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Charging Ahead - To speed along the success of the electric car, improvements in battery...
Reason ^ | May 23, 2011 | Ronald Bailey

Posted on 05/31/2011 7:19:57 PM PDT by neverdem

To speed along the success of the electric car, improvements in battery chemistry will matter as much as the price of oil.

Batteries are now "part of the clean-tech boom, with all the dewy and righteous credibility of thin-film solar and offshore windmills," Seth Fletcher asserts in Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy. Righteous? Surely. Credible? Maybe.

As Mr. Fletcher tells it, the history of batteries over the past 100 years is basically a series of failed efforts to power automobiles, with a recent fruitful detour into electronic gear. For a century we have been trying, with a mix of countless metals and chemicals, to achieve the perfect recipe for converting stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Mr. Fletcher starts with Thomas Edison and ends with the launch of the Chevrolet Volt hybrid and Nissan Leaf all-electric. Mr. Fletcher, a senior editor at Popular Science magazine, observes that Edison launched a car-powering battery in 1903 "with a level of hype and overpromising that would do today's most egregious vaporware vendors proud."

Electric cars in Edison's day cost up to $5,000, which is about $130,000 in today's dollars. That price is not far from the current base price of the all-electric Tesla Motors Roadster at $109,000. In any case, gasoline engines packed a lot more driving punch, and electric cars died out.

Fast-forward to the 1970s, when the Arab oil embargo and the "energy crisis" revived interest in electric cars. Congress even tried to spur development by passing—over President Ford's veto—the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act in 1976. It is startling to be reminded by Mr. Fletcher that, in the 1970s, Exxon commercialized the first rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which can store more energy for their size and weight—and hold a charge longer—than other rechargeables. The company's plan: use the batteries to power electric cars for a market that appeared ready to take off. But then oil prices collapsed, major petroleum reserves were discovered, and Exxon sold off its battery division.

While another electric-car "revolution" quietly died, the personal-electronics revolution took off, and new gadgets like the Sony Walkman needed power. Using American technology, Sony radically improved rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and put them into wide use.

As Mr. Fletcher notes, the next electric-car misfire was GM's EV1, developed in the 1990s in response to California's stringent air-pollution regulations. The EV1, powered by massive lead-acid and nickel-hydride batteries, could go as far as 140 miles on a charge. GM built 800 of the cars, leasing them for $349 a month. But the batteries simply did not store enough energy and cost $40,000 to $50,000. GM lost a billion dollars before canceling the program. The company was excoriated for its decision in the tendentious documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" But that's an easy one: The batteries did it.

As the EV1 was being junked, Toyota launched its Prius hybrid in the U.S. in 2000, a car with a gasoline engine assisted by a nickel-metal-hydride battery. By 2011, Toyota had sold more than a million Priuses in the U.S. In 2003, Silicon Valley mogul Martin Eberhard founded Tesla Motors. His aim: build an all-electric car powered by lithium-ion batteries. Despite the advantages of lithium-ion batteries, Mr. Fletcher observes, car companies had shied away from them because of their tendency to ignite. By 2006, the first Tesla was on the road—without incident. Once lithium-ion batteries had been proved in automobiles, GM launched its own concept car, the Volt.

American drivers suffer from range anxiety—the fear that electric cars will run out of juice and leave them stranded. The Volt was designed to address that concern. It is a hybrid driven by an electric motor, but the batteries can be supplied with electricity from a supplementary gasoline engine. The Volt's all-electric range is about 40 miles, though up to 400 miles using its gasoline engine.

President Barack Obama has set a goal of having a million plug-in hybrids like the Volt on American roads by 2015 and is offering hefty tax credits to buyers. Even more generously, the 2009 stimulus package included $2.4 billion in government subsidies to a plethora of start-up battery companies. We've been here before. Almost every president since Richard Nixon, who launched a program to produce (as he declared) "an unconventionally powered, virtually pollution-free automobile within five years," has tried and failed to spur the development of an alternative-energy car. Will Mr. Obama's push work any better?

Mr. Fletcher does a good job surveying this old-yet-nascent industry in the U.S. But he wonders whether, even with all the federal largess, it will be able to compete with Asian battery giants like Panasonic in Japan, BYD in China, and LG Chem in South Korea. Even GM's Volt is powered with batteries built by an LG Chem subsidiary. Some commentators worry that we're going to replace our dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on foreign batteries—and foreign lithium. Bottled Lightning alleviates at least one worry: By taking us to the salt flats of the "Lithium Triangle" in Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina, Mr. Fletcher shows us the abundance of the metal and puts to rest any fears of "peak lithium."

Mr. Fletcher is in love with the Volt. After a test drive, he gushes: "The car, in short, is fantastic." And it is technically sweet. But at $41,000 per copy, will it interest American drivers? As of this month—with the price of gasoline hovering at $4 a gallon—GM has sold only about 2,000 Volts. Still, most other car makers have jumped on the electric bandwagon. The fate of their gamble depends on improvements in battery chemistry and the price of oil. Most of the clean-tech boom—in solar panels, windmills and other projects—has been fueled by government mandates and billions in subsidies. The boom will no doubt go bust when the taxpayer dollars dry up. But Mr. Fletcher makes a good case that the electric-car trend may soon be able to shed its dubious reputation as a public-private hybrid and roll under its own power.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Editorial; Technical
KEYWORDS: batteries; battery; electriccar; energy
Palin: Eliminate All Energy Subsidies
1 posted on 05/31/2011 7:20:03 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem

It reads just like an article published in 2030.


2 posted on 05/31/2011 7:36:52 PM PDT by umgud
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To: neverdem
The Volt's all-electric range is about 40 miles, though up to 400 miles using its gasoline engine.

So it's just another hybrid.
3 posted on 05/31/2011 7:37:44 PM PDT by Signalman
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To: neverdem

Today Obammy named John Bryson to the position of commerce secretary.

With a little digging I found that Bryson is director of Coda Automotive and further digging found that Henry Paulson is an advisor and investor in Coda Automotive.


4 posted on 05/31/2011 7:40:54 PM PDT by cripplecreek (Remember the River Raisin! (look it up))
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To: neverdem

This what we have to work on!

Vanadium redox battery - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaBoth electrolytes are vanadium based, the electrolyte in the positive half-cells ... When the vanadium battery is charged, the VO2+ ions in the positive ...

Operation - Energy density - Applications - See also
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanadium_redox_battery - Cached - Similar


5 posted on 05/31/2011 7:46:52 PM PDT by WellyP
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To: Signalman

Worse, it is a hybrid whose development cost the taxpayers over $1 billion and yet still costs $41,000, the cost of a low end luxury car.


6 posted on 05/31/2011 7:49:53 PM PDT by Blood of Tyrants (Islam is the religion of Satan and Mohammed was his minion.)
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To: neverdem

Better Batrees.


7 posted on 05/31/2011 8:14:23 PM PDT by headstamp 2 (We live two lives, the life we learn and the life we live with after that.)
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To: Blood of Tyrants

“The car, in short, is fantastic”

He should read the Consumers Report review of the Volt. The report is summarized as “What’s the point?”

Maybe some magical technology will resolve all problems with EV batteries and charging requirements. Maybe pigs will fly someday.


8 posted on 05/31/2011 8:22:14 PM PDT by businessprofessor
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To: neverdem

9 posted on 05/31/2011 8:50:39 PM PDT by razorback-bert (Some days it's not worth chewing through the straps.)
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To: neverdem

Better battery technology hype using the miraculous substance called subsidinium. Technically, moving obamacashons cause a dramatic increase in storage cell capacity just in time for the 2012 elections.


10 posted on 05/31/2011 8:54:39 PM PDT by SpaceBar
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To: neverdem

So where is all this electricity going to come from???


11 posted on 05/31/2011 9:14:34 PM PDT by DB
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To: DB
So where is all this electricity going to come from???

Unicorn fart fired powerplants, silly.
12 posted on 05/31/2011 9:38:20 PM PDT by SpaceBar
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To: Signalman

Supposedly the 40 miles is electric only...if you need more
range the gasoline engine kicks in and recharged the battery
as you drive. Some people claim about 100 miles/gallon(
using a mishmash formula factoring in kw used,and gallons etc)
with both systems running...
I have also heard that the gas engine does give a little
boost to the drive train (so in that case it is a
Prius like hybrid)...but I’m not sure about that.
P.S. I believe it was in about 1978 that Briggs and
Stratton had designed a hybrid car...I remember
seeing an article in an old Popular Science or
Popular Mechanics magazine...


13 posted on 05/31/2011 9:52:12 PM PDT by Getready (Wisdom is more valuable than gold and diamonds, and harder to find.)
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To: wardaddy; Joe Brower; Cannoneer No. 4; Criminal Number 18F; Dan from Michigan; Eaker; Jeff Head; ...
Check "Palin: Eliminate All Energy Subsidies" in comment# 1 on the "Charging Ahead" thread.

Victor Davis Hanson: Why Study War? Military history teaches us about honor, sacrifice, and the inevitability of conflict.

Issa: ‘We do know’ decisions for Gunrunner, Fast and Furious were made in Washington

The Washington Post produces a bigoted editorial against the public’s right to know, if you're a climate skeptic.

Dems figure they can win as 'Party of No'

Some noteworthy articles about politics, foreign or military affairs, IMHO, FReepmail me if you want on or off my list.

14 posted on 05/31/2011 10:29:05 PM PDT by neverdem (Xin loi minh oi)
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To: DB
So where is all this electricity going to come from???

From cheap, renewable sources. /s

15 posted on 05/31/2011 10:33:27 PM PDT by neverdem (Xin loi minh oi)
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To: DB
So where is all this electricity going to come from???

Power plants burning fossil fuels. You know, fossil fuels, the things the envirowhackos think electric cars are replacing. Oh and those electric cars will require the use of fossil fuels during their construction and when they are transported to the dealerships. Pretty sure 18 wheelers aren't electric-powered.

It's a shame that some of the envirowhackos got their panties in a bunch over the problems in Japan and are doing what they can to fight nuclear plants here in the US, but what do they care, as long as they can pretend their precious electric cars aren't directly using fossil fuels.
16 posted on 05/31/2011 10:39:19 PM PDT by af_vet_rr
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Comment #17 Removed by Moderator

To: af_vet_rr

LOL!

My son brought up a few of those points when “alternative energy” was being discussed at his school.

The teacher scowled at him for being right...


18 posted on 05/31/2011 10:48:47 PM PDT by Califreak (I heard Reagan is back and this time he's Jewish...)
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To: DB
*** So where is all this electricity going to come from??? ***

Stop it.
No logical questions are allowed.

19 posted on 06/01/2011 4:35:38 AM PDT by Condor51 (The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits [A.Einstein])
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To: DB
"So where is all this electricity going to come from???"


20 posted on 06/01/2011 4:51:48 AM PDT by DaveTesla (You can fool some of the people some of the time......)
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To: razorback-bert

Is that the Minnow?


21 posted on 06/01/2011 6:05:27 AM PDT by FreedomPoster (Islam delenda est)
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To: neverdem
Funny, I had an original Sony Walkman. It used AA batteries. Reason magazine = epic FAIL once again.
22 posted on 06/01/2011 6:26:48 AM PDT by gogogodzilla (Live free or die!)
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To: af_vet_rr
Power plants burning fossil fuels. You know, fossil fuels, the things the envirowhackos think electric cars are replacing.

If I were in the fossil fuel business, I'd be cackling with glee. They want electric cars which need to be charged - cha-ching. They want to capture carbon emissions from coal, so they'll need to burn more coal to do it - cha-ching. They want to switch everybody to natural gas and increase its use - cha-ching. They want to block all nuclear power development - cha-ching.

Nuclear power went from zero to a huge fraction of global power production practically overnight - that must have driven the fossil-fuel guys totally nuts.

23 posted on 06/01/2011 6:29:52 AM PDT by mvpel (Michael Pelletier)
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To: neverdem

Thanks for the ping!


24 posted on 06/01/2011 6:36:32 AM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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To: neverdem

They never mention how charging an electric car all night
will effect your electric bill, or where you dispose of the
batteries when they no longer hold a charge, or the fact that you will hav eto buy new batteries when the old ones
wear out.


25 posted on 06/01/2011 12:33:27 PM PDT by upcountryhorseman (An old fashioned conservative)
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To: neverdem

They never mention how charging an electric car all night
will effect your electric bill, or where you dispose of the
batteries when they no longer hold a charge, or the fact that you will have to buy new batteries when the old ones
wear out.


26 posted on 06/01/2011 12:33:58 PM PDT by upcountryhorseman (An old fashioned conservative)
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To: neverdem

Time to buy asbestos stock again.

With all these mobile bombs out there, one needs an asbestos garage in which to park and charge them.


27 posted on 06/01/2011 1:03:56 PM PDT by editor-surveyor (Going 'EGYPT' - 2012!)
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