None of this would be an issue, of course, if EV battery packs weren't so big in the first place. The packs, often weighing more than 400 pounds, can have trouble releasing their heat, because they're so much bigger than laptop or cellphone batteries. That's why most electric car makers are employing complex active cooling systems that cellphones don't need.
"Can you put cooling channels" in an EV battery pack, Sadoway asked. "Sure. But they may not hit the price point you want."
Researchers are working on new chemistries that could supplant the lithium-ion formula, but such batteries are still a long way from production. Lithium-sulfur, which is said to have higher energy and better heat characteristics, could reach production for small products, such as laptops, in the next 10 years. Lithium-air, long talked about as a high-energy replacement for lithium-ion, might be two or three decades from widespread use, Cairns said. Batteries based on other metals, such as magnesium, are also under consideration.
The bottom line is that today's technology of choice may be facing challenges ahead. Automakers are relying on a steep drop in battery cost to help electric car sales take off. And additional safety constraints aren't going to help them reach their cost targets, especially since cost was already an issue before the Volt fires.
"My position is that we must get beyond lithium-ion for vehicles," Cairns said. "The lithium-ion systems of today are inherently too expensive and too low in energy for electric vehicles. If we use lithium-ion as we now know it, the EV will always be a specialty vehicle."
For a deep look a GM's Chevy Volt, we recommend you go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. In the trip sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is taking the fire-engine-red Volt to innovation hubs across America, interviewing engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students as he blogs his way across the country.
Thanks, Chuck, that makes things a lot clearer. So it sounds like the process of making batteries, or at least high-performing ones, is a question of first defining your acceptable tradeoffs among safety, energy, power, lifetime, and cost, and then finding the right delicate balances of many different chemical interactions among many different materials. Compared to silicon, that does sound like a breeze. OTOH, while covering materials for chip packaging and board substrates for Nikkei Electronics Asia, I learned that there are actually a lot more materials besides silicon to consider and that such things as different CTEs can really mess everything up. Most of that concerned physics and mechanical mismatches, though, not chemical ones. Batteries sound pretty gnarly.
We really need a chemist or metallurgist to answer your question properly, Ann, but a battery's performance is based on the inherent energy and electrochemical properties of the materials that are used. Through the history of the battery there's been zinc, lead, iron, nickel, carbon, sulfur, lithium, manganese and on and on and on, used in various combinations in an effort to produce more energy, more power, longer life, lower cost, greater safety, etc. Usually, battery makers trade for one or two of those properties at the expense of another. For most batteries, development of the chemistry can take 20 or more years in the lab. Lithium-ion, for example, has been out since the early 1990s, but spent 20 years in the lab prior to that. Over the last 20 years, the EV market has changed chemistries repeatedly, going from lead-acid to nickel-iron to sodium-sulfur to advanced lead-acid to nickel-metal hydride to lithium-ion, etc. The point is, when we talk about battery energy, we're talking about inherent material characteristics, and improving the energy means finding the right chemistry. To draw a contrast, the electronics industry has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last 60 years while it has pretty much used just one material: silicon. The advancements have largely been a product of manufacturing. As the manufacturing has improved, transistor feature sizes shrank and performance rose. But it's pretty much all been in silicon.
This discussion of EV batteries reminds me of the years it took to get portable consumer electronics batteries to function longer than a few minutes in a laptop or other device running multiple apps.
Actually, that problem still hasn't been solved, as I learned all over again last week when the Great California Power Outage left me writing on a laptop, switching batteries and barely enough time to write and file my story before deadline.
Batteries are not a technology I'm familiar with. Why is it so hard to get ones that last long enough, whether for laptops or for EVs? What's the big deal?
Gates' comments go right to the heart of one of the great misconceptions about pure electric cars. Comparisons to PCs and cell phones are rampant in EV discussions, even though they are irrelevant. A GM vice president even made the allusion to cell phones in 2010, saying: "Remember when mobile phones fit in a brief case, weighed 40 pounds and were affordable only to the wealthy?” He went on to say that EVs would follow a development track similar to that of cell phones.
You don't need $100/kwhr lithium batteries to make EV's cost effective. It can be done several ways.
Before that one needs to think cost/mile instead of $/kwhr. Lead which is prefectly viable for 100 mile range EV's like the EV-1 or better, it's prototype, the Impact EV, costs OEM's about $80/kwhr.
But one needs a new pack every 4-6 yrs. Now many Lithium types go far more cycles plus their 33% of the weight means $200/kwhr lithium batts will do fine.
No EV if not designed right isn't going to work and present ones are overweight and oversized. EV's should start out as lightweight commuters/errand running, delivery, etc as everyone gets use to them. So what do we get, 4-5 passenger cars.
Now in my EV sportwagon the Volt 40 mile range battery pack would run it about 200 miles!! The Nissan Leaf's, 300 miles. It's not the battery as much as what you put it in.
If the GM Impact or it's Ultralite showcar had been produced with lithium they would have 200-300 mile ranges. Or much less costly 100 mile EV's.
Next Lithium batts are already dropping and retail price on Tesla style cells is under $250/kwhr. That proves the materials cost no more than that, about 50% or so. Or do you think they sell them at a loss? Let's look at the materials. 95% of lithium batteries are made mostly of plastic, copper, alum, 2lbs/kwhr lithium carbonate, sulfur, iron, magnesium, water in the viable types. Average price for these is about $4/lb at 22lbs/kwhr IIRC. Now just what is so expensive about them? Most under $2/lb.
Folks it takes time to introduce new tech. It took them 40 yrs after they said they were going to produce EV's to finally do it. And the next gas crisis will focus people's minds.
No the question with gasoline fuel cells is "How do you make one?" Anti-gravity machines and Star Trek transporters would reduce fuel consumption as well, and they're no harder to build than a gasoline fuel cell.
The main problem as I understand it with fuel cells is what to do with the carbon. There is no way to "burn" carbon in a fuel cell without it getting sooted up. Methane fuel cells work because they're part of an overall process in which the energy content of the carbon is used to separate hydrogen from the methane and feed the hydrogen to the fuel cell. The overall inefficiency of this is obvious, as is the impracticality of having both a "reformer" and a fuel cell in the same engine compartment. And that's for the simplest and most hydrogen-rich hydrocarbon in existence. Gasoline is a far more complex mix of hydrocarbons that react differently. Get them hot enough in the presence of an excess of oxygen and they will all burn, which is why fuel-burning engines are practical. But try to devise a fuel cell that will handle this stew of hydrocarboms and the Star Trek transporter starts looking like a more practical way to spend your design time.
The biggest challenge is a bunch of rabid media goons searching for "something they can use". (from "Dirty Laundry" a few years back). Once a car has been crashed, the occupants removed, and the car towed away, vehicle safety is not even an issue, until after the repairs are finished.
The cost of a battery system for a car has to be regarded as a tradeoff against the benefits of having a battery electric powered drive. The problem with the volt is that the benefit did not seem worth the tradeoffs to enough people. A big part of that lack of perceived benefit was due to a media that wanted to have GM fail. There was nothing legal that GM could do to defend themselves.
Of course another big influence is the present economy, which is both depressed and uncertain, two things that will reduce the demand for any expensive car. GM engineers did not have much to do with that problem arriving either.
The ultimate destruction of the electric vehicle in any form would be a poor-quality rip-off copy of anything like the volt, sold by some large low price store that has a reputation for selling poor quality stuff cheap. People in the US can guess who I mean.
The many popular laptop cars suddenly appearing in the market, One in particular, Tesla, started by eberhardt, then taken in a hostile takeover as found property assumption, is powered by some 800 or so laptop batteries, GM has redesigned the battery pack so that it doesn't heat up resulting in the car creeping along, but the risk of fire still remains, the insurance liabilities, and battery disposal and/or repair represent real environmental problems, and the Green car idea should be reconsidered since electricity in the US is 85 % coal fired power plants. The internal combustion invention, which continues to evolve is here to stay, and will only continue to get better, as gravity is better understood, vertical engineering is growing exponentially, and combustable fuels, like say hydrogen is cheap, abundent, and can be extracted from water on fuel demand, without the hazard, stored hydrogen exposes. Its kinda on a parallel with energy in all consumption realms, regardless of how many wind and hybrid electric grantmasters syphoning away development money, ultimately it will come down to hydrogen-oxy fuels, and the combustion engine, whether from water in the air, or a tank, its the cheapest, atmospheric, fuel source whenever the political scammers time out and scientific development returns to its place in society, where instrumentation defines us, the silly wind turbines, and laptop batteries will have a tiny spot in the energy realm, and guys like barry, and his energy czar chui, will soon hit the road, and we can return to science directed by industrial scientists, without the interference of corrupt disbarred lawyers, and out of country charlatans---One more thing---lets rid ourselves of slavery and piracy in free interprize, returning our factories from the slave countries they were taken to by the NYSE, and shutter the slavers super stores, and take back what they have stolen from the american model of accrued taxation from an economic model based on import taxation to discourage slavery, and protect the american way of life from the other tyrannical governments, and our very own world class mafia seeking to end americas independence as they move onto world class citizenery, leaving us behind, micromanaged by predatory laws, enforcing a communistic society upon us. Leave americans manufacturing infrastructure alone, and allow our small family businesses to provide our communities with goods and services---make in america what america consumes, in an independent country, one nation, under " God " with liberty and justice for all---treat traitors and treasonists for their crimes, take back what the fed has stolen and change with time which changes all things. end the newly formed academic caste systems nobility ordainments, end the chosen 539 electoral college, the supreme court, prison economy, oval office, senate, congress, and their counterparts in city, county, and state realms,--- began to vote with openended referendums while embracing information technology and the empirical matrix to provide us with direction, allow the Military, FBI, CIA, ATF, TSA, etc to do their jobs without the micromanagement of criminality now ruling our lands
A half century ago, cars were still built by people, not robots. Even on some of the country’s longest assembly lines, human workers installed windows, doors, hoods, engines, windshields, and batteries, with no robotic aid.
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