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Superbattery: The Next Great Triumph of Engineering

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Beth Stackpole
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Superbattery challenge
Beth Stackpole   1/13/2012 7:10:46 AM
Here, here!! David, I applaud your strong call to arms to get the private sector and government research dollars behind battery development. I agree that it's a short-sighted view to squash investment here due to lingering concerns about the economy and the still all-out push to promote budget austerity. I love your comment, "We should be glad to pay up, if only for the sake of kissing BP and OPEC goodbye." Ok, maybe not a complete break-up, but it's certainly time in the relationship to start "seeing other people."

 




williamlweaver
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Platinum
Redistribution of Energy Production
williamlweaver   1/13/2012 8:59:43 AM
I really (really) tried to consume this article from a neutral position, but too many buzzwords and cliches set off my political alarms. Kissing BP and OPEC goodbye? -- so we can embrace GE, GM, and Korea-based LG Chem? Simply changing the name of the organizations that provide energy fixes nothing, other than the spelling of the current boogeymen. We already have a battery that 'breathes in' oxygen from the air. It's called an internal combustion engine. And the hydrocarbon fuel it uses is the product of millions of years of photosynthesis. And the distribution network is already in place and provides countless thousands of jobs. Make it "game over for gasoline" and then figure out how to accommodate all of the displaced careers from exploration, drilling, refinement, transportation, pipeline infrastructure, and convenience stores and gas stations to name a few. 

"By extending the technology of power storage beyond car batteries into 'green' areas of solar, wind, and biomass...we will...reduce the suffocating impact of carbon emissions..." Wow. Confusing "Power Production" for "Power Storage" is a common problem in the non-technical media. If all Americans switched to Chevy volts tomorrow, our currently 50% Coal-fired electricity grid will need to charge all of the batteries --- and with no new Nuclear Reactor permits, no unsightly wind turbines off Nantucket and the demise of Solyndra, I can only predict that the electricity shortfall needed to power all of the batteries will necessary come from burning more coal and building more oil-fired power plants. Again --- the theme of Redistribution sucks up all of our debate time, rather than passionately arguing for Innovation. 


Jerry dycus
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Gold
Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
Jerry dycus   1/13/2012 10:16:04 AM
 

         WW, you are so leading us straight to financial ruin.  Feel free to keep burning that oil but you pay for it and all it's other costs which we pay in our taxes of about $1T/yr for oil wars, pollution, corporate welfare, balance og payments, etc.

   Oil won't slow just because of EV's but instead from slowing demand from higher oil prices and dropping RE costs. So don't blame EV's for FF job losses.

     Coal hasn't been 50% for w while now and dropping like flies as they should because they kill 30k, hospitalize 150k/yr in just the US amoung much other costs. Coal, oil get the profits, yaxpayers get the shaft.  By the time any number of EV's are on the road coal plants will be far less, about 20-25% of the cleanest, most eff ones. 

  And Ev's will be the battery pack of the grid allowing it to balance out without having to run costly generators in case of peak demand, saving enough in fact to charge 50M EV's according to utility studies without increasing capacity.

For those who don't know I've been driving EV's at 25% of an ICE's cost or 15 yrs at about 250-600mpg equivalent.  So keep paying your oil masters if you want. I'll pass.

Nukes are not being built because they are way overpriced.  Not until gen 4-5 smaller, far safer, more cost effective modular reactors come online will it be viable here.  

Back to batteries, we already have 2  'air' batteries available techincally. They are Zinc and Alum/air batteries.  They are good for about 1k miles/charge, then you have the insides replaced. Trails worked well but no one wanted to build enough and the charging plants  to make them work.

williamlweaver
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Platinum
Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
williamlweaver   1/13/2012 10:57:50 AM
Jerry, thanks for the correction. I've used the 50% coal number for a while now, as a Google search returns values of 57%, 54%, and 45% (an average of 52%), but I'm happy to use the www.eia.gov values of 45% from Coal, 24% from Natural Gas (69% fossil fuels). I'm not sure I would count Zinc/Air and Aluminum/Air reaction as 'batteries', but I'll go with fuel cells. The only difficulty being that electrolysis powered from our 69% fossil fuel grid is required to reduce the oxidized Zinc and Aluminum ore into new, battery cells which are non-rechargeable. 

I'm happy to learn the off-peak production level of the grid can be utilized to charge 50M EV's, but I'm concerned that would lead to running at 100% peak capacity 24/7. I'm not sure for how long our current infrastructure could handle that duty cycle without failure...


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
Rob Spiegel   1/13/2012 1:58:00 PM

China uses even more coal than North America. They get 68 percent of their electricity from coal, and goes into the same air we eventually breathe. I've got it in the back of my head that tremendous gains could be made by creating a super-efficient, super lightweight internal combustion engine. And while technology that makes oil use more efficient may be a big step forward in reducing consumption, I really can't see sticking to oil in order to support the industry. I'm glad we didn't support buggy makers or typewriter manufacturers.


Ann R. Thryft
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No combustion is better
Ann R. Thryft   1/13/2012 2:23:38 PM

Benj rides again! Great to see your byline here at DN. Thanks for the clear, concise summary of the state of battery technology and the more human side of the politico-social environment that forms a backdrop to developments in this area.

Rob, I'm with you on getting free from oil, but I can't support alternative--or any--internal combustion engine designs. To me, the key word is "combustion," as in, burning. 

 


williamlweaver
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Platinum
Re: Redistribution of Energy Production
williamlweaver   1/13/2012 2:35:29 PM
Rob I believe we are after the same goals. I've no stick-to-it-iveness to any technology when innovations abound, but as you know, oil and gas is much bigger than the fluids -- it is entire economies that support and surround it. My adverse reaction is to calls for conversion to electric vehicles because they don't burn fossil fuels and are therefore "free", when it comes to energy consumption. It sounds ridiculous to scientists and engineers, but to a general voting public who thinks the moon landing was staged in California and big business is hiding the technology to the flux capacitor, the rhetoric can be disastrous

I like your transitional approach that may include super-efficient ICEs. I'm rooting for efficient electric motors and transmission systems that are powered by super-efficient on-board turbine generators --- much like a Diesel Locomotive. I spent a few years working in the Fuels and Lubrication Division of the US Air Force Power and Propulsion Directorate... Advanced Turbine Composites and innovations such as the Trapped-Vortex Combustor would go a long way to hybridizing our fossil fuel economy with more efficient use of electricity, all while avoiding an increased reliance on Coal spurred by a political push for rechargeable electric vehicles... 


Rob Spiegel
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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.

Charles Murray
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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."  

Jerry dycus
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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.

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