Anyone knowledgeable on energy storage technology who gives advice on
investing in, say, copper, might be wondering about future advances in
No one can predict names, dates or improvements but time-profiles of
the most plausible developments may be useful.
Fix cost/watt-hr and plot energy density vs time.
Fix efficiency and plot cost-watt-hr vs. time.
and so on.
Since the first battery prototype developed in the late 19th century,
the basic battery design has not changed significantly; only the
chemistries have evolved. Introduction of new chemistry composition,
such as lithium ion, has improved battery life but has not solved the
demand. In fact, for most batteries, it is believed that they have been
optimized to reach their maximum output and lifespan. This especially
applies to primary batteries and nickel cadmium (NiCd) batteries.
Conventional batteries are falling behind the demand for more battery
"juice". It does not appear, however, that the lithium-ion battery has
reached its maximum charge limit. Recent announcements by Sony and
Matsushita (which makes Panasonic batteries) claim to have improved the
life of the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery by up to 30%.
To date, there have been no revolutionary advancements in battery
design, but this may soon change with the introduction of the micro fuel
cell battery. In recent years there has been a flurry of activity as the
battery industry focuses its research efforts on the micro fuel cell.
The fuel cell shows promise in being able to deliver higher energies
over a longer period of time. Instead of hoping for a laptop that stays
charged for eight hours, fuel cell proponents are hoping that battery
life can increase two to ten fold. It is estimated that more than 60
companies are competing to develop the micro fuel cell battery,
including IBM, Motorola, Toshiba and NEC.
Getting the grid entirely on solar and wind seems somewhat less
If it actually cycles 40K times then it can cost an order of magnitude
more/charge and still be competitive for some applications, stationary
energy storage, semi-trolly buses and tractors.
Even sharing a commuter vehicle with with a quarter ton battery that
needs to be recharged every 200 miles would be preferable to many
There's also this company with their silver-zinc battery technology:
The only thing I know for sure is that they're close to where I live. I
don't like going into Camarillo, because every time I do, I start singing
the song Camarillo Brillo by Frank Zappa.
"She had a snake for a pet, and an amulet, and she was breeding a dwarf, but
it wasn't done, yet. She had grey-green skin ... a doll with a pin. I told
her she was alright, but I couldn't come in."
See what I mean?
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On Sun, 17 Aug 2008 07:58:23 -0700 (PDT), Bret Cahill
Batteries must haul around both chemical reactants, and the resulting
waste products. Both electrodes must be electrically conductive, which
is chemically tricky... metals don't react well with other metals.
So far, all batteries eventually destroy themselves.
What's even worse, batteries must be recharged electrically; bummer.
The thin film people claim they can cycle 40K losing only 5% of
What's worse is they destroy themselves. The electricity is less than
half the cost of the battery over it's lifetime.
Even a low efficiency energy storage system that can cycle an order or
magnitude or more than conventional batteries could be more cost
Anyway all this dodges the issue:
What are some plausible battery breakthrough scenarios?
Or is the field dead?
There seem to be moderate improvements with some breakthroughs in all important
aspects of rechargeable batteries : energy density,
power density, (deep) cycle life, cycle efficiency, cost, safety etc. But it's
nothing like what Moore's law does in
When thinking about future battery developments, one interesting fact stands out
like a sore :
The actual energy density obtained for packaged batteries today is FAR lower
than the theoretical specific energy density !
I've long scratched my head why that is. This site talks about that difference
I can understand that container, electrode support, connectors, diluted
electrolyte, unreacted materials etc would reduce the
capacity to 75% or so of theoretical.
But it's much worse than that. Most types get only 15-25% of their theoretical
For example, molten salt Na-NiCl2 cells (ZEBRAs) used to be spec'ed at 90 Wh/kg,
recently enhanced by MESA to 120 Wh/kg.
A moderate improvement, similar to what we see with development of other battery
In contrast, the theoretical energy density of a Na-NiCl2 cell is 790 Wh/kg.
790 Wh/kg !!!! That is some 5-6 times higher than current best Li-ion's !!
ZEBRAs are made from very cheap materials : Nickel and NaCl (table salt) and a
little bit of aluminum (at the basics).
So just imagine if we could make a ZEBRA that gets even HALF of its theoretical
Combined with a reasonable power-density and good cycle lifetime, that would
completely change (read 'solve') the economics of
battery driven vehicles.
It would open up a multi-billion dollar market ! Talking about incentives !
This brings up an interesting issue : Reducing the 'inactive' material in
rechargeable batteries is an engineering task, and not a
task that requires scientific breakthroughs.
So, for future developments, I expect gradual improvement of existing battery
types over time as engineers find more optimal ways to
make the chemistry work with less and less inactive material in the cell.
From an investment point of view, Lithium (metal) is probably the safest bet to
invest in (or buy lithium carbonate futures if they
Once we start using Lithium for hybrids/PHEVs in large volume, the price of
Lithium will likely go through the roof rather fast.
Even without Lithium cells used for hybrids, the world's 'easily harvested'
Lithium supplies are pretty limited, and could even be
peaking pretty soon, and that is why I don't believe that large-scale use of
Lithium-ion for electric drive vehicles is smart. But
as an investment it should be (pretty succesfull).
My 2 cts
I don't think I want to drive a car that's lugging around a hundred
kilograms of liquid sodium at 300C or so. Or wait two days or so for
it to warm up. Or wait a couple of hours to recharge it.
It's admittedly a little more appealing than a sodium-sulphur battery.
Gasoline-powered cars work great, and don't need to be fixed. As the
price of gas goes up, people will be discouraged from driving hideous
beasts like Expeditions and Escalades and Ram trucks; fine by me.
My point was about battery development in general ; that engineering has a lot
of room to play with until theoretical limits are
obtained in current cell chemistries.
Your comment is specifically on the Zebra, but seems rather uninformed.
But since you brought it up, here goes :
The Zebra has been tested by NREL and found to be safe under all fail conditions
Regarding the liquid sodium : Noone (including NREL) has been able to rapture
the cell and get liquid sodium out.
The explanation : the sodium will immediately react with the clorine ions when
the cell is ruptured, creating....NaCl (table salt).
On warming up : Only needed if the battery cooled down all the way AND there is
no auxilary power unit in the vehicle.
On recharge : Mostly 'recharge' is considered a benefit of batteries. Remember
Sodium-sulphur had serious safety issues, so I agree.
I don't think you are getting this. Where is your embargo?
At that, debt/gdb was quit different and that embargo ended with a lot
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