Sunday, 20 November 2011

More battery breakthroughs

So things are getting interesting in the battery arena.

Right now we have batteries for electric cars that cost around $20,000 for 150 mile range, which while it will avert a collapse in the transportation and logistics network if it is all we have (it's not), the price is currently so high that it's not *very* competitive with lower end internal combustion based engines.

We really need at a minimum, double the range and half the price to bring costs and utility to a level at which the average buyer of today's vehicles will purchase them on mass.
Even better, obviously would be a battery which has three times the range and half the cost or less of today's batteries.

Well as it happens, the batteries we are using today are 2003's technology. While it may be frustrating to watch that it's taking something like 9 years to produce batteries with adequate range and pricing, compared with information technology which improves by 2X it's performance every 18 months, we are nearly there. As I make it there are now four viable improved battery technologies in the lab at a pre-production stage. There are, in fact, more than four promised technologies but if we put faith in batteries promised by large organizations with the funding and the process, engineering and production capacity to actually bring the technology to market in any kind of meaningful way then there are four.

They are:
IBM's battery 500 which is the result of millions of hours of supercomputer advanced simulation of different chemistries of anodes and cathodes for the holy grail of lithium batteris: lithium air. If this battery is real then it will have a 500 mile range for the same cost as today's batteries. Definitely adequate. On an off topic note, I wish there was a paper somewhere explaining how their model worked, because the way they rapidly scanned over 20 million chemicals make me suspect AI was somehow involved and that would be even bigger news than just a new battery. IBM promises to have a prototype ready by 2013 and if successful, it hopes a battery manufacturer will license the technology and be in production by 2020.

Toshiba's SCiB lithium titanate battery with double the range and the same cost, coming to market in 2013.

Nissan has developed a new better anode in it's battery which it uses in the Nissan leaf which currently has a 100 mile range. It plans to release these new batteries with double the range in 2015.

Altairnano, LG Chem and A123 Systems all have a variety of more efficient cathode's for more advanced lithium ion batteries with lower costs.

It's also worth pointing out that there are also magnesium chemistry batteries in the lab as well as Iron phosphate lithium batteries and various other technologies being worked on that are further away from the market.

Now a corrollary to the battery advances and cost reductions is the reduction in intermittency of renewable sources of electricity such as wind and solar. The problem of intermittency isn't really a problem of technology, since we already have technical solutions to these problems: geographic dispersement of wind farms, hydro storage, compressed air, vanadium flow batteries etc etc, it's really a problem of price (same as with electric cars). If prices of batteries become low enough that they can be added on existing electric renewable infrastructure with no large scale increase in price to the consumer it will be a no brainer to do so.

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