Good story, Chuck. With the widespread--though generally unvoiced--belief that battery technology will never keep pace with Moore's Law, and may not even advance at a snail's pace, why aren't fuel-cell vehicles part of the discussion? I can't for the life of me figure this out. Fuel-cell cars have none of the problems of EVs. No $10k to $40k battery packs to fail, catch on fire, or have to be replaced in three years. The only impediment -- and it's a big one, I admit -- is the lack of a hydrogen refueling infrastructure.
I agree with you, tekochip, this is definitely a company to watch in the future. And, yes, I deliberately took a cautious tone in writing this story. I'll spare you the details, but I've been writing about EV batteries since 1988 and the results haven't always matched the claims. That said, the reports I heard about Envia were very good. I communicated with three battery experts, one automotive expert and one automaker, and learned that a lot of people in the battery community are watching Envia closely. I think it says a lot about the battery community, though, that none of the people I communicated with wanted to be quoted, even though they generally said good things.
Hi, Ann. I have heard about schemes to storre energy in flywheels, but i don't know how well that would work. Ice can store a lot of energy and might prove worth looking into in more detail as a way to supplement heating and cooling homes. Ice at 0 degrees C must absorb 334 joules/gram before it melts into water at 0 degrees C. That means a cubic meter of ice could store 334 Mjoules of energy. Using a heat pump, a home HVAC system could use a few cubic meters of water/ice to save energy. Heat extracted from a home in summer could provide energy to heat the home in winter. The ice/water would not provide all the needed energy, but it could harness available energy and supplement home heating and cooling during periods of peak electric-power demands. For an interesting article in Scientific American from about two years ago, visit: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ice-energy.
I agree with Jon. And not only do we need better methods for generating power, but we still need better methods for storing it, as well. I don't mean as in batteries, which is actually relatively temporary storage, but longer-term storage in smaller, more localized facilities. Isn't that at least one of the things fuel cells were supposed to be good for? In any case, I'm still waiting for the day when a power outage caused by a tree falling on the line 30 miles away does not make my house lose power, nor does the tree falling on a line near me make another person's house 30 miles away go dark.
Lets remember batteries require energy to recharge them, regardless of their capacity. Higher capacity means fewer recharges needed for a given use, but more energy needed at each recharge. Where does that energy come from? Some battery-power enthusiasts forget that plugging a battery charger into an outlet simply "transfers" the emissions created by, say, an internal combustion engine to a coal-or gas-fired electricity-generating plant in someone else's neighborhood. You could use a wind generator or a photovoltaic array to capture energy, but would have to store that energy nearby until you need it to charge your batteries. That type of arrangement doesn't make sense due to the inefficiencies of the system components and the need for intermediate energy storage. In any case, the power needed to recharge batteries isn't "free."
So, it's good to see advances in battery technologies, but we need similar advances in the generation of power needed to charge them.
@tekochip: We ourselves at Envia are cautious and frankly skpetical of most battery claims. The materials inside our cells (that matter most) and the cells themselves are manufactured with same equipment and processes that are commonly found today. We made sure we do not have any exotic expensive process with low yields. As for cycling, we do well and meet USABC specs - for shallow cycling, some of our cathode composition cycles thousands of times, for deep cycling, our aspiration is 1000 cycles. The 400 Wh/kg cells have cycled 400 times and continue to cycle. Some engineering still remains to be done. But nevertheless, we are excited about getting to this energy density in a real 45 A-h pouch cell. Hope you continue to follow us.
@Beth: Thanks for your post. Envia has been a under-the-radar start-up. We have 35 people with majority of our work-force being a scientist or engineer. At last count we had 16 PhD's. When Lithium-Iron-Phosphate was riding high in 2007, our founders figured that the energy density would never get to a point where the LFP chemistry could be used in an automotive cell cost-effectively. After a thorough landscape search of high energy density cathode material, they found inventions by Dr. Michael Thackeray (already in public domain for over 3 years at that time). Envia licensed those patents and began the long arduous task of developing the cathode material based on this structure. It took long hard 3 years to get to an automotive grade product. Around 2009, we were receipients of ARPA-E award to develop an anode to pair up with our cathode and try and take a shot at the 400 Wh/kg mark. There are so many anode development programs based on Si that have attained extremely high energy densities - but the drawback is that some use exotic (expensive) processes and some are just proof-of-concept small cells and when you pair them up in a real automotive type cell, Si will not cycle without issues. So our scientists developed a Si-C composite anode. Over the past four months, we paired the cathode and anode with our high voltage electrolyte and got to this 400 Wh/kg mark. You'd think that a company developing anode, cathode, high voltage electrolyte and cells would have spent over $80M-$100M or so in 4.5 years of existence. We have raised $28M and a bulk of the proceeds from our last round (of $17M) are still in the bank. Our aspiration is to mass market enable the electric vehicle market that has had so many false starts by dramatically reducing battery pack costs that are largely driven by active material (chemicals) inside these batteries. We hope we can continue to provide some good news over the coming quarters and years as we commercialize our products.
Beth, yes, this is a great story. One of the unique aspects of it is that these guys are not just battery integrators. Tesla, GM, Nissan are just buying Li-Ion cells from suppliers and putting them together in battery packs. This is obviously not the way to go to get EVs into the mainstream. An EV is very simple compared to a IC powered car. In the Tesla, for example, there is no transmission. They were planning to use one but found that the electric motor had more than enough torque. That motor weighs only 70 lbs. The battery pack weighs around 900 lbs. It also cost (this is for the roadster) over $25K. Electricity storage is the biggest engineering challenge we have today. If that can be solved at a reasonable cost, we have the means to do many things that we couldn't do in the past.
ervin0072002, this might not be the battery technology for the grid. There are others. Some of these other technologies will not be appropriate for transportation. Battery technology is a key technology in integrating renewables with our current electric generation systems. Much of the rise in cost of electricity is due to regulation, not problems with the grid. The electric grid is one of the most reliable things in our lives. I am not sure of where your anxiety comes from.
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