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Superbattery: The Next Great Triumph of Engineering

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applegrl
User Rank
Bronze
Re: Cart before the Horse?
applegrl   1/16/2012 10:06:01 AM
I agree with your assessment.  I was told years ago that the electric generation process was only about 15% efficient (start to finish, including mining coal, etc.)

HEC
User Rank
Silver
Look at the entire system...
HEC   1/16/2012 9:29:10 AM
Almost every effort has been focused on changing the vehicles in the system - but no one looks at the system itself.  The technology exists today to make all of the traffic signals "smart" such that they leave the main road green unless someone is waiting at the side street.  This could be done optically.  This change would work for every user (read vehicle) in the system. The multiplier effect would be huge fuel savings nationally.

It takes a huge quantity of energy to re-accelerate a vehicle compared to the traveling the same distance at the speed they had been going.  If our country is serious about reducing fuel consumption, then we need to look at the entire system - not just part of it.  I am not saying we should not work on more efficient batteries, but guess is that the investment in this idea would have a better return than the investment in electric vehicles. 

didymus7
User Rank
Platinum
Cart before the Horse?
didymus7   1/16/2012 9:04:36 AM
Personally, I think the whole battery discussion is starting from the back end of the problem.  Square 1 is that any conversion process loses energy.  So the first step in a comprehensive overhaul of energy has to start with the basic generation.  To me, having electric cars means nothing if we have to create more oil/coal/gas buring power plants to charge them.  This would make electric cars a 2nd tier of energy conversion and since conversion processes lose energy, would cause more usuage rather than less.

Battery research is now popular and sexy, but until we get a reliable, low-polluting, high efficiency source of electricity to charge all those electric cars, we will pollute more, rather than less.

How about getting the basics down first?

williamlweaver
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
williamlweaver   1/15/2012 3:00:19 PM
Elegantly stated, Dave. There are so many factors that go into turning each of these sources into a viable solution. The difficulty is that these factors are often best considered in the free market --- where each of the systematic factors can be explored. My personal difficulty is with blue-ribbon panel of scientists that are assembled to "calculate" decided science and the Federal Government then selectively funds those efforts and creates crippling regulations, reviews and licences for the others. 

We've lived through this many times before: Lunar-based Navigation, Langley's powered flight program, The Human Genome Project... each of these benefited from collaborative efforts from the free market. An antagonistic approach only benefits those in power.


Dave Palmer
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
Dave Palmer   1/15/2012 2:42:19 PM
@williamlweaver: Actually, hydrogen only looks good from the standpoint of specific energy (energy per unit mass). From the standpoint of energy density (energy per unit volume), it doesn't come close to hydrocarbons unless it is very highly compressed. This only reinforces your point about hydrocarbons being a good energy storage medium in terms of concentrating a lot of energy in a small space. However, as you point out, this is far from the only important consideration. In fact, in some cases it's not even meaningful. For example, does it make any sense to compare a gallon of water going over a dam to a gallon of gasoline being burned in an internal combustion engine? For one thing, a gallon of water in a river doesn't cost $4.

williamlweaver
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
williamlweaver   1/15/2012 11:34:44 AM
TJ, I completely agree with your summary - energy storage vs. energy source. Please consider the following Energy Density information:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density

Listing selected values of Energy Storage per kilogram for this discussion:

Uranium: 20,000,000 MJ/kg
Hydrogen: 142 MJ/kg
Methane: 56 MJ/kg
Propane: 50 MJ/kg
Butane: 49 MJ/kg
Gasoline: 46 MJ/kg
Diesel: 46 MJ/kg
Lithium: 43 MJ/kg
JetA/Kerosene: 43 MJ/kg
Coal: 33 MJ/kg
Hydrazine: 19.5 MJ/kg
Li/Air Battery: 9.0 MJ/kg
Zinc/Air Battery: 1.59 MJ/kg
Water at 100m dam height: 0.001 MJ/kg

From an Energy Storage argument, it appears we should be shoveling funds into a "hydrogen economy", if we wish to maximize energy storage efficiency. However, we need to consider systematic values of abundance, cost, safety, regulations, health, pollution, geo-political availability, etc. for all of these materials.

From a purely scientific argument, our Fossil-Fuel economy did pretty well when it comes to energy storage. As we plow funds into Batteries and praise the success of the TVA, the proponents will need to do a great job of emphasizing the non-scientific reasons for the switch -- and that is very valid. But I ask the proponents of alternative fuels to limit the pointing to conspiracy, war-machines, and crony-capitalism as the reasons for our current fossil fuel economy. It may have devolved into our present situation, but the engineers and scientists had perfectly sound reasons for using carbon oxidation in the first place.

 

TJ McDermott
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
TJ McDermott   1/15/2012 12:35:39 AM
The article is discussing a means of energy storage.  A more efficient means is absolutely necessary, one with higher energy density, but paired with that problem is that of the energy SOURCE.  Fossil fuels burn once, non-renewable (well, not renewable in this epoch).

I'd like to see more nuclear plants, but I find myself in the minority, I think.  What other energy sources are there?

Direct solar?  Why are there not huge solar farms in the areas of this country that receive the most sunlight?  The southwestern states SHOULD be exporting what falls for free on lots and lots of empty land.  It makes no sense to put solar in the northern states, they don't get enough sun to matter in the winter.

Wind power?  It's already been stated in this discussion that the turbine farms are not welcome (not in my back yard).  Higher charges for fossil fuels in those areas might convince the landowners that wind turbines are not such an eyesore.

Tidal?  The coastal areas that can benefit should, and agressively.  But even in Seattle, it's taking too bloody long.

There is not going to be a single solution that ends our need for fossil fuels; it will take all of them, applied appropriately regionally.

Oh, there's one other reason why we should consider AVOIDING wind turbine farms:

http://www.xkcd.com/556/

Jerry dycus
User Rank
Gold
Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
Jerry dycus   1/13/2012 7:37:15 PM
 

  And the people of China are dying at a fast rate from the coal pollution. Not only do they burn so much, it's some of the dirtiest, most deadly coal on the planet, laced with much heavy metals, radioactive materials at rate far worse than our plants, coal which is bad enough to stop.

 The good thing is they have only 30 yrs at present use.  Of course just like our '100' yrs of NG, both of which will increase so likely china has 20 yrs worth of coal and we 50 yrs of NG as our future FF of choice.  Luckily biomass/BTL, GTL, CTL, NG and electricity will do transport after then.

In vehicles the eff engine of choice by a very long ways is E drive as in the car gets 20-65% of the fuel's energy to the road VS 35% eff ICE's that only get 7% of their fuel to the road because they almost  never run at eff levels, wasting most of their energy. This is why I get 250-600mpg equivalent in my EV's vs 40-50mpg in similat ICE's.

Where we really need an eff engine is in home, building heating burning the heating fuel to make electricity using the waste heat for the heating. The hard thing is it needs to run slowly at about 2-4hp for a home.   Best is likely using A/C tech to make low temp Rankine motors, really just an A/C in reverse, to do this.  Since it burns externally the emission are low in NOx and even wood pellets, solar, etc could power it.

With the electric sales paying for the fuel you'd get heating for almost free!!  Yet where are these? Tech has been around for 75+ yrs.

Charles Murray
User Rank
Blogger
A word of caution
Charles Murray   1/13/2012 4:57:58 PM
A hundred years from now, someone might find this article and say, "Gee, this guy was right. Air cathode batteries were the solution all along." What's more, I agree with the author that we need to support battery research. That said, I think a few words of caution are in order here. Discovery is still needed (badly) in the area of air cathode batteries. Tossing lots of money at it might be the answer; then again it might not. This isn't the Interstate system and it's not even the Space Race. It's probaly closer to Richard Nixon's War on Cancer (does anyone even remember that?), which made in-roads, but never reached the vision that Nixon had for it. Discovery (science) is different than engineering, and Nixon's advisors couldn't see that. Scientific breakthroughs are unpredictable and can't be scheduled. Elton Cairns, a ChemE professor at the University of California who designed fuel cells and batteries for the Gemini Space Program and headed up GM's EV battery research effort in the 1970s, has said that bringing a battery from lab to commercial product can be a 40-year proposition (this was the case for lithium-ion, he says). Cairns believes lithium-sulfur batteries are still a decade away, and lithium-air could still be one to two decades behind lithium-sulfur. Throwing more money at it might help. But a decade ago, the US Advanced Battery Consortium pumped more than $260 million into lithium batteries, then asked for an additional $60 million a year or two later, with incremental results. The point is, I'm not ready to label this the next great triumph of engineering. We've got to do the science first. As Cairns has said: "People see all the potential advantages of these technologies, but they don't see the potential pitfalls."  

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
Rob Spiegel   1/13/2012 2:42:20 PM
Good comments, William. We seem to be at the beginning of a major transition in technology and materials related to energy consumption. I would imagine we'll go in every which direction for some years to come. Ultimately, like it of not, coal will continue to be a big part of our future, especially in developing countries. But it will be fun to see the flood of new technology -- it already is.

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