Thursday, 6 June 2013

New Battery Post: Lithium Sulphur with 4x energy density using cheaper materials than Li-Ion

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Lab have recently cracked the elusive holy grail of Sulphur-Lithium batteries.

Sulphur is a very abundant element and thus even if the energy capacity were equal to or less than that of Lithium-Ion it would still be a breakthrough because it would make batteries cheaper and thus enable better the substitution away from fossil fuel powered vehicles.

But it isn't equal to Lithium-Ion. Li-Ion batteries have an energy density of about 170 Milliamp hours per gram. These new batteries have an energy density of 1200 milliamp hours per gram after 300 charge-discharge cycles.

This is significant. In a previous post I took the pessimistic case that with current generation electric vehicles the battery costs are such that driving one gives an equivalent cost of $6 per gallon for the most expensive electricity generated from all-renewables using very expensive vanadium flow batteries to store electricity off-peak. This is the most expensive possible scenario: a world in which everyone drives electric vehicles using current generation electric vehicles and all electricity production is from wind or solar. And the cost is equivalent to $6 a gallon today's money plus the cost of the vehicle meaning the average driver would pay $600-$800 per month in car loan plus aprrox $200 per month in electric "gas" for a total monthly driving cost of $800-$1000 per month.

These new batteries would mean that potentially the cost of electric "gas" would go down in an all-renewable world AND the cost of the monthly payments. If the cost breakdown of the batteries in an electric vehicle are the same as today ($10Gs for the vehicle and $20Gs for the batteries) then we would have $10Gs for the vehicle and $x for the batteries. Taking the cost of the materials as being the same but the range is 1200/170 = 7 times greater, let's do some math.

Now the current range of e.g. the leaf is 120 miles. That sucks. Let's bring it up. We want at least a range of 400 miles. So that's 400/120 = 3.33 times more battery. So we have 3.33/7 = 0.47 times the cost of the current batteries to give us 400 miles range instead of 120 miles range.

So at $20Gs for the initial price of the old-style battery, we have 0.47 x $20Gs = $9400 for the cost of the new and improved battery. Which gives us a price of $19,400 for the new and improved Nissan Leaf with a range of 400 miles. Not too shabby. This brings the price of the monthly car payment down from $600-$800 a month to $19,400/$30,000 = $388 to $517 per month for a total monthly driving cost of $588 to $717. That's *hardly* going to break the bank. And this is the *pessimisticly EXPENSIVE* case.

Now of course these batteries are still in the lab, but let's consider the implications in keeping with die-off debunked.

Well first of all clearly there's going to be no die-off at peak oil because we don't need oil for the largest part of current oil consumption (transportation). We can extrapolate further from there but that's for another post. Enough to mention that in this current world we have plenty of options for CHEAP electricity. We don't need to use expensive all-renewable electricity with batteries to store it. We could have a combination of cheap renewables, no batteries for storage, with off line backup utilizing nuclear, gas-powered, coal-powered, whatever. In other words I'm being way the hell too pessimistic in my calculations and likely what we're going to see is that cheap electric vehicles will start to chip away at the edges of any peak oil decline and we will HARDLY EVEN NOTICE it happening.

Now I say "chip away at the edges" rather than replace into insignificance because of one small inconvenient fact. North Americans i.e. the muppets of the global driving population will en-masse do something entirely stupid and counter-productive: Instead of choosing to drive e.g. Nissan Leafs with a 400 mile range costing $20Gs, they will instead prefer to drive F-150s or equivalent (whether fossil fuel powered or electric) due to their insistence on all the repeated myths they tell each other as to why the "NEED" large trucks for daily driving rather than "WANT". So North Americans will instead not take up electric vehicles at the same rate as other parts of the world because the largest market will be electric F-150s (or equivalent) with only a 120 mile range instead of nissan leafs (or equivalent) with a 400 mile range. Meaning that North America won't come into the electric game until the tail end of the switch-over. But never-mind - gas prices will probably not rise much higher than $6-$10 per gallon as a result of subsitution in the rest of the world.

The knock on effect of course will be that the rest of the world will be able to industrialize and buy automobiles because they will no longer be limited by the availability of cheap gasoline and instead will have the availability of cheap electricity with which to drive. And mobility creates markets.

So the conclusion is this: instead of seeing die-off because of peak oil or else "limits to growth" club-of-rome scenarios, we're going to see continued global growth and more of the global population lifted out of poverty. Business as usual in other words.

Die-off? Hit the snooze button.