a recharge. Amprius' lithium-ion anodes are made of silicon nanowires, which can store 10 times more charge than graphite, the material used for today's lithium-ion battery anodes. According to the company, electric vehicles that run 200 miles between charges could go 380 miles on its batteries, and laptops that have four hours of run time could last for seven hours between charges.

All of the start-up activity in battery technology makes me optimistic that we can shift away from liquid fuels for most ground transportation uses. But will the battery tech come soon enough for Peak Oil? The answer to that question is still not clear.

By Randall Parker    2009 November 07 08:27 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2009 October 28 Wednesday
Zinc Air Batteries To Beat Lithium Ion?

Kevin Bullis has the details in Technology Review. A Swiss company claims to be making strides toward a longer lasting zinc air battery.

A Swiss company says it has developed rechargeable zinc-air batteries that can store three times the energy of lithium ion batteries, by volume, while costing only half as much. ReVolt, of Staefa, Switzerland, plans to sell small "button cell" batteries for hearing aids starting next year and to incorporate its technology into ever larger batteries, introducing cell-phone and electric bicycle batteries in the next few years. It is also starting to develop large-format batteries for electric vehicles.

Read the full article for the details. Note that the company isn't ready to start selling tomorrow. Whether they achieve what they claim remains to be seen.

During the 2010s will battery technology advance far enough to make electric cars capable of serving most personal transportation needs? If so we would breathe cleaner air and pay less for fuel.

By Randall Parker    2009 October 28 12:32 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (30)
2009 October 13 Tuesday
Redox Flow Batteries To Enabel Fast Liquid Refill

Some German researchers think they can make easily recharged liquid batteries as energy dense as lithium ion batteries. Imagine having the liquid in your batteries quickly pumped out and replaced with recharged electrolyte liquid at a refueling station.

Lithium-ion batteries offer a possible solution, but it takes hours to charge them – time that an automobile driver doesn’t have when on the road. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT in Pfinztal near Karlsruhe see an alternative in redox flow batteries. “These batteries are based on fluid electrolytes. They can therefore be recharged at the gas station in a few minutes – the discharged electrolyte is simply pumped out and replaced with recharged fluid,” says engineer Jens Noack from ICT. “The pumped-off electrolyte can be recharged at the gas station, for example, using a wind turbine or solar plant.”

The principle of redox flow batteries is not new – two fluid electrolytes containing metal ions flow through porous graphite felt electrodes, separated by a membrane which allows protons to pass through it. During this exchange of charge a current flows over the electrodes, which can be used by a battery powered device.

Until now, however, redox flow batteries have had the disadvantage of storing significantly less energy than lithium-ion batteries. The vehicles would only be able to cover about a quarter of the normal distance – around 25 kilometers – which means the driver would have to recharge the batteries four times as often. “We can now increase the mileage four or fivefold, to approximately that of lithium-ion batteries,” Noack enthuses. The researchers have already produced the prototype of a cell. Now they must assemble several cells into a battery and optimize them.

Fast refill would make electric cars a lot more practical for longer distance travelers and for those who can't easily plug in a car at home.

By Randall Parker    2009 October 13 11:30 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2009 September 27 Sunday
Silicon Nanotubes For 10 Times Better Batteries

A report in MIT's Technology Review bodes well for the future of electric cars. This could be a game changer.

In an advance that could help electric vehicles run longer between charges, researchers have shown that silicon nanotube electrodes can store 10 times more charge than the conventional graphite electrodes used in lithium-ion batteries.

Better anodes can absorb more lithium and so hold more charge.

Researchers at Stanford University and Hanyang University in Ansan, Korea, are developing the nanotube electrodes in collaboration with LG Chem, a Korean company that makes lithium-ion batteries, including those used in the Chevy Volt. When such a battery is charged, lithium ions move from the cathode to the anode. The new battery electrodes, described online in the journal Nano Letters, are anodes and can store much more energy than conventional graphite electrodes because they absorb much more lithium when the battery is charged.

We need a path of migration away from fossil-fuel powered cars. There's not enough cheap oil left for easy access and rising Asian demand combined with the coming of Peak Oil look set to drive up gasoline prices far higher than they are today. The costs of substitutes will determine how high the price of gasoline will go. Cheap high capacity batteries for long range electric cars would enable most driving to be transitioned to electric power. The incremental increase in electric demand could then come from nukes, wind, solar, and other non-fossil fuels energy sources.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 27 12:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2009 August 25 Tuesday
Ultracapacitors To Cut Plug-In Hybrid Car Costs

Ultracapacitors will recharge charge cycles on hybrid car batteries and therefore increase the life spans.

Energy storage devices called ultracapacitors could lower the cost of the battery packs in plug-in hybrid vehicles by hundreds or even thousands of dollars by cutting the size of the packs in half, according to estimates by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, IL. Ultracapacitors could also dramatically improve the efficiency of another class of hybrid vehicle that uses small electric motors, called microhybrids, according to a recent study from the University of California, Davis.

Ultracapacitors will also enable a different trade-off in car battery designs where the batteries are more dense and higher capacity but slower chargers.

Hurray for ultracapacitors. Hope they reach the market in pluggable hybrids before the price of oil skyrockets.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 25 11:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2009 July 11 Saturday
A Look At Zero S Electric Motorcycle

Chuck Squatriglia of Wired takes a look at Zero Motorcycles electric motorcycle model Zero S.

The 4-kilowatt-hour lithium-manganese battery is good for an average range of 40 to 45 miles and a maximum of 60, depending upon how hard you twist the throttle. Once it's dead, you're looking at four hours to charge it from a 110-volt outlet. You can plug it into a 220-volt line but it won't charge any faster because the charger is limited to 1,000 watts, and at 110 volts, a 15-amp U.S. wall outlet already exceeds that by 650 watts.

It goes for $9,950 and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds. The price is in the realm of the affordable for most people in industrialized countries.

The threat of Peak Oil (also see here) has me looking for affordable technologies that can help us transition away from oil for transportation uses. While electric cars seem an obvious alternative the problem is that electric cars cost too much while having limited range.

General Motors is frantically trying to bring the Volt in for less than $40,000 when it goes into production late next year, and even then expects to lose its shirt. The Mitsubishi iMiEV city car is as small as its $50,000 price tag is large. And even the Coda, a four-door, five-passenger family car with all the pizzazz of a Hyundai Sonata, will set you back $45,000 when it goes on sale in California next year.

One can hope that will change. But if it doesn't we might find ourselves riding electric motorcycles in 5 to 10 years.

The Zero S's 4 kilowatt-hours for 40 miles works out to 100 watt-hours per mile. That's less than half the 217 watt-hours per per mile of the Tesla Roadster. The Roadster's 244 mile range gives it 4 to 6 times the range of the Zero S. But for commuters the Zero S would work. At $109,000 the Roadster costs 11 times as much as the Zero S.

But if $10k for an electric motorcycle is above your price range cheaper approaches for electric bicycles will hit the market once world oil production goes into global decline.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 11 11:58 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2009 June 27 Saturday
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.

By Randall Parker    2009 June 27 03:33 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2009 June 24 Wednesday
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.

By Randall Parker    2009 June 24 11:36 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (32)
2009 June 18 Thursday
Battery Venture Capital Spending Up

While overall capital spending is the lowest in 12 years VC funding for batteries is rising.

The Cleantech Group’s numbers show an uptick in venture-capital funding for batteries in the first quarter, even as overall US venture investments fell to the lowest level since 1997, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

Spurred by federal cash, electric cars, and demand for ever more powerful gadgets, investment in advanced batteries has bucked the recessionary slump and, energy analysts say, could help the economy recover.

Cleantech tracked $94 million in advanced-battery investments in the previous quarter, up substantially from a recession-affected $29 million in the last quarter of 2008 and up slightly from $90 million in the first quarter of that year.

We will be able to handle Peak Oil much more easily if we have great batteries for electric vehicles. The venture capitalists probably battery start-ups appealing because these companies address both the mobile electronic devices market and the market for pluggable hybrid and pure electric cars. A better battery can make money catering to two separate markets; cell phonies and cars.

Though I'm starting to think that the transition away from oil does not totally depend on fuel efficiency and electric cars. The dramatic increase in accessible shale natural gas reserves makes cars converted to natural gas another way people can adjust to declines in oil production. While the converted cars have downsides (e.g. conversiion costs, shorter range, and less trunk space) conversion of a car to run on natural gas is far cheaper than conversion to run on electric power. Plus, natural gas conversions will have bigger driving ranges and electric cars. We aren't going to witness mass conversions to natural gas without a big rise in gasoline prices happening first. But once the gasoline prices get high enough expect to see a big movement to convert existing cars to run on natural gas.

By Randall Parker    2009 June 18 10:15 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2009 May 23 Saturday
Lithium Sulfur Batteries To Make Electric Cars Viable?

Technology Review reports on technological advances that might make viable lithium sulfur batteries with 3 to 10 times the storage capacity of existing lithium ion batteries.

Lithium-sulfur batteries, which can potentially store several times more energy than lithium-ion batteries, have historically been too costly, unsafe, and unreliable to make commercially. But they're getting a fresh look now, due to some recent advances. Improvements to the design of these batteries have led the chemical giant BASF of Ludwigshafen, Germany, to team up with Sion Power, a company in Tucson, AZ, that has already developed prototype lithium-sulfur battery cells.

Read the full articles for the many details. They haven't solved all the problems yet. For example, the existing lithium sulfur design is good for only 50 recharges. At 300 miles range per recharge that only gets you 15,000 miles before you need to buy a new battery.

On the bright side, the sulfur is incredibly cheap, close to free in fact. Lots of sulfur gets removed from tar sands and other fossil fuels and there's no shortage of the stuff.

With the coming of Peak Oil we face a liquid fuels shortage. Viable batteries that can power cars for hundreds of miles would go far to ease our transition away from oil. We are in a race between oil field depletion and the technological advances we need to migrate to electric power sources. We have enough natural gas, coal, uranium, wind, and sunlight to generate the electricity we need. The future is electric.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 23 12:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (27)
2009 April 13 Monday
Chevy Volt Battery Overengineered Due To Unknowns

The Technology Review has an interesting article about Chevy Volt. A second generation of the forthcoming pluggable hybrid Chevrolet Volt will probably be cheaper once factors influencing battery life are better understood.

One way to save money is by improving the battery system. For the first version of the Volt, GM has taken extra pains to make sure that the battery will last, Posawatz said. A dedicated heating and cooling system will prevent the temperature extremes that can quickly degrade a battery. In addition, because discharging the battery completely can also shorten its life, control systems keep the battery from being discharged more than about 50 percent. But these measures could be overkill, Posawatz noted. "We have put in place a lot of extra fail-safe engineering solutions," he said. "So there are some opportunities [to reduce costs] as we refine the design."

Regards those control systems that prevent more than 50% discharge: If the battery warranty is less than the 10 year expected life of the battery then once the battery goes off warranty it would be nice of owners had a way to change the control system calibration to allow deeper discharge. If the owner is willing to take the financial risk then why not let the owner do deeper discharges in order to get longer ranges? A 75% discharge would increase battery range from 50% to 75%.

If battery prices fall then the 50% discharge limit will make less economic sense as replacements become cheaper. Similarly, when the price of oil once more goes above $100 per barrel and even higher the trade-off between avoiding battery replacement costs versus avoiding money on gasoline will shift toward the latter.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 13 10:11 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2009 April 05 Sunday
MIT Viruses Build Batteries

Biotech for nanotech.

For the first time, MIT researchers have shown they can genetically engineer viruses to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.

The new virus-produced batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as state-of-the-art rechargeable batteries being considered to power plug-in hybrid cars, and they could also be used to power a range of personal electronic devices, said Angela Belcher, the MIT materials scientist who led the research team.

The new batteries, described in the April 2 online edition of Science, could be manufactured with a cheap and environmentally benign process: The synthesis takes place at and below room temperature and requires no harmful organic solvents, and the materials that go into the battery are non-toxic.

The lithium batteries in this case used iron phosphate.

To achieve that, the researchers, including MIT Professor Gerbrand Ceder of materials science and Associate Professor Michael Strano of chemical engineering, genetically engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.

This is just at the lab bench level and still a long way from production. However, once perfected this harnessing biological organisms to construct things at the level of individual molecules will enable the cheap production of materials that currently would be extremely difficult to make.

Longer lasting cell phone batteries would be a big convenience but batteries good enough to enable cheap electric cars is a greater prospect.

"We could run an iPod on it for about three times as long as current iPod batteries. If we really scale it, it would be used in a car," she added. Such scaling is not even close, Belcher cautioned.

Batteries are a more important technology than any one way to generate electricity. Better batteries will enable us to at least partially escape our dependence on liquid fossil fuels for transportation.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 05 10:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2009 March 31 Tuesday
New Lithium Batteries Seen As Longer Lasting

A Lawrence Berkeley Lab spin-off claims their solid polymer electrolyte lithium batteries last longer and store more electric power.

A new incarnation of lithium-ion batteries based on solid polymers is in the works. Berkeley, CA-based startup Seeo, Inc. says its lithium-ion cells will be safer, longer-lasting, lighter, and cheaper than current batteries. Seeo's batteries use thin films of polymer as the electrolyte and high-energy-density, light-weight electrodes. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is now making and testing cells designed by the University of California, Berkeley spinoff.

They claim 50% higher energy density and substantially longer service life.

"Lifetime data suggests that conventional lithium-ion systems lose about 40 percent capacity in 500 cycles," says Mohit Singh, the cofounder of Seeo. "We get a much better cycle life. We can go through 1,000 cycles with less than 5 percent capacity loss."

With many companies chasing the battery problem and reporting promising technology I'm expecting much better batteries over the next 10 years. Batteries are the key technology needed for cutting fossil fuels use in transportation. We have a few clean ways to generate electricity. We need one clean affordable way to power cars from that clean electricity.

By Randall Parker    2009 March 31 11:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2009 March 12 Thursday
MIT Team Develops Fast Charging Lithium Battery

Fast charging lithium batteries might reach the market in 2 to 3 years.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--MIT engineers have created a kind of beltway that allows for the rapid transit of electrical energy through a well-known battery material, an advance that could usher in smaller, lighter batteries — for cell phones and other devices — that could recharge in seconds rather than hours.

The work could also allow for the quick recharging of batteries in electric cars, although that particular application would be limited by the amount of power available to a homeowner through the electric grid.

The work, led by Gerbrand Ceder, the Richard P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, is reported in the March 12 issue of Nature. Because the material involved is not new — the researchers have simply changed the way they make it — Ceder believes the work could make it into the marketplace within two to three years.

The MIT researchers first calculated that the lithium ions in lithium iron phosphate have the potential to move very quicky. Then they developed a surface structure that allows lithium ions to move much more quickly. The result: a 360 second recharge time reduced to 10 to 20 seconds.

Further calculations showed that lithium ions can indeed move very quickly into the material but only through tunnels accessed from the surface. If a lithium ion at the surface is directly in front of a tunnel entrance, there's no problem: it proceeds efficiently into the tunnel. But if the ion isn't directly in front, it is prevented from reaching the tunnel entrance because it cannot move to access that entrance.

Ceder and Byoungwoo Kang, a graduate student in materials science and engineering, devised a way around the problem by creating a new surface structure that does allow the lithium ions to move quickly around the outside of the material, much like a beltway around a city. When an ion traveling along this beltway reaches a tunnel, it is instantly diverted into it. Kang is a coauthor of the Nature paper.

Using their new processing technique, the two went on to make a small battery that could be fully charged or discharged in 10 to 20 seconds (it takes six minutes to fully charge or discharge a cell made from the unprocessed material).

This is obviously handy for laptops. But the potential is even greater for cars since in order to recharge an electric car one has to stop driving. Whereas one can use a laptop PC while it is charging.

By Randall Parker    2009 March 12 11:25 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2009 March 05 Thursday
All-Liquid Batteries One Third The Cost

MIT battery researcher Donald Sadoway thinks he might have a new battery design that will cut costs and make large scale solar electric power storage practical.

Without a good way to store electricity on a large scale, solar power is useless at night. One promising storage option is a new kind of battery made with all-liquid active materials. Prototypes suggest that these liquid batteries will cost less than a third as much as today's best batteries and could last significantly longer.

60,000 square meters of battery volume would be enough to meet peak demand in New York City.

Sadoway envisions wiring together large cells to form enormous battery packs. One big enough to meet the peak electricity demand in New York City--about 13,000 megawatts--would fill nearly 60,000 square meters.

Sadoway's team hopes to have a commercial battery in 5 years.

By Randall Parker    2009 March 05 12:18 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 January 25 Sunday
Electric Car Battery Costs Seen Dropping

An interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the big global push to make electric car batteries competitive. The cost of the Chevy Volt batteries might fall to a third their initial cost.

Kruse won’t say whether the $10,000 price tag for the batteries floating around the media is correct. If so, the 16 kilowatt-hours (kWh) worth of energy in the GM battery pack would put the price at $625 per kwh of capacity. But the cost of the Chevy Volt battery should drop sharply once production ramps up, several experts say.


Still others say that the cost of new battery power for PHEVs may drop faster and already be lower than what has been widely reported at perhaps $500 per kilowatt-hour or even less, says Suba Arunkumar, analyst for market researcher Frost & Sullivan.

“I do expect the price will come down to perhaps as low as $200 per kilowatt-hour when mass production begins in 2010 and 2011,” she says.

Multiple national governments are subsidizing the development of new battery chemistries and production facilities. Whether real production costs will decline enough to make electric cars competitive remains to be seen. I expect that to happen. But it is hard to predict when this will happen. 5 years? 10 years?

By Randall Parker    2009 January 25 12:25 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (66)
2009 January 12 Monday
Lithium Batteries For Cars Still Pretty Heavy

Are we just waiting for battery cost to drop low enough to make pure electric cars feasible? Doesn't look that way. The forthcoming GM Chevy Volt pluggable hybrid which will go 40 miles on an electric charge will have a 400 pound battery.

Because the battery packs are about 6 feet (1.82 meters) long and weigh roughly 400 pounds (181 kilograms), the automaker wants them close to the car’s assembly site.

That puts it at 10 lbs per mile. So in order to have a 400 mile range (which many gasoline cars have) 4000 lbs of battery would be required. The net gain in weight would be smaller since a gasoline tank, internal combustion engine, and some other parts would be absent. But the car would still be very heavy and would lose some energy efficiency and acceleration due to the weight.

At 6.3 lbs per gallon of gasoline a 40 mpg car can go 400 miles on a mere 63 pounds of fuel. Hydrocarbons offer big advantages for energy storage.

A more judicious use of batteries can actually boost range substantially. For example, the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid will have a 700 mile range in the city.

Aside: What do you call a Cadillac concept car built on the Chevrolet Volt pluggable hybrid? A Coupe de Volt. No, that's not GM's name for it.

I actually think pure electric cars have a future, even with the current energy storage capacities of lithium ion batteries. Some usage patterns work with the latest batteries. Short range electric trucks for use in the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles make great sense as a way to get rid of dirty old polluting diesel trucks. Some uses of cars also fit with current battery limits. Ford is planning an electric car with only 100 mile range.

The second is a small battery-electric passenger car made in conjunction with Magna International. The car, which is scheduled for production in 2011, will be powered by lithium-ion batteries and have a range of up to 100 miles on a single charge, Ford said.

Ford wants to get electric cars into use as taxis to substitute for Crown Victorias. Each taxi trip tends to be pretty short range and 100 mile range would allow for 5, 10, 20 taxi trips. But how quickly can these taxis get recharged and how many places around a city could be set up as recharging stations? Anyone have any details on this?

What all this means for the future: as battery costs decline the per mile cost of commuter driving will drop relative to the cost of longer range trips. Basically, batteries will move you shorter distances while liquid fuels will move you longer distances. That'll be true in the air and on the ground. The only exception to that rule: trains. Once oil production starts declining we'll probably see train electrification. That works because electric trains can get their power from that run along the train tracks.

Update: Ford expects their 100 mile car will require 6 hours to recharge!

Most of the prospective electric models need to be charged for several hours to cover a day’s worth of driving. Ford estimates that its car will need at least a six-hour charge to travel 100 miles.

How many miles a day does the average taxi driver drive?

By Randall Parker    2009 January 12 10:58 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2008 August 05 Tuesday
EEStor Claims Battery Energy Density Breakthrough

Venture capital start-up EEStor claims their battery outperforms lithium-based batteries.

EEStor claims that its system, called an electrical energy storage unit (EESU), will have more than three times the energy density of the top lithium-ion batteries today. The company also says that the solid-state device will be safer and longer lasting, and will have the ability to recharge in less than five minutes. Toronto-based ZENN Motor, an EEStor investor and customer, says that it's developing an EESU-powered car with a top speed of 80 miles per hour and a 250-mile range. It hopes to launch the vehicle, which the company says will be inexpensive, in the fall of 2009.

But skepticism in the research community is high. At the EESU's core is a ceramic material consisting of a barium titanate powder that is coated with aluminum oxide and a type of glass material. At a materials-research conference earlier this year in San Francisco, it was asked whether such an energy-storage device was possible. "The response was not very positive," said one engineering professor who attended the conference.

Click through to read the details on what they claim and why some academics are skeptical. If they succeed and can hit low enough price points then electric cars become quite viable. Plus, wind and solar will become more viable as baseload power sources. We are in a race between the depletion of oil fields and the development of substitute technologies. Battery technologies play a very important part in that race.

By Randall Parker    2008 August 05 12:06 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (19)
2008 July 30 Wednesday
New Method Lowers Energy Cost Of Lithium Battery Manufacture

Materials science prof Arumugam Manthiram at the University of Texas at Austin might have made a big contribution toward our move toward electrically powered vehicles. A new way to make lithium iron phosphate batteries cuts costs by lowering the temperature needed to make them.

But it has proved difficult and expensive to manufacture lithium iron phosphate batteries, which cuts into potential cost savings over more conventional lithium-ion batteries. Typically, the materials are made in a process that takes hours and requires temperatures as high as 700 °C.

Hours at high temperatures suggest a large energy cost for lithium battery manufacture and a big energy debt that each electric car would start out with.

Manthiram's method involves mixing commercially available chemicals--lithium hydroxide, iron acetate, and phosphoric acid--in a solvent, and then subjecting this mixture to microwaves for five minutes, which heats the chemicals to about 300 °C. The process forms rod-shaped particles of lithium iron phosphate. The highest-performing particles are about 100 nanometers long and 25 nanometers wide. The small size is needed to allow lithium ions to move quickly in and out of the particles during charging and discharging of the battery.

What I'd like to know: How much energy does it take for A123Systems and other lithium battery makers to manufacture their batteries? The answer to that question would give us an idea of how many miles a hybrid, pluggable hybrid, or pure electric car would have to be driven before it would save more energy than it took to manufacture it originally.

By Randall Parker    2008 July 30 11:59 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2008 June 08 Sunday
GM Volt Battery $16000?

The price of oil hit $138.54 on June 6, 2008. Our need for electric cars becomes more urgent with every surge in oil and gasoline prices. But the battery for the General Motors Chevy Volt pluggable hybrid looks too expensive for the mass market.

How much you'll pay for one remains an open question, and one answered by the price of the lithium ion batteries. "They're over $1,000 a kilowatt hour," Tom Turrentine, director of the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Research Center at UC-Davis, told Wired.com. "The Volt battery is 16 kilowatt hours. That's $16,000 just for the battery."

GM originally claimed the Volt would go on sale for $30,000. But GM has indicated $40k to $48k might be more likely. According to Wired GM will probably restrict initial 2010 model production of the Volt to 30,000 units.

The 16 kwh battery for a car that goes 40 miles on battery power means it uses 400 watt-hours per mile. That seems a high rate of electric usage per mile for a car designed for very high efficiency. Anyone have expertise to offer on this?

A few readers complain I'm not sufficiently optimistic about the potential for technological advances to solve our energy problems. Well, look at the facts. The world oil production plateau might not last beyond 2008 or 2009. We are going to enter the early stages of world oil production decline without the technologies needed to shift to electric cars. Car companies have limited capacities to produce even conventional hybrids. Just go try to buy a hybrid Ford Escape which has a production limit of 25,000 per year. We are not ready. Our living standards are going to decline.

The technological advances will eventually come. But we'll have much lower living standards by the time those advances arrive and the incorporation of those advances into capital and consumer products will take years and lots of money. The 2010s will be tough.

Update: Limits on battery production capacity prevent a big ramp-up of hybrid car manufacturing.

But another problem in keeping up with demand is an acute shortage of the nickel-metal-hydride batteries required for hybrid vehicles. GM's launch of its new hybrid-SUVs has been delayed for nearly three months by a labor dispute at a key supplier of the batteries. And Toyota's chances of getting more hybrids into showrooms is foundering on the battery shortage. "We can't produce enough batteries right now," Carter says. A new plant for the nickel-metal-hydride batteries won't come on line until 2010.

2010 is 2 years. Toyota can't ramp up hybrid construction for 2 years? Bad news. The article also reports a Ford spokesman saying that Ford can only get 24,000 NiMH batteries per year that they need for their Escape Hybrid.

Our ability to technologically respond to declining oil production is still pretty poor. Choose job and residence address to minimize your commuting. In the US do not buy a car that gets less than 30 mpg highway. Do not count on technological advances to save us in the short run.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 08 12:02 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (53)
2008 January 24 Thursday
Lead Acid UltraBattery Cuts Hybrid Car Costs?

Can improvements on the lead acid battery make it viable for hybrid electric cars?

The future market for hybrid-electric vehicles, at least those that are affordable, isn't necessarily paved with lithium. Researchers in Australia have created what could be called a lead-acid battery on steroids, capable of performing as well as the nickel-metal hydride systems found in most hybrid cars but at a fraction of the cost.

The so-called UltraBattery combines 150-year-old lead-acid technology with supercapacitors, electronic devices that can quickly absorb and release large bursts of energy over millions of cycles without significant degradation. As a result, the new battery lasts at least four times longer than conventional lead-acid batteries, and its creators say that it can be manufactured at one-quarter the cost of existing hybrid-electric battery packs.

The battery has undergone extensive testing in Britain.

The odometer of a low emission hybrid electric test vehicle today reached 100,000 miles as the car circled a track in the UK using the power of an advanced CSIRO battery system.

The UltraBattery combines a supercapacitor and a lead acid battery in a single unit, creating a hybrid car battery that lasts longer, costs less and is more powerful than current technologies used in hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs).

“The UltraBattery is a leap forward for low emission transport and uptake of HEVs,” said David Lamb, who leads low emissions transport research with the Energy Transformed National Research Flagship.

“Previous tests show the UltraBattery has a life cycle that is at least four times longer and produces 50 per cent more power than conventional battery systems. It’s also about 70 per cent cheaper than the batteries currently used in HEVs,” he said.

By marrying a conventional fuel-powered engine with a battery to drive an electric motor, HEVs achieve the dual environmental benefit of reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

The UltraBattery also has the ability to provide and absorb charge rapidly during vehicle acceleration and braking, making it particularly suitable for HEVs, which rely on the electric motor to meet peak power needs during acceleration and can recapture energy normally wasted through braking to recharge the battery.

The designers claim their battery will lower hybrid car design costs by $2000.

The test vehicle was a Honda Insight: a production hybrid (no longer in production) that used a nickel metal hydride battery (the same technology as powers the Toyota Prius). "Our goal was to fit our battery into the same space," Lamb said. "It is 17kg heavier and that creates a fuel consumption penalty of 2.8 percent. But it is about one quarter of the cost, so you save around $2000 on the cost of building the car."

The UK test was undertaken in collaboration with the Furukawa Battery Company of Japan, which manufactured the battery and the US Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium.

The high price of oil should cause a burst of innovation in the coming years. The incentives for energy innovation have gone up dramatically. For this reason alone we should expect some game-changing innovations to emerge in energy and transportation.

By Randall Parker    2008 January 24 09:14 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2007 December 18 Tuesday
Stanford Scientists Claim 10 Times Better Batteries

Silicon nanowires will improve lithium ion batteries by an order of magnitude of capacity?

Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.

The new version, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers.

"It's not a small improvement," Cui said. "It's a revolutionary development."

If this works out it really is revolutionary. Will the batteries last through many rechargings? Will they be manufacturable?

Cui thinks these batterries will work in electric cars and as a way to store solar photovoltaic electric power.

The breakthrough is described in a paper, "High-performance lithium battery anodes using silicon nanowires," published online Dec. 16 in Nature Nanotechnology, written by Cui, his graduate chemistry student Candace Chan and five others.

The greatly expanded storage capacity could make Li-ion batteries attractive to electric car manufacturers. Cui suggested that they could also be used in homes or offices to store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.

"Given the mature infrastructure behind silicon, this new technology can be pushed to real life quickly," Cui said.

The future is electric. The sooner we can make the shift from oil to non-fossil fuels methods of electric power the better off we'll be.

By Randall Parker    2007 December 18 10:26 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2007 November 28 Wednesday
New Exxon Mobil Film For Lithium Ion Car Batteries

This discovery is not consistent with conspiracy theories about how oil companies are holding back discoveries of substitutes. Though I'm confident dedicated conspiracists can reconcile this announcement with their beliefs. Anyway, ExxonMobil claims a discovery by their researchers will make lithium ion batteries usable in cars.

ExxonMobil Chemical and ExxonMobil's Japanese affiliate, Tonen Chemical, have developed new film technologies for lithium-ion batteries with the potential to improve the energy efficiency and affordability of next generation hybrid and electric vehicles.

These new film technologies are expected to significantly enhance the power, safety and reliability of lithium-ion batteries, thereby helping speed the adoption of these smaller and lighter batteries into the next wave of lower-emission vehicles.

“By developing new film technologies that allow lithium-ion batteries to meet hybrid and electric vehicle requirements, ExxonMobil Chemical is helping to make next generation vehicles more energy and cost efficient, as well as lighter,” said Jim P. Harris, senior vice president, ExxonMobil Chemical Company. “We are currently working with industry-leading battery manufacturers to expand the boundaries of current hybrid and electric vehicle applications.”

The nickel metal hydride batteries found in hybrids like the Toyota Prius don't have enough storage capacity and low enough cost to make pluggable hybrids and pure electric cars practical. The great hope is for both cost and safety breakthroughs with lithium-based batteries. A number of companies are chasing this goal. A123Systems and LG Chem are both in the running to supply next gen batteries to General Motors for the Chevy Volt pluggable hybrid. ExxonMobil apparently is making it easier for more lithium battery makers to compete. Sounds good to me.

The film protects batteries from overheating of the sort that caused laptop batteries to catch fire.

Exxon Mobil developed its film with Japanese affiliate Tonen Chemical. Invented in research labs at Exxon Mobil's Baytown complex, the film is the first to squeeze multiple layers of plastic into a single white sheet the width of a human hair.

The added layers enable the batteries to run at higher temperatures — and produce more power — while still protecting them from overheating, company officials said. It also incorporates features that cause it to shut down if there is a short circuit in the battery.

Exxon and Tonen are going into production with this film at a plant in Gumi South Korea.

Exxon says this film will make a new generation of hybrids possible.

"This new technology for making films, will make the next generation of hybrid and electric vehicles possible," said Jim Harris, a senior vice president at ExxonMobil Chemical Co.

The world is in a race between population growth and resource depletion that cause problems and technological advances that solve at least some of those problems. Advances in battery technologies definitely fit the bill as necessary to deal with resource depletion and population growth.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 28 10:32 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 September 10 Monday
Ultracapacitor For Electric Cars From EEStor?

A Texas company might have an ultracapacitor design that will make electric cars a reality.

An Austin-based startup called EEStor promised ''technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries,'' meaning a motorist could plug in a car for five minutes and drive 500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline.

Observers hesitate to dismiss this secretive company because they've managed to attract big name venture capital investors.

The deal with ZENN Motor and a $3 million investment by the venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which made big-payoff early bets on companies like Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., hint that EEStor may be on the edge of a breakthrough technology, a ''game changer'' as Clifford put it.

A game changer advance in batteries would revolutionize transportation and make the coming of "Peak Oil" a small problem. The cost of electric power for electrically powered travel is cheap. A low cost technology that makes electric cars feasible will enable nuclear, solar, and wind power to push our vehicles down the road for two or three pennies per mile.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 10 10:00 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2007 August 22 Wednesday
Future Old Car Batteries To Power Houses?

An article by Chris Vernon at The Oil Drum notes we are close to the era of electric cars and that suggests to me we are close to the era of battery usage to store and provide home electricity.

The A123 Systems battery can charge to 90% capacity after approximately 2300 charges (86% after 3800) according to this graph.

These numbers are revolutionary. Even if your car has a small battery pack (plugin hybrid with 40 mile range) and you only drive it in town as an electric vehicle your battery is going to last 40x2300 miles (an amazing 86,000 miles on PHEV power alone) and the car will still go to 90% of the distance it could on a charge when new (36 miles instead of 40)! It seems the battery will outlast the life of the typical car on the road today. If your car is an electric car (with more batteries) and you can do 150 miles a charge it will be 90% as good-as-new after an astounding 345,000 miles! 2300 charges at one charge a day is also more than 6 years. The Phoenix SUT uses Altair Nano's battery and is expected to last 250,000 miles / 12+ years.

I see old PHEV car batteries eventually getting reallocated for use to store electricity for homes. Electricity collected when the wind blows or the sun shines will go into lithium ion car batteries that might have lost 30% or even 40% of their original charge capacity. But the remaining capacity will make a substantial difference to enable people to shift electric power from when it is cheap to generate to when they want to use it.

Suppose we see major volumes of pluggable hybrid electric vehicles onsale within 4 years. Seems plausible. GM is aiming for 2010 with their Volt car. Suppose it takes them till 2011. A Volt might go 20 years before its too old and its batteries at that point will still be in pretty good shape. If the Volt can go 40 miles on a charge and uses 250 watt-hours per mile (pretty close to what it will use) then the Volt might originally have 10 kwh of capacity. Well, even if it degrades 80% it will still have 8 kwh of capacity. For a house that uses 20 kwh per day the 8 kwh of storage capacity from old car lithium nanophosphate batteries would allow shifting of a substantial chunk of solar power from day time to night. Or it would allow shifting of nuclear electric power from night to day.

A big PHEV SUV will come with twice the battery capacity as a compact to drive the same difference. So the electric SUV might start with 20 kwh of battery capacity and end up with 16 kwh of capacity by the end of vehicle life. Such a battery could operate a house for a day after a power outage if the occupants became frugal with their electric usage. Throw in a second SUV and the house could go two days on the power of the old batteries.

But we don't need to wait for the cars to wear out to start using their batteries to save and use electric power. If you know you are staying home for a few days then why not plug the car into the house and use the car battery to let you grab electricity and store it in your car when it is cheap and use it from your car when the price of electricity goes up in late in the afternoon and early evening?

By Randall Parker    2007 August 22 11:14 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2007 July 08 Sunday
NaS Batteries Used For Large Scale Storage

Sodium-sulfur (NaS) batteries have begun to enter service for large scale stationary electric power storage.

An NaS battery, by contrast, uses a far more durable porcelain-like material to bridge the electrodes, giving it a life span of about 15 years, Mears says. It also takes up about a fifth of the space. Ford Motor pioneered the battery in the 1960s to power early-model electric cars; NGK and Tokyo Electric refined it for the power grid.

Since the 1990s, Japanese businesses have installed enough NaS batteries to light the equivalent of about 155,000 homes, says Brad Roberts, head of the Electricity Storage Association. In the USA, AEP is using the 30-foot-wide by 15-foot-high battery to supply 10% of the electricity needs of 2,600 customers in north Charleston, says Ali Nourai, AEP manager of distributed energy. The battery, which cost about $2.5 million, is charged by generators from the grid at night, when demand and prices are low, and discharged during the day when power usage peaks.

That $2.5 million cost seems high for 10% of the power for 2,600 customers. That's about $960 per customer for something that lasts 15 years. Plus, there's the cost of the electricity lost when it is stored since no battery stores and retrieves electricity with 100% efficiency..

The biggest drawback is price. The battery costs about $2,500 per kilowatt, about 10% more than a new coal-fired plant. That discourages independent wind farm developers from embracing the battery on fears it will drive the wholesale electricity prices they charge utilities above competing rates, says Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.

It is worth noting that sodium and sulfur are very cheap with sulfur in the tens of dollars per long ton (which is 1016 kg). Sulfur prices dropped a lot in the 1990s and most marketed sulfur come from removal of sulfur from oil and other fossil fuels in refineries. Due to US regulations which went into effect in 2006 to lower sulfur content of diesel fuel refinery sulfur production is up. In a nutshell, there's plenty of cheap sulfur available for making NaS batteries.

Can the prices for large industrial NaS batteries fall? Does anyone understand the processes involved in making NaS batteries and where the big costs come from?

If ways can be found to make NaS batteries cheaply then that would tend to help nuclear, solar, and wind power. Cheap ways to store nuclear electricity would allow nuclear power generated at night to supply peak power needs during the day. This could greatly reduce the demand for peak power generated from dwindling supplies of natural gas. Batteries would also enable solar and wind power to provide electricity when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow.

Our main problem with limited remaining supplies of fossil fuels is not a simple energy shortage. Rather, our biggest problem is an energy storage shortage. That distinction is of enormous importance.

Oil produces gasoline and diesel fuels which store compactly in cars. Natural gas can get stored in tanks for use by electric utilities to generate electricity at times of peak electricity demand. Coal can get cheaply stored in big containers and carried around in train box cars for use when heat power is needed by steel mills, electric generator plants, and industrial heaters.

We have affordable alternative sources of energy but they do not store well. While photovoltaics are still too expensive nuclear and wind power are affordable without huge changes in lifestyles. Photovoltaics will eventually become affordable as well.

Solar photovoltaics, wind, and nuclear power all produce electricity that is not easily stored for use where and when it is needed. We can switch away from dwindling and increasingly expensive fossil fuels only when we can find ways to store nuclear, wind, and solar power. Therefore the development of better, cheaper, and longer lasting batteries is essential for the migration away from fossil fuels.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 08 11:39 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2007 June 09 Saturday
GM Chooses Electric Vehicle Battery Suppliers

The shift toward electric powered cars is accelerating.

This week, General Motors (GM) announced its selection of battery makers to develop and test battery packs for use in its proposed electric vehicles. The selected battery makers, Compact Power, based in Troy, MI, and Continental Automotive Systems, based in Germany, say that they've overcome the performance and cost limitations that have been an obstacle to electric vehicles in the past.

A123 Systems will be supplying the battery cells which Continental will use to make full batteries for GM.

Pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) will allow people to recharge from a wall socket and run only on electricity on shorter trips. Though some PHEVs will require running their conventional engines at higher speeds . Then on longer trips the cars will run gasoline engines to recharge their batteries. GM will release 2 different kinds of PHEVs in 2010.

Factory-built, dealer-sold PHEVs are another story. General Motors says both an E-Flex car and a Saturn-branded plug-in, called the Vue Green Line, will be ready by 2010. The Vue, like models on the roads now, will follow a "parallel" design, in which both an electric motor and a gasoline engine drive the wheels, often working in concert. In contrast, the E-Flex cars will be "series" hybrids. Only the electric motor will turn the wheels. Then, once the battery runs low, a small engine — could be gas or diesel, or it could someday be replaced by a hydrogen fuel cell — fires to turn a generator that produces more electricity.

The auto industry expects battery costs for PHEVs and pure electric cars to drop to less than a third of current prices.

According to an industry rule of thumb, every kilowatt-hour of capacity adds about $1000 to the price of a battery. An E-Flex car, for instance, could cost $9000 to $10,000 more than a conventional gasoline-powered version of the vehicle. At least at first.

"If we're talking about 100,000 units or more, cost becomes less of an issue," says Altair head Alan Gotcher. The rough consensus among battery makers is that prices could drop to $5000 within a few years, and eventually dip below $3000.

Some "Peak Oil" doomsters see civilizational collapse in store when world oil production peaks and declines. But the advances in battery car technology makes that scenario unlikely. In 5 years time we will have millions of PHEV and pure electric vehicles. If we hit peak oil 5 years from now then we could shift to making only PHEV and pure electric vehicles. To generate the electricty we can use nuclear, wind, and (unfortunately) coal.

By Randall Parker    2007 June 09 11:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2007 May 23 Wednesday
New Material Lowers Fire Risk Of Lithium Batteries

A new material may help make lithium batteries more feasible for constructing hybrid electric vehicles.

Researchers at Tonen Chemical, an affiliate of ExxonMobil Chemical based in Tokyo, Japan, have developed a new separator that plays an active role in keeping batteries from overheating. The material could make it possible to slow the reactions, allowing the battery to cool off rather than bursting into flame, says Peter Roth, program manager for advanced technology development at Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, NM. Sandia is now testing the safety features of the new separator.

Better battery technology will eventually cause electricity rather than liquid hydrocarbons to power most vehicle movement. Liquid fuel will get used mostly for longer trips. Batteries will power most shorter trips.

By Randall Parker    2007 May 23 10:58 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2007 April 15 Sunday
US Auto Industry Desperate For Better Batteries

A Wall Street Journal article reports how much Detroit car company attitudes have shifted on batteries. American car companies feel an urgent need for leading edge domestic lithium ion battery suppliers.

Facing growing pressure to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions, U.S. auto makers are increasingly worried that the critical battery technology they'll need to compete is getting locked up by Japanese rivals who moved more quickly to develop gas-electric hybrid vehicles.

"It's important to have the knowledge base on advanced automotive battery technology and manufacturing capacity right here locally in the U.S." says Beth Lowery, GM vice president of Environment and Energy.

One of the biggest hybrid battery suppliers is owned by the most formidable competitor of the Detroit auto industry (Toyota). The American car companies finally figured out that's a problem. Fortunately for Detroit the Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries used in Toyota Priuses are a technological dead-end. The future lies with lithium ion chemistries and perhaps nanotubes and other nanotech. On that playing field US venture capital start-ups stand a good chance of winning. But a larger effort at funding university research would produce more advances in electrochemistry suitable for spinning off into VC battery start-ups.

A123 Systems is among the start-ups that are suddenly getting lots of attention from both government and corporate interests.

The U.S. Department of Energy, in collaboration with the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, which is made up of Detroit's three auto makers, last year awarded A123 a $15 million contract to develop its version of lithium-ion technology for hybrid-electric vehicle applications. In addition to the A123 contract, the Energy Department has requested $41 million this year to continue advanced battery research.

This is still chump change. Consider the benefits of battery advances. Sufficiently advanced battery technologies will some day enable cars to run 100 and more miles between recharges. This capability will end the use of liquid fuels for most local travel. Liquid fuels will continue to get used in longer road trips, air flights, and in ships. But for most commutes and trips to stores batteries will displace gasoline, diesel, and ethanol.

The ability to use batteries for transportation will, in turn, enable the use of nuclear, solar, geothermal, and wind power for transportation. Granted, today we are seeing a huge scaling up in the use of coal for electric generation. But that trend will end due to a combination of rising regulatory limits on emissions and dropping costs of cleaner competitors.

Smarter energy policies by governments could accelerate the development of next generation batteries and cleaner ways to generate electricity.

Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, one of the biggest suppliers of lead acid batteries, has joined the growing list of groups attempting to produce next generation batteries. The race is on.

South Korea, China and the European Union also have government-supported advanced battery projects, according to U.S. and Japanese government officials and documents. And a joint venture between Johnson Controls and French battery cell producer SAFT, a €560 million ($751.9 million) a year maker of batteries for industrial and electronics uses, also is vying to supply GM.

A123 was founded in 2002 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Yet-Ming Chiang, former American Superconductor executive Bart Riley and entrepreneur Ric Fulop. The company, which has 250 workers compared with about 1,000 at Panasonic EV, has raised $100 million in capital from investors, including Sequoia Capital, a Menlo Park, Calif., venture capital firm, and General Electric Co.'s commercial-finance unit.

If Toyota comes out with a cheap lithium ion battery usable in pluggable hybrids and does this a few years before Detroit automakers find a supplier for such a battery then Toyota's gains in marketshare will accelerate. Both the American and European auto industries face the very real threat that an East Asian win in next gen batteries will translate into a big East Asian win in the automotive marketshare.

By Randall Parker    2007 April 15 09:39 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2006 December 05 Tuesday
Battery Researchers Disagree On Achievable Car Battery Capacity

Kevin Bullis of MIT's Technology Review reports on views of battery researchers on the feasibility of powering cars with batteries.

Stanley Whittingham, inventor of the first commercial lithium-ion battery and professor of chemistry, materials science, and engineering at the State University of New York, at Binghamton, says current research should make electric vehicles practical--with the following caveat: they'll probably be used for trips of less than 100 miles. Those who want 300-to-400-mile ranges typical of gasoline-powered vehicles will need to turn to plug-in hybrids: vehicles much like today's gas-electric hybrids, but with a much larger battery pack that makes it possible to go longer on electric power, thereby saving gas. These batteries could be partly charged by an onboard gas engine, but also by electricity from a wall socket.

Whittingham says that while he expects battery capacity to double, it's not going to get much better than that.

But electrochemist Peter Bruce of University of Saint Andrews in Scotland thinks his experimental lithium ion battery that combines with oxygen to form lithium peroxide could more than quadruple current battery capacity.

Based on his experiments, Bruce says that such batteries could store as much as 600 to 700 milliamp hours per gram (more than four times that of batteries today) while maintaining the ability to be charged and discharged for many cycles.

Even 100 mile range would make electric cars practical for many. But to maximize the convenience of electric cars it helps to have a property that makes it easy to run a power cord to a car. Someone who parks in their own garage could plug in their car pretty easily. But someone who parks on the street and walks to an apartment will find home charging hard to do. Those who can't easily charge at home will need faster charging and higher energy storage capacity batteries to make pure electric cars practical for them.

MIT battery research Donald Sadoway (whose battery research I've previously reported on) told Technology Review in an interview in October 2005 that hydrogen fuel cells are not going to compete with batteries for vehicle power.

DS: I don't believe in fuel cells for portable power. I think it's a dumb idea. The good news is: they burn hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity, and only water vapor is the byproduct. The bad news is: you have to deal with molecular hydrogen gas, and that's what's stymieing the research and in my opinion is always going to stymie the research.

That's why I don't work on fuel cells. Where's the infrastructure? Where are we going to get hydrogen from? Hydrogen is a molecule, it's H2. To break it apart, to get H+, you've got to go from H2 to H, and that covalent bond is very strong. To break that bond you have to catalyze the reaction, and guess what the catalyst is? It's noble metals -- platinum and palladium. Have you seen the price of platinum? Lithium [for lithium ion batteries] is expensive. But it's not like platinum. Lithium right now is probably $40 a pound. Platinum is $500 an ounce. If I could give the fuel-cell guys platinum for $40 a pound, they would be carrying me around on their shoulders until the day I die.

Sadoway thinks electric cars with longer ranges are within the realm of the possible.

Batteries suitable for electric cars would make a huge difference in our energy future. Why? Simple: Batteries would allow all energy sources that can generate electricity to power vehicles. Nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, coal will all become energy sources for transportation when batteries improve enough to make electric cars competitive.

By Randall Parker    2006 December 05 11:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2006 September 20 Wednesday
Thin Film Batteries The Ticket For Electric Cars?

An article in MIT's Technology Review reports on the potential of thin film batteries to replace lithium ion batteries and to make electric cars feasible.

These new batteries replace the liquid or gel electrolyte with thin layers of solid glass-like or polymer materials, which are more stable. "Nothing can leak, nothing can freeze, nothing can boil, rupture, or explode," says Tim Bradow, vice president of business development at Infinite Power Solutions of Golden, CO, a leading developer of thin-film batteries.

All those recent exploding and burning laptop battery stories do not mean we've hit a technological limit in battery development. Thin film batteries will lower costs, increase safety, and increase capacity all at the same time.

MIT battery researcher Donald Sadoway says the use of solid electrolytes allows the use of pure lithium in the battery anode and this maximizes the amount of electricity that can be stored. Plus, this approach is amenable to use of a much lower cost manufacturing process.

In contrast to the glass-like electrolyte used by Infinite Power Solutions and others, Sadoway has developed a solid-polymer electrolyte (today's lithium-ion polymer batteries use a gel) for use in thin-film batteries. This electrolyte, he says, could be processed in rolls like newspaper, or some other high-throughput process. Such a process for thin-film batteries, although not now being developed by industry, could bring down costs, he says, while innovative ways of packaging electrodes could reduce size. "We've made batteries in the laboratory that are 300 watt-hours per kilogram," he says. "That's two times the best lithium-ion [battery] on the market today."

Low cost and high capacity could open the door to electric cars. Electric cars could end our dependence on liquid fuels for ground transportation. This would allow nuclear, coal, solar, and wind to compete directly oil, gasoline, and diesel fuel.

Note that battery energy storage capacity does not have to equal the energy content of gasoline or even of ethanol in order to make electric cars that will go as far on a charge as a car can go on a tank of gasoline. A shift to pure electric vehicles would allow the elimination of a heavy engine and a heavy transmission. Some of the weight budget currently allocated to the drivetrain could instead go to batteries. Then the car could be powered by electric motors located in each wheel.No need for a transmission and axle to turn the wheels.

By Randall Parker    2006 September 20 06:49 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2006 February 26 Sunday
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.

By Randall Parker    2006 February 26 07:57 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (39)
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