By on April 10, 2013

Researchers are quickly getting disenchanted by the high price of lithium-ion batteries, paired with a growing number of high-profile incidents involving smoke and fire, Reuters says in an in-depth analysis. Some are looking way beyond Lithium-Ion. Some go back to technology that is older than the car: Lead-Acid.

Many experts believe it will take at least another decade for lithium-ion technology to be ready for widespread adoption in transportation.

Others don’t see different chemistry for decades.

Companies like Energy Power Systems, a team of former Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius engineers, became “disenchanted” with lithium-ion’s complexity and cost and are now seeking to improve lead-acid.

Companies like Toyota are looking into alternatives to lithium-ion, such as lithium-air, and a much less tempestuous solid state battery.

“We don’t think that lithium-ion batteries are going to help us get to a point where we can dramatically increase volume and really call it a mass market,” Toyota spokesman John Hanson said.

One thing is clear: The battery is no microchip with a dramatic shrinkage of size and gains in power, and the miracle battery to end all electric vehicle woes is a mirage.

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58 Comments on “Battery Hopes Fall Flat...”


  • avatar
    cargogh

    It is 114 years since a 65 mph speed record was set in a battery-powered car and electric cars outsold combustion or steam cars. Is this really it after a century?

    • 0 avatar

      There are some simple facts that can’t be overcome.
      1 – While electric motors are more efficient than ICE, the energy delivery system and the refill rate make electric cars less time efficient than ICE.
      2 – Electric Vehicles require more metal than ICE cars do. More metals = more mass = less efficiency.
      3 – liquid fuel stores more energy per unit mass than the equivalent mass battery technology to date.
      4 – the free market has chosen ICE.

      • 0 avatar
        I_Like_Pie

        Yup.

        Once you choose a path and walk 100 miles on it – not practical to go back to the start and begin a different journey.

        Infrastructure, regulation, technology, and so on is slanted on the decison of ICE. If we were starting from scratch it would be a different story.

        …but we aren’t

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          I doubt electrics would challenge ICE powered cars even if starting from scratch today. Energy density simply isn’t there yet.

          Much more sophisticated public transportation infrastructures would likely be built in and around densely populated areas, and those would be powered by electricity. But for individual, carry your own range, passenger sized, cars, fossil fuels is still one heck of a boon.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        “2 – Electric Vehicles require more metal than ICE cars do.”

        Any proof?

        • 0 avatar

          Proof?

          The fact that there is less metal in an ice car than the equivalent sized EV. LITHIUM was a metal last time I checked. Ask Fisker and Tesla how much their cars weigh.

          Their mass is offset by the instant torque of an electric motor.

          • 0 avatar
            slow_poke

            i think what he’s saying is batteries + power train weigh more than gas+power train. structure to deal w/ that extra mass means ‘more car’.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Yeah, at this time battery-powered vehicles are nice ideals but not very practical. They still need generators on-board to go any distance.

            There’s no comparison when it comes to the best, most efficient, all-around powertrain, it is gasoline, with diesel coming in second.

            That said, battery-powered vehicles should be available for anyone who wants to buy one, just as long as they are not subsidized with taxpayer money.

            Just like golfcarts. Buy one if you like and it works for you.

            Given today’s science, it is unlikely we’ll have lightweight, long lasting, hi-power batteries any time soon.

            Theoretically, many things are possible in making the ideal battery. Practically, not so much.

            But the same was said about nuclear power yet we were able to miniaturize our weaponry from the size of Fatman and Big Boy to the 70′s equivalent in the B61, and even smaller to the size of a suitcase or 155mm cannon shell.

            Battery development will happen, just not for awhile. The technology isn’t there yet.

            Battery power won’t be a must-have until we run out of oil in a few centuries yet. Until then, gasoline works just fine for me and most everyone else as well.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        2 – A Prius PHV weighs 3165 pounds. A base Cruze weighs 3093 pounds, so it’s rather hard to see how the “extra metal” is a big problem.

        4 – The free market gravitates to the lowest out-of-pocket expense; the real cost of oil isn’t determined by the extraction cost. Nor does the free market do any planning. We become more efficient at extracting oil as we go along but world demand is also increasing. Eventually the production curve and demand curves will intersect in an unhappy way and prices will rise. We can intensify our efforts to extract oil here but “run out of oil first” is a very poor strategic plan.

        • 0 avatar

          A PRIUS PHV is a plug in Hybrid. NOT A TRUE ELECTRIC VEHICLE.

          The Nissan Leaf is 3500 lbs.
          The Tesla Model S is around 4650 lbs – that’s more than my S550 was!!!

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          That’s a ridiculous comparison when there is a Cruze-based plug in hybrid that allows for the most direct comparison possible. What does a Volt weigh? Why does it give up a passenger seat to the Cruze that it shares a platform with? That’s as apples to apples as it gets, and it makes the point you’re fighting.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        “3 – liquid fuel stores more energy per unit mass than the equivalent mass battery technology to date.”

        Yup, that’s why there have been no practical full-sized electric powered helicopters to date.

        Until they create a battery that can store the same amount of energy as a gallon of gas, and for the same weight, electic power will never be as good as a liquid fueled engine.

      • 0 avatar
        rolosrevenge

        I disagree with your point 1. Consider a Natural Gas Combined Cycle plant with an efficiency of 55% (which is normal). Transmission and distribution losses are on average 7%. Than your charging into the battery is about 90% and your discharge from the battery is about 90% and the electric motor is 95% so 0.55*0.93*0.9*0.9*0.95 = 39.3% which is better than the thermodynamic limit of an internal combustion engine (37%) and much better than the average efficiency of the internal combustion engine, around 20%.

        As for the time factor, 30 seconds to plug in at night and 30 seconds to unplug in the morning works out to be about the same as 15 min at the gas station. The time only breaks down for trips over 100-200 miles (depending on your car).

    • 0 avatar
      Sundowner

      the electric car has been around for over 100 years and billions have been spent on it’s development, mostly in the past 20 years.

      the gasoline car has been around over 100 years and trillions of have been spent on it non-stop over the past century.

      I remind you that at one point only 70 years ago jet engines were far less fuel efficient than turbo props, 50 years ago chevy put a clockwork doghouse on a small block and called it fuel injection, 30 years ago, people scoffed at paying $300 for a battery powered blue makita drill that wasn’t anywhere near as useful as a corded one, and 10 years ago no one surfed the internet on their phone. don’t judge too soon.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Pure jet engines are still far less fuel efficient than turboprops.

        Unfortunately physics can be a real PITA.

        • 0 avatar

          Jet engines require fossil fuels and props can be run solely on solar power and electric motors – although fossil fuels are required to mine and construct the parts.

          Face it Fossil Fuels RULE.

          Imagine how much fossil fuel we’ll get out of all these obese people who’re storing energy millions of years down the road.

          • 0 avatar
            George Herbert

            bigtroll writes:
            “Jet engines require fossil fuels”

            Untrue. Jet engines will run on any combustible light oil, or alcohols. Bio-oils work fine, from peanut and soy and canola through things like Jatropha.

        • 0 avatar
          imag

          Not at 600 mph.

      • 0 avatar
        carrya1911

        …but the automotive industry isn’t the only one looking hard at lithium ion’s limitations. The tech industry is heavily dependent upon the technology to power all our devices…and the problems are legion.

        Everybody wants a better battery. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot of really good battery options on the near horizon.

      • 0 avatar

        No matter how much money you spend on car technology, it took millions of years to produce several fossil fuel choices for us to use and it just so happens that fossil fuel is at the basis of everything we do because Earth gets it’s surface energy from the Sun and plants trap it – for animals to consume.

        FOR ANIMALS TO CONSUME…

        Humans are animals.

        I consume over 30 gallons of super premium unleaded each week. More if I drive the supercharger.

        Electricity production requires fossil fuels to be used to “make stuff” to gather and create it PERIOD.

        Electricity storage requires fossil fuels for mining operations and transportation.

        THAT IS NATURAL LAW.

        • 0 avatar
          George Herbert

          Bigtrucktroll:
          “Electricity production requires fossil fuels to be used to “make stuff” to gather and create it PERIOD.

          Electricity storage requires fossil fuels for mining operations and transportation.

          THAT IS NATURAL LAW.”

          Not so much, no. There’s nothing keeping you from making an entirely battery or transmitted power powered mining / industrial supply chain.

          That it’s mostly IC now is an effect of everything being IC now.

          Redneck sustainability analysis ain’t.

          • 0 avatar

            where are you getting the start energy to do this?

          • 0 avatar

            GEORGE HERBERT

            IF YOU WERE SMART… you would have called me: BIGTROLLSERIES.

            I guess I have to think for you too…

            And why is it you call me a “redneck”? I bet you can’t answer that either.

          • 0 avatar
            George Herbert

            Bigtroll writes:
            “where are you getting the start energy to do this?”

            Start energy as in “what’s the system using now”? From fossil fuels, because that’s what the system uses now.

            As in “Where’s the energy source at the bottom of the chain?” then in the long run, solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, possibly fusion, etc. Clean natural gas for a lot of stuff for now.

            And:

            “IF YOU WERE SMART… you would have called me: BIGTROLLSERIES.

            I guess I have to think for you too…”

            No, I’m hoping it’s not so much of a series, thank you very much.

            “And why is it you call me a “redneck”? I bet you can’t answer that either.”

            Because you’re using ‘natural law’ in the biblical sense in an engineering and physics discussion.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            Working for a power company, I can tell you, solar panels will never last long enough to pay off the cost they burden our company with, the cost of them end up in your electricity bill because the gov’t requires a certain percent of energy that simply isn’t cost-sensible.
            Wind energy, well I’m sure anyone can see the downfall of that, they don’t run very long without constant supervision and a massive amount of money

          • 0 avatar

            Solar panels can last a long time I know cruising sailors who are going on 20 years with their arrays. They just arent very practical for large scale generation. Here in new england the power land scape may change as a lot of towns want to shrink the power companies to make them local one town affairs rather than relying on an out of state company to maintain the grid. This became a very popular concept after recent storms.

        • 0 avatar
          AFX

          “No matter how much money you spend on car technology, it took millions of years to produce several fossil fuel choices for us to use and it just so happens that fossil fuel is at the basis of everything we do because Earth gets it’s surface energy from the Sun and plants trap it – for animals to consume.”

          In essence fossil fueled powered cars are really nuclear powered cars, because the Sun is powered by nuclear fusion.

          If anybody says they’re against nuclear power, and in favor of other sources such as solar power or biomass power, just explain that to them and watch their head explode.

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            LOL

            The ones whose IQ is above room temperature will merely point out that 93 million miles away is about as closest acceptable location for an unshielded 1.9891×10^30 kg nuclear reactor.

      • 0 avatar
        cargogh

        I remember those $99 4-function calculators.

    • 0 avatar
      PCP

      ICE development is more than 100 years old, millions of men hours and trillions of dollars – I bet you electric vehicles could beat ICE vehicles easily had this time and money been spent on their development.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Super capacitors.

    Of course, they can blow up too….

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Flux capacitors.

    Of course, you might end up fighting off your mom’s advances.

    • 0 avatar
      cargogh

      Nice!

    • 0 avatar

      If you ended up in a situation where you’ve time-travelled and your mom wanted to be impregnated by you, the “law of causality” claims that this is happening because it already happened and can not happen any other way.

      Have at it !

      Of course, if this did happen, it would cause an alternate time line in your life wherein your children with her wouldn’t suffer from inbreeding effects since technically – you are only adding genes to them which your mother never received from your father. It’s not the same as nailing your sister – since you and your sister are closer relatives genetically than you and your mom … assuming your mom had your siblings with the same father. We all know how slotty women of today are!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      +1

  • avatar
    Ex Radio Operator

    It must be nice to never have to deal with reality.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Everything in the Reuters article is true.

    Battery technology will never follow Moore’s Law – only dreamers believe that. With energy density of lithium ion at 1% of gasoline, there is a long way to go. Even so, practical cars already exist despite this shortcoming, so it doesn’t need to ever approximate the energy density of gasoline.

    The safety concerns are important, but quite manageable. I’d much rather have a battery under me than 20 gallons of gasoline.

    Actually, I’m a fan of lead-acid batteries – they’re very rugged.

  • avatar
    George Herbert

    I find it amusing that a community that fawns over performance cars whose IC powertrains catch fire regularly are afraid of batteries that could, but so far don’t much, do the same.

    If you’re worried about fire, stop buying gas cars and only use diesel, and remove a thousand pounds of flammable plastics from your car. Then whine about the battery.

    • 0 avatar
      BrianL

      Your argument is funny. Most people aren’t worried about either an IC or EV catching fire. If they were, they wouldn’t be in either.

      But the best part is where you talk about removing the pounds of flammable plastics, you know, the same plastics that are in EVs and hybrids.

      But the problem with EVs isn’t fire. It is range, time to refuel, power, battery wear, resale value, and upfront cost. I would say that most IC cars close to the same size and market, would cream the small amount of EV’s, or near EVs if you want to include the Volt and PHEV Prius.

      • 0 avatar
        George Herbert

        BrianL:
        “Your argument is funny. Most people aren’t worried about either an IC or EV catching fire. If they were, they wouldn’t be in either.”

        Most people figure they can stop and get out if there’s a fire, or be rescued or self-rescue if there’s a crash and fire. Unlike airplanes, this is a reasonable assumption.

        I brought this up because discussion here and the Reuters article went on about battery fires.

        “But the best part is where you talk about removing the pounds of flammable plastics, you know, the same plastics that are in EVs and hybrids.”

        I am neither ignorant nor in disagreement with this. It’s a fundamental to all modern cars.

        Possibly shouldn’t be.

        “But the problem with EVs isn’t fire. It is range, time to refuel, power, battery wear, resale value, and upfront cost. I would say that most IC cars close to the same size and market, would cream the small amount of EV’s, or near EVs if you want to include the Volt and PHEV Prius.”

        In terms of matching cost and range performance to people’s lives, yes. We can get sufficient range EVs (Tesla S). We can get cheap EVs (Leaf). I couldn’t drive a Leaf round trip to/from work right now, though my commute distance varies wildly across the year as consulting clients shift.

        Plug hybrids – which necessarily range-extend with a combustible fuel, currently either diesel or gasoline (and all production ones that I know of are gas) are a useful intermediate step. “Typical car use” for many people will fall into the actual electric-only range, and for most of those that don’t, the IC motor carries on.

        Cost of plug hybrid vs efficient IC is an issue. And efficient IC is certainly doing a lot better with regards to mileage than was thought practical a decade ago.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Somebody should look into one of NASA’s compact satellite nuclear reactors to run electric motors. Then refueling would be needed only once every 20 years. If they won’t give us flying cars, at least give us nuclear powered ones. Radiation shielding would add extra weight, and you know how those NHTSA and EPA people can get, with their fixation about accidents and pollution and stuff, but carmakers could boast a 500,000 mile range!

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      The RTG on a deep-space craft has about 400 Watts output when new – at best. That’s about 1/2 HP, which won’t get your EV out of the lab. :)

      • 0 avatar
        George Herbert

        RTGs aren’t reactors. They’re just lumps of decaying plutonium with a little reverse peltier effect power generator on the side.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        ” The RTG on a deep-space craft has about 400 Watts output when new – at best. That’s about 1/2 HP, which won’t get your EV out of the lab. :)”

        1/2 HP is enough for a nuclear powered bicycle, I can see that happening !. Just jump on your Nuke Bike, put some IGY by Donald Fagen on your Ipod, and nip on down to Starbucks for some free WiFi. You could even be a nuke hipster if it was a single-speed bike.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Iran is working on nuclear powered cars as we speak, to free themselves from dependence on their own oil….. :)

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    I dunno, 400+Wh/kg batteries should be along in the next few years, and there’s more technologies than just traditional lithium ion.. But I did click to see yet more Bertel dumping on EVs, so mission accomplished!

  • avatar
    wmba

    But, but, but what about the Boeing 787? Is it destined to sit on the tarmac forever? Or just until someone nips down to NAPA for a few premium Exides and some 1000 mcm welding cable to join ‘em up …

    Maybe Boeing can repurpose a lavatory to get the extra space needed for lead acid vs lithium ion.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I maintain that the auto industry is what amounts to a bit player in battery development. If you see a revolution in battery tech anytime soon it will appear in your iPad or smartphone, not your car. The high end batteries we have now are a result of the increasing demands placed upon our portable electronics by us. 10 years ago how big was a laptop battery, what did it power (no wi-fi, low RPM hard drive, low res and dim or monochrome display, and 90 minutes on a charge). My MacBook gives 6 hours to a charge running wi-fi, a high res display, and spinning a hard drive at 7200 RPMs and it is dated. Smartphones are where it is at though. Like range anxiety in a car, people don’t like a phone they have to charge during the day. This fact alone is the largest factor driving battery development IMHO.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Imagine how long you could run your MacBook if you replaced that spinning HD with an SSD.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Talking to you now on a Thinkpad with an SSD. Best possible upgrade you can do.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          The last Battalion i7 I bought from IBuyPower.com had two SSDs in it. Man, is it ever fassssssssssssssssssssssssst!

          My grand daughter has dropped it while it was running, it has fallen out of her car onto the pavement while it was on, and yet it still works. It takes a lickin’ and keeps right on clickin’.

          IMO, the fewer moving parts, the better.

  • avatar

    I kind of agree that lithium has lots of issues unless the system is designed properly. I work for a company that does shipboard electric and there have been several issues with lithium battery banks in the last few years. These banks end up as complex systems due to then charging issues with lithium and a lot of companies jumped into the market that had not tested the charge balancing systems over the long run. The fact that Toyota thinks there too complicated means there will be more issues before it becomes a really mainstream technology for large battery banks.

  • avatar
    andreroy55

    One thing I haven’t seen anyone mention here is that batteries and liquid fuel are fundamentally different.

    With a gasoline powered car, only about 1/16th of the chemistry required to produce power is actually carried on board. A properly functioning gasoline engine consumes about 15 kg of air for every kg of gasoline. The air comes from the atmosphere. And likewise, the waste products are simply dumped out the back of the car into the face of the vehicle following (only fair, since the vehicle in front is doing the same thing :).

    On a battery powered car, ALL the chemistry has to be carried on board, and likewise all the waste product. Refueling (recharging) changes the waste product to new chemistry.

    Sure, even then, batteries don’t have the energy density, but taking that into account does even things up a little.

    Yes, there are ‘air’ batteries (mentioned somewhere above) but I have no idea what kind of nasties they dump into the atmosphere as waste, if indeed they do.


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