By on October 17, 2011

The trouble with EVs is that they need batteries. Batteries are expensive and heavy, they deplete quickly and are prone to early death. Japanese carmakers and universities are assaulting the problems head-on. They have batteries that go twice as far and live twice as long. But there is a new problem …

Toyota, in cooperation with the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, developed a prototype battery that can be processed into sheet form. It makes for a lower cost battery that can store several times the amount of electricity in the same volume. Once in production, range of an EV using that battery doubles, says The Nikkei [sub]

Mazda and Hiroshima University developed a new electrode material based on molecular spheres of carbon. A battery using this material will either be half the weight, or “will make it possible to at least double an EV’s continuous driving distance,” says  The Nikkei.

NEC has done something that prevent early aging of batteries. NEC came up with an electrolyte that allows 20,000 recharge cycles instead a few thousand cycles currently. This battery could last a lifetime of a car instead of giving up the ghost after currently seven or eight years.

The only problem: All these technologies exist in the lab only, and will not be available until at least five years from now.

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30 Comments on “Japan Launches Assault On Battery Problems...”


  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Given how much batteries have predominate as power sources for just about everything today, and will be more so in the future, it makes sense for a country to pour resources into producing better batteries. If America were to tackle the battery problem the way they tackle the space race or the atomic bomb, they might’ve laid a solid foundation for the future prosperity of the nation. But they seem ready to abandon what lead they still have, like the space race, and happily surrendering it to the Chinese instead.

    • 0 avatar
      retrogrouch

      You nailed it.

      Instead, we decided to ridicule hybrid and pure electric propulsion as socialist propaganda. Fuel savings is considered un-American. We teach children that dinosaurs walked the earth next to man and tell people that cheap oil will last forever.

      • 0 avatar
        hreardon

        retrogrouch -

        Please, a bit too much hyperbole there, my friend. I don’t think people are peddling hybrid and/or electric technology as socialist, I think there are a lot of people who don’t think it’s quite prime time and who don’t think it’s a good use of public resources for the government to dump massive tax incentives on electric cars when the people who would have purchased them would do so without the incentive.

        What I will agree with you on, however, is that this country has turned its back on funding this kind of research, which I agree with you, is necessary. Hell, I’m also pissed that our government can’t get its act together with its space program, but that’s a whole other ball of complaint right there…

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        If Hybrid drivetrains were all that and a bag of chips and a pickle then Ferdinand Porsche would’ve continued producing them after 1899.

        It’s not about efficiency, if it were we’d have European diesels on every car lot. It’s about clueless politicians wanting to push the ‘New’ and ‘Sexy’ and ‘Futuristic’ technologies of cars that have been around since the late 19th century.

      • 0 avatar
        protomech

        Les – hybridization offers more benefits than swapping to a diesel engine, at least on the EPA’s combined economy test.
        * 2012 Fusion A6, 2.5L vs 2.5L hybrid: 26 => 39 mpg (+50%)
        * 2012 Jetta A6, 2.0L vs 2.0L TDI: 25 => 34 mpg (+36%)

        Adjusting for diesel’s 14% volumetric energy advantage over gas (or CO2 production), diesel only increases mileage by +20%.

        You can also look at it as cost efficiency. US current average prices for 87 regular are $3.42/gal now, diesel is $3.72.
        * Fusion hybrid is $8.77/100 miles (saves $4.38 vs gas)
        * Jetta TDI costs $10.94/100 miles (saves $2.74 vs gas).

        You can also look at it as cost deltas, or payback time (from above), adjusting for features. Per TrueDelta:
        * Fusion gas => hybrid costs $3500 (80k mile payback)
        * Jetta gas => diesel also costs $3500 (128k mile payback)

        That said, diesel is still a good technology. It’s more competitive with highway driving. But it’s a little silly to heavily promote diesel and claim hybridization is useless.

      • 0 avatar
        GS650G

        Please stop stereotyping and generalizing about all of us.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Schwartz

        If we can’t stereotype, how are we going to have fun?

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        Protomech:

        I’m not promoting diesel technology per se, just pointing out that if you really want good mileage there are alternatives. I personally see Hybrid drive-trains as they stand now as a dead-end technology adding needless weight and complexity to vehicles for purely situational fuel-savings. The kind of hybrid drive-train I’d like to see would skip the big, heavy and expensive batteries and run multiple high-torque electric motors from a constantly running low-rev generator package.

      • 0 avatar
        zerofoo

        Nice thoughts, but we can’t even seem to get a consensus in washington that our 100 year old infrastructure needs to be replaced. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for government funded battery research.

        Maybe after we pave the roads, fix the bridges, and replace the water pipes, we can tackle batteries.

    • 0 avatar
      spinjack

      This is something that would, theoretically, fall right into the DoE’s wheelhouse. The problem, however, is a political one. Politicians are more interested in talking the talk while they dish out cash to their contributors and supporters with no progress. The moon and the a-bomb were both done outside of strong political influence.

    • 0 avatar
      eldard

      As I’ve said before, America can’t compete with German, Jap and now Korean engineering. As for the space race? Yeah. It had to take a brilliant ex-Nazi mind to take them to the moon.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        As I’ve said before, America can’t compete with German, Jap and now Korean engineering.

        The problem is that you cherry pick various successes and failures to prove the point. There are numerous engineering failures from the Germans, Japanese, Koreans, US, and just about any other country you can think of.

        I’m sure if TTAC were to post an article inviting us to list German engineering failures, the list would probably push the storage capacity of the servers to their limits. The Japanese aren’t perfect either.

        Besides, if the US sucks so badly at engineering, why are the Germans, Japanese, and Koreans trying so hard to get into our engineering schools?

      • 0 avatar
        eldard

        1) They want to learn English?
        2) They want international employment?
        3) They have scholarships?
        4) US universities are cheaper?
        5) They want to experience prestigious Ivy League lifestyle?

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        At least a significant reason for foreigners wanting to go to our Engineering Schools, has nothing to do with the quality of our Engineering Schools, per se. But rather the quality of our Marketing Schools.

        Also, “our” engineering schools are not some undifferentiated mass. Some good (better/best?) ones are in America. Ad their graduates are flat out world beating. Sometime making great leaps. But what America lacks, is the good, but not quite Wozniak, engineers, that makes small, meaningful improvements over time. That is, after all, what 90+% of growth comes from. The occasional revolutionary might get all the press, but they are not what a solidly strong economy is built on.

    • 0 avatar
      gogogodzilla

      Why use batteries at all? We are in desperate need to revamp our electricial distribution grid… so why not electrify the roads and have electric cars run off the electricity pumped through the electrified roads?

      Or research slow-discharge capicitators. Capicitators can be charged in seconds, but currently discharge their electricity in a short, quick burst. Imagine if they lasted as long as a battery… for then the long charge times would instantly disappear.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      “the space race or the atomic bomb”

      I want to scream every time somebody brings up those projects in a discussion of batteries or electric cars. The differences are extremly important.

      The most important difference is that the technologies involved were much younger, and less well characterized.

      The liquid fueled rocket was first discussed by Tsiolkovsky 1903, and the first one was launched by Goddard in 1926. After Goddard’s success, German engineers and scientists designed more advanced versions in the 1930s, which they weaponized and launched at England in the 40s. Brought to the US after WWII, those same Germans built the Saturn Rockets that took Americans to the moon in the late 60s and nowhere in the 40 years since then.

      The atomic bomb was even a more radical development. It was literally inconceivable in the 19th Century. Only after the creation of modern physics in the first quarter of the 20th century, could the experiments which pointed toward nuclear fission be conducted in the 1930s. The effort to develop nuclear fission as a weapon occurred with blinding speed in the 1940s.

      By way of contrast, the battery was invented at the end of the 18th century, and slowly developed over the next 200 years. The underlying science of electro-chemistry was fully characterized by the middle of century XX, and reconstructed on the basis of quantum mechanics a generation ago. It is text book stuff now.

      The point here is that batteries are not new science or technology, and there is no reason to believe that any really transformative discovery will be made about them no matter how much money is thrown at the problem.

  • avatar
    bbohanna

    I’m afraid that retrogrouch is the one who nailed it: use der google for “hybrid cars socialism” and see what comes up. Global climate change leads to regulations on greenhouse gases leads to hybrid cars, which leads to socialism. Hybrid cars: gateway drug for massive government control of your life. Or so Fox would have you believe.

  • avatar
    eldard

    Whatever happened to that battery tech that stores power on sheets of plastic like tape would store magnetic strips for info? I remember seeing that on CNN back in the late 90s and it was developed by NASA, I think.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      You should look it up and report back to us. While you are at it, find out about the nanotube storage media, too.

      I’d like to see a venture capitalist assess all these promising ideas. Such a person is pretty hard headed, because it’s their own money they are fronting. But that assessment would be proprietary, wouldn’t it?

      • 0 avatar
        eldard

        Found it: http://www.google.com.ph/search?client=opera&rls=en&q=nasa+plastic+battery&sourceid=opera&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&channel=suggest

        They’ve got soil battery, too.

  • avatar
    djoelt1

    Regarding hybrids being some part of socialist plot, go back 10 years when the Prius was becoming popular and read the WSJ editorials claiming the whole thing was less energy efficient than a regular car, was more expensive over the life of the car etc. Remember Spinelli’s ridiculous comparison of the Hummer and the Prius? The SAE denied the benefits of hybridization seemingly as a trade organization policy for years.

    And, regarding diesels being as efficient as gas electric hybrids: put the electric portion on a diesel and the diesel does not compare. Finally, given the mix of fuels produced per barrel, what would happen to the price of diesel vs. gas if diesel consumption doubled or tripled relative to gas consumption? The gas would be sold cheaply as a loss leader byproduct.

    Hybridization is a phenomenal invention and any automaker that does not embrace it will be roadkill in 10 years. Using energy captured from braking to drive the car is an excellent solution to the energy waste of accelerating the car.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Let’s assume that such superbatteries are available tomorrow.

    Do we have the requisite power grid infrastructure? No.
    Do we have the requisite power generation capacity? No.
    Do we have adequate charging stations placed in useful locations? No.

    Could we get these things in a short amount of time? No.

    Thanks, oh great politicians who couldn’t even get a D in science 101, but somehow think that a law degree is enough of an education to make technical decisions.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Clearly, then, the solution is to sit around with our thumbs up our asses and let some other country take the lead for the next couple hundred years. After all, we can’t afford long-term scientific research and infrastructure development! Those are “cost centers”, and our economy should be based solely on growth items like selling junk bonds and asking each other if we would like fries with that.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      The first 2 plugins went on the market a year ago. Why would you expect the grid to be able to support this tomorrow?

      But, I will also tell you that this won’t likely be available in 5 years either. And a battery that can hold twice the capacity is still going to take twice the time to charge. Unless we are going to get 400V systems in to the home.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      +1 aristurtle

      I will debate #1: The grid has to handle much larger peak loads during the day than what it sees at night. Charging cars at night would thus not require (much of) an increase in grid capacity, but it would level the load.

      Similar argument for #2: the capacity is there so long as the load is leveled across the whole day. However, I concede the point that significantly more fuel would be needed to generate more power, and that may be problematic. (But I believe the problems will be offset by the reduction of oil consumption.)

      #3 poses a very different issue. I couldn’t care less about charging stations, because I wouldn’t need them. I’m considering buying an electric car for commuting, and even with the current models’ limited range of 80 mi, I wouldn’t need charging stations. So this is a more complex issue. We do need them for full-replacement of ICEs, but added battery range reduces the need for on-the-go charging stations, and cultural shifts can also defer the need. (If people chose to live closer to work, range ceases to be problematic.)

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Good points all. I fully support the concept of electric cars. The problem is that the infrastructure is not there, and the planning for such things takes foresight, technical competence, and a bit of leadership.

    We have little – if any – on either side of the political spectrum.

    With respect to NASA (back when it was run by engineers, not managers), they oversaw a massive infrastructure effort needed to support the myriad development efforts required for the Apollo missions. In my humble opinions, this was because the politicians allowed the scientists/engineers to do what they knew needed to be done.

    The fact is, no one really knows what the next big thing in energy/transportation will be. I’d like to think it’s electric…but as I stated earlier, if it is…we ain’t prepared for it. Period.

  • avatar
    djoelt1

    Remarkably, the following is not uncommon where I live (admittedly the place which has the highest percentage voting democratic of any city, state, or county) in every election):

    Q: Why are you installing a solar system when your house is so efficient? A: I’m planning to eventually charge my electric car from the system.

    Batteries are the next big thing, and not just for cars. If you can bank your solar power and ditch the grid for your home, what red-blooded American would not take the opportunity to say F.U. to their power company, even at a modest increase in cost? The freedom from not being dependent on others is priceless.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      If I could do it for a “modest increase in cost,” I absolutely would–not because I dislike my power company (there are some around here I hate, but not my current one), but because I just like to eliminate a monthly bill. I’m a huge believer/supporter of self-sufficiency, and not being dependent on a service provider is a big deal.

      And while it’s not directly related, I’d love to do this to free up domestic natural gas to be used in cars & thus reduce the amount of oil that has to be imported. It would improve the nation’s self-sufficiency, reduce the trade deficit, and work wonders for the economy.

  • avatar
    redav

    All this sounds like great news, and I look forward to the new tech being successful. I also would like to see super-capacitors used in hybrids (where the purpose is to briefly store braking energy, not extended distance propulsion).

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    I’m not interested in funding any efforts, thank you. Let’s use the method used by England in the 18th century to get a reliable chronometer. Its the same approach used more recently for the X Prize goals or for the Clay Institute’s awards for solving difficult math problems, like proving the Navier-Stokes Equations in 3D.

    Funding ‘efforts’ gets us crap like Solyndra (and the others we haven’t heard about yet). Lets rewards results instead of corrupt crony capitalism or venture socialism.

    IIRC, the prize for the chronometer was on the order of $100 million in today’s money. I think you might need even larger for battery development – but possibly still less than the $500 million pissed away on Solyndra.


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