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What holds Energy Tech back ?

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#1 Hum

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 01:10

WASHINGTON (AP) — As 21st century technology strains to become ever faster, cleaner and cheaper, an invention from more than 200 years ago keeps holding it back. It's why electric cars aren't clogging the roads and why Boeing's new ultra-efficient 787 Dreamliners aren't flying high.

And chances are you have this little invention next to you right now and probably have cursed it recently: the infernal battery.

Boeing is the first company to make extensive use in an airliner of technology's most advanced battery — lithium ion. But a Jan. 7 battery fire aboard a Dreamliner in Boston, followed by a similar meltdown in Japan, led authorities around the world to ground the fleet this month, highlighting a longstanding safety problem that engineers have struggled with.

In 2006 and 2007, more than 46 million cellphone batteries and 10 million laptop batteries — all lithium ion — were recalled because of the risk of overheating, short-circuiting and exploding. Additional safety features have been installed since then on lithium ion batteries used in consumer electronics.

As for the electric car industry, lithium ion batteries have proved to have two major drawbacks: They are costly, and they do not allow automobiles to go far enough between rechargings. A123, a maker of lithium ion batteries for electric cars, went bankrupt last year because of poor demand and high costs after receiving a $249 million federal grant.

Lithium ion batteries, which store more energy at a higher voltage and a lighter weight than earlier types, represent the most recent big jump in battery technology. And that took place nearly a quarter of a century ago.

"We need to leapfrog the engineering of making of batteries," said Lawrence Berkeley National Lab battery scientist Vince Battaglia. "We've got to find the next big thing."

But none of the 10 experts who talked to The Associated Press said they know what that big thing will be yet, or when it will come.

"If you crack it ... it'll change the world," said Carnegie Mellon University materials science professor Jay Whitacre.

Batteries are so crucial to a greener energy future that the Obama administration has spent more than $2 billion to jump-start the advanced battery industry, including setting up what some experts say is a mini-Manhattan Project for batteries.

To make the next breakthrough, researchers will have to master complex chemistry, expensive manufacturing, detailed engineering, a variety of different materials, lengthy testing, stringent safety standards and giant cost problems. It involves dealing with liquids and solids, metals and organic chemicals, and things that are in between, said Glenn Amatucci, director of the Energy Storage Research Group at Rutgers University.

"We're dealing with a system that you can imagine is almost alive. It's almost breathing," Amatucci said. "Trying to understand what's happening within these batteries is incredibly complex."

One reason the battery is the slowpoke of the high-tech highway is that it has conflicting functions. Its primary job is to store energy. But it's also supposed to discharge power, lots of it, quickly. Those two jobs are at odds with each other.

"If you want high storage, you can't get high power," said M. Stanley Whittingham, director of the Northeast Center for Chemical Energy Storage. "People are expecting more than what's possible."

On the commercial market, lithium ion batteries are generally ones small enough to fit into cellphones. But to power bigger items — from a Prius to a 787 — they get grouped together, increasing the juice they store and provide. That also increases the safety risk, experts say. The lithium ion battery that caught fire in a Boeing 787 weighed 63 pounds and was 19 inches long.

"You can't get around the fundamental thing is that lithium ion batteries are stuffed full of flammable liquid," Whitacre said.

Even one-in-a-million problems with lithium ion batteries can result in many fires because there are billions of them in use now, with dozens sometimes stacked together in a single device.

Experts say lithium ion batteries are more dangerous because their electrolyte, the liquid that allows ions to move between electrodes in the battery, is more flammable than the substance in older type batteries. Those older types include the lead-acid batteries in most cars and the nickel cadmium batteries that are often in video equipment and power tools.

Still, MIT materials science and engineering professor Gerbrand Ceder and others said the safety problems can be fixed.

Change doesn't come often in the battery field.

"The big advances in battery technology happen rarely. It's been more than 200 years and we have maybe five different successful rechargeable batteries," said George Blomgren, a former senior technology researcher at Eveready and now a private battery consultant. "It's frustrating."

Alessandro Volta — for whom the volt is named — invented the first useful battery in 1800. That was long before other breakthrough inventions like the internal combustion engine, telephone, car, airplane, transistor, computer and Internet. But all of those developments have seemed to evolve faster than the simple battery.

The lead-acid car battery "has been around for 150 years more or less," Whitacre said. "This is a remarkable testament to first how robust that chemistry is and how difficult change is."

Battery experts are split over what's next. Some think the lithium ion battery can be tinkered with to get major efficiency and storage improvements. Amatucci said he thinks we can get two to three times more energy out of future lithium ion batteries, while others said minor chemical changes can do even more.

But just as many engineers say the lithium ion battery has run its course.

"With the materials in the current lithium ion battery, we are definitely plateaued," Blomgren said. "We're waiting for something to come along that really does the job."

There are all sorts of new type batteries being worked on: lithium-air, lithium-sulfur, magnesium, sodium-ion.

"Right now it's a horse race," Blomgren said. "There's deficiencies in every technology that's out there. Each one of them requires a major solution."

One of the nation's best hopes for a breakthrough, said Battaglia, is John Goodenough, the man responsible for the 1979 breakthrough that led the first commercial lithium ion battery in 1991. He will receive the National Medal of Science at the White House next month.

Goodenough is 90.

"I'm working on it," Goodenough, an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said Tuesday. "I'm optimistic in a sense that I'm willing to keep working on it. I think we can do some interesting things."

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#2 xendrome

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 01:13

Physics?

#3 I8PP

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 01:19

Stonecutters?

#4 Growled

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 01:20

We need another Nikola Tesla with his idea of wireless electricity.

#5 OP Hum

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 01:32

Eveready and Duracell will not be pleased.

#6 tuckeratlarge

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 19:27

The oil companies are holding battery tech back. Actually, not holding back more buying up all the tech that could threaten their business model.

Any tech that could replace petrol in cars is going to get bought up and sat on until the oil runs out.

Any battery tech not specifically designed for cars can be put to use on automotive tech. So even if a company or individual develops a battery that powers a smart phone for 20 days full use it still gets suppressed.

It is the same with solar panels. There is a way to make solar panels the size of a car roof that powers the car for all day and with the right battery tech, all night. No way will that see the light of day for he foreseeable future. Further, the gas and electricity companies don't want you to have solar panels on your roof that powers your house for ever.

#7 Astra.Xtreme

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 19:35

Energy tech is slow because ROI (return on investment) is really slow. If a new battery could last twice as long as current ones, or a car could get twice the mileage as current ones, it would be worth the investment. But new tech isn't offering that drastic of improvements, so the high cost of new tech isn't worth it. Changing infrastructure is insanely expensive and slow, so the only way to upgrade to something new is for the savings to be seen almost immediately.

That's what's holding energy tech back. And the deep-down cause of most of it is physics.

#8 -Razorfold

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 19:43

The oil companies are holding battery tech back. Actually, not holding back more buying up all the tech that could threaten their business model.

No it's more like battery tech is pathetic as it is. It simply isn't the future, sorry.

Batteries cost a fortune and they offer mediocre gains year after year.

Any tech that could replace petrol in cars is going to get bought up and sat on until the oil runs out.

Actually the tech to replace petrol is already out there in certain parts of the world.

Honda, Benz, BMW, Hyundai, VW, Fiat, Nissan, Audi and Mazda all have / are testing fuel cell cars in various parts of the world. California has hydrogen filling stations in certain cities, and I'm sure other parts of the world have them too.

If you have the money and you're lucky you can lease a Honda Clarity FCX in california for $600 a month (and that includes insurance against any accidents / malfunctions). Toyota and Benz both plan to make their fuel cell cars commercially available for around $50k in 2014/2015.

Technically these cars are electric and are powered by an electric motor. But instead of having to charge them for 10+ hours every night so you can go 50 miles the next day all you do is take it to a hydrogen fueling station, fill it up in 3 mins and continue on your way. Just like the cars of today.

And before you claim that will never happen because oil companies will suppress it. Guess who owns the hydrogen filling stations in California?

Posted Image

It's Royal Dutch Shell. A massive oil company.

#9 PGHammer

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 19:46

No it's more like battery tech is pathetic as it is. It simply isn't the future, sorry.

Batteries cost a fortune and they offer mediocre gains year after year.


Actually the tech to replace petrol is already out there in certain parts of the world.

Honda, Benz, BMW, Hyundai, VW, Fiat, Nissan, Audi and Mazda all have / are testing fuel cell cars in various parts of the world. California has hydrogen filling stations in certain cities, and I'm sure other parts of the world have them too.

If you have the money and you're lucky you can lease a Honda Clarity FCX in california for $600 a month (and that includes insurance against any accidents / malfunctions). Toyota and Benz both plan to make their fuel cell cars commercially available for around $50k in 2014/2015.

Technically these cars are electric and are powered by an electric motor. But instead of having to charge them for 10+ hours every night so you can go 50 miles the next day all you do is take it to a hydrogen fueling station, fill it up in 3 mins and continue on your way. Just like the cars of today.

And before you claim that will never happen because oil companies will suppress it. Guess who owns the hydrogen filling stations in California?

Posted Image

It's Royal Dutch Shell. A massive oil company.


And how much did RDS get reimbursed to install the infrastructure for hydrogen in California?

Why do you think that propane/LNG/CNG (all far older technologies than hydrogen - and all related) - a relative bargain given current natural-gas prices compared to gasoline, let alone diesel fuel - has gone exactly nowhere outside of - of all places - military fleet usage? (Joint Forces Base Andrews is one of the cleanest - in terms of emissions - military bases around, and it;s far from small. The home of Air Force One runs over HALF their fleet of vehicles on CNG - including three-fourths that would ordinarily be powered by diesel, such as military ambulances and fire trucks.)

Hydrogen fueling faces that same obstacle - even worse, there IS no network of LH pipelines crisscrossing the US - which certainly is not the case with natural gas - which can use the existing pipeline network; yet propane and natural-gas fueling (outside of the military and large fleets) has been a non-starter despite being around (dating back to propane) half my lifetime or longer.

#10 DocM

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 10:44

Several Meijer hypermarkets in the Detroit area have natural gas in their filling stations. This makes tons more sense than an H2 infrastructure because of how H2 effects pipelines and other equipment - its molecules are so tiny as to penetrate the structures and degrade them.

With their new EV sedan Tesla has started building high-speed solar charging stations up & down California. While unused they feed the grid, and when charging a vehicle both the grid and solar panels feed the car. They're sized to he net energy-positive, producing more power than used, which pays for the hardware and Tesla owners can recharge their vehicles for free.

#11 +zhiVago

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 10:51

What holds Energy Tech back ?


- Greed
- Conflict of the interests

The oil companies hold patents that are key to the development of alternative to oil energy sources.

#12 DocM

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 11:46

- Greed
- Conflict of the interests


Physics, materials science, the laws of economics.......

The oil companies hold patents that are key to the development of alternative to oil energy sources.


Actually, most of the really useful patents are held by DoE and several universities like MIT, C-M etc.

Theory is great & makes fun headlines, but making these techs production ready, economically sound, developing the infrastructure and evading the usual 'Not In My Back Yard' is much, much harder. Some of the worst NIMBY's are environmental groups.

#13 Teebor

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 12:00

Physics, materials science, the laws of economics.......


I seriously doubt that we have or are near the limits.

For example many years ago there was a technology announced that was going to allow you to charge a mobile phone in a couple of minutes for a full charge that would last all day.
The technology for that involved the arrangement of cells inside a battery iir that allowed for more efficient charging.
Whatever happened to that? Shouldn't we have seen that by now?

#14 Shaun N.

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 12:02

Large companies that pull alot of strings hold the world back, they don't want the money going anywhere else

#15 +zhiVago

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 12:31

Physics, materials science, the laws of economics.......


There was an American inventor who created a method to retrofit all cars so they could run on water.

The man was poisoned and all his work was discredited.

http://www.dispatch....A1_4V77MOK.html

http://en.wikipedia....water_fuel_cell