Lithium, Timing, Bolivia, Socialist Dreams

Every technology has a ‘shelf life’. Some are longer than others. The shelf life of “8 Track Tape” was fairly short (though perhaps not as short as Betamax Tape). Silver based photography ruled for nearly 180 year (from about 1820 to near 2000) and has now nearly died in a puff of digital smoke… and with it, the demand for silver took a big hit.

So now we come to the Green Dream of a world driven by electric cars, with lithium ion batteries in them.

Folks all over the world are madly looking for Lithium Mines. These tend to be located in dry lake beds behind mountain ranges. There are not very many places in the world where, for thousands of years, just enough rain has fallen to wash lithium from the mountains, down the backside into broad shallow pans, and with just the right differential evaporation to concentrate the Lithium salts in one part, the other salts in another part. One of them is Bolivia.

Bolivia has recently elected a very socialist oriented government. They have spent a lot of time sitting on one of the worlds largest lithium reserves. Demanding that the evil capitalists give them a giant payment for this resource. Demanding that exorbitant development costs for the country be born by the evil foreigners, the greedy capitalists… Planning how to build their Socialist Dream on the foundation of these salty sands.

This “Times” article spells it out:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1872561,00.html

For Lithium Car Batteries, Bolivia Is in the Driver’s Seat
[…]
But at Detroit’s International Auto Show this month, the excitement surrounding the Big Three’s announcements that they’re shifting from gasoline to voltage has been tempered by another realization: most of the lithium used to make the batteries for those cars is found in Bolivia, whose leftist President isn’t too fond of the U.S.
[…]
Small, impoverished Bolivia, in fact, is the Saudi Arabia of lithium. It’s home to 73 million metric tons of lithium carbonate, more than half the world’s supply. The largest single deposit is the Salar de Uyuni, a vast, 4,085-square-mile (6,575-sq-km) salt desert in the southern Potosi region that is also one of Bolivia’s biggest tourist attractions.

President Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous head of state, prides himself on state control over natural resources he nationalized the country’s (massive natural gas reserves in 2006). If the past is any indication, electric carmakers should look to the Andes with sober eyes. “This is a unique opportunity for us,” says Bolivian Mining Minister Luis Alberto Echazu. “The days of U.S. car companies buying cheap raw materials to sell expensive cars are over.” Indeed, Bolivia’s lithium abundance could put car manufacturers in the position of replacing one energy-rich Latin American U.S. critic — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — with another.

and this article from The New York Times is similar:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/03/world/americas/03lithium.html

In Bolivia, Untapped Bounty Meets Nationalism
[…]
Japanese and European companies are busily trying to strike deals to tap the resource, but a nationalist sentiment about the lithium is building quickly in the government of President Evo Morales, an ardent critic of the United States who has already nationalized Bolivia’s oil and natural gas industries.
[…]
None of this is dampening efforts by foreigners, including the Japanese conglomerates Mitsubishi and Sumitomo and a group led by a French industrialist, Vincent Bolloré. In recent months all three have sent representatives to La Paz, the capital, to meet with Mr. Morales’s government about gaining access to the lithium, a critical component for the batteries that power cars and other electronics.

“There are salt lakes in Chile and Argentina, and a promising lithium deposit in Tibet, but the prize is clearly in Bolivia,” Oji Baba, an executive in Mitsubishi’s Base Metals Unit, said in La Paz. “If we want to be a force in the next wave of automobiles and the batteries that power them, then we must be here.”

I even wrote an article that pointed out this bind, and that suggested we really ought to just turn our massive coal reserves into “oil products” as South Africa does, rather than sign on to yet another Socialist Dictator and yet another single country dominated resource.

https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/lithium-electric-cars-and-bolivian-socialists/

And that is the Achilles’ Heel of the electric car movement. They can only be built at a slow rate in proportion with the global supply of those two metals or they will run into the inelastic supply curve of those metals. When excess demand meets inelastic supply, prices rise dramatically. This will “rate limit” the introduction of electric cars on a global basis. The only way out of this problem is to build many more and larger mines. Not exactly the darling of the same environmentalists who insist that the electric car will save the planet. Oh, and what do we do if Bolivia says that they do not want to dig up all the lithium at that rate?

The “two metals” were lithium and copper.

This Wall Street Week article even called it “peak lithium”

http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/02/03/peak-lithium-will-supply-fears-drive-alternative-batteries/

Peak Lithium: Will Supply Fears Drive Alternative Batteries?

By Keith Johnson

Saudis like to say that the stone age didn’t end for a lack of stones. But could a lack of lithium end the electric car age before it begins?

“Peak lithium” is back in focus, as the New York Times looks at Bolivia’s quest to cash in on the world’s biggest reserves of lithium, a key component in batteries. Simply put, global automakers and battery makers need to ensure a steady supply of lithium to power the expected electric-car revolution, but Bolivia’s populist government and its embrace of resource nationalism raises a lot of concerns about access to the country’s mineral wealth. TIME recently did a big takeout on Bolvia’s lithium, too.

Concerns about global supplies of lithium are a lot like the debate over peak oil. Some experts believe the huge increase in electric cars will actually strain the world’s lithium supplies in a few years; as with peak oil, “above-ground” factors like Bolivia’s politics may be just as critical as geology.
[…]
So what’s the alternative? Skip lithium altogether. Just as thin-film solar-power companies gained in appeal when global polysilicon supplies were tight, batteries that use materials other than lithium are gaining attention now. “Forward-thinking automakers will aggressively pursue alternative chemistries. As auto manufacturers come to terms with limited lithium supplies, they will increasingly consider alternative chemistries like zinc-air or other batteries made from more abundant elements,” Lux said in the report.

Toyota started researching a zinc-air battery, initially out of safety concerns (lithium-ion batteries sometimes explode). Germay’s RWE recently poured more research money into zinc-air batteries, too. Zinc-air and other metal-air batteries sidestep the lithium supply issue.

But if alternative batteries are still in the lab, that’s because they face a host of hurdles lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydrate batteries don’t share. Most importantly, zinc-air batteries aren’t rechargable and have a short lifespan—crucial negatives for the auto market. Some alternative batteries suffer from other shortcomings, too, including weight. That will leave lithium and existing nickel-metal batteries to share the global market in coming years, Lux figures.

But I fixated on the same chemistries. Things like zinc-air and aluminum-air and the problems with heated sulphur batteries.

But Things Change

I’d figured that the LiIon battery probably had a very long shelf life. It’s made with one of the lightest metals on the planet, and with one of the highest electrical potentials in its ions. It would take a lot of work to find a suitable alternative. Though, in honesty, I did wonder about sodium and potassium as similar metals in the same column of the periodic table of the elements and why there were not batteries made with them? I figured they had been tried, as an obvious alternative, and discarded for some reason.

It turns out, I ought to have thought about that a bit longer…

In this article, I looked at Lithium as a traded metal, and used it has an example in reading trading charts. It trades at fairly high prices, especially compared to things like potassium and sodium.

https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/lithium-example/

Here are two charts of a relatively new ETF, one that trades Lithium as a basket of miners.

That ETF, ticker “LIT”, has stocks in it that do the actual mining of lithium. From

Top 10 Holdings (91.97% of Total Assets)	 
Company	                        Symbol	% Assets
Sociedad Quimica y Minera S.A. 	SQM	24.52
FMC Corporation Common Stock	FMC	19.30
AVALON RARE METALS INC.	        AVL.TO	10.51
Rockwood Holdings, Inc. Common 	ROC	8.88
Exide Technologies	        XIDE	5.66
SAFT GPE 	                SAFT.PA	5.25
	                        6764	4.79
	                        CLQMF.TO 4.60
	                        6674	4.48
	                        6764	3.98

Some of these, like SQM and FMC, mine more than just lithium. Others are small miners who may be more focused, but also less known.

At present, the price of a pound of lithium is about $28. See:

http://www.metalprices.com/FreeSite/metals/li/li.asp

for current quotes.

Another Way

Seems that other folks, too, were looking at the periodic chart. As I’d looked a the question of chemistry of LENR cells I ran into the idea of hydrogen “intercalated” in a metal lattice and they pointed out that other ions did this with graphite. Specifically, Lithium in a lithium ion battery. And that Potassium and Sodium would do this too. Well, if they do that too, they ought to make a battery too… and with nearly no effort (once I bothered to think “perhaps it CAN be done”) I found the “Potassium Ion Battery”.

I was familiar with “intercalated” as a term of art from calendars ( it is the process of stuffing in odd days to make the months and years work… like leap year). Guess all that time looking at Stonehenge and sundials has had SOME benefit ;-) In chemistry it has a related meaning:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intercalation_(chemistry)

Materials science

Many layered solids intercalate guest molecules. A famous example is the intercalation of potassium into graphite. Intercalation expands the “van der Waals gap” between sheets, which requires energy. Usually this energy is supplied by charge transfer between the guest and the host solid, i.e., redox. Aside from graphite, well-known intercalation hosts are the layered dichalcogenides such as tantalum disulfide and iron oxychloride. In characteristic manner, intercalation is analyzed by X-ray diffraction, since the spacing between sheets increases, and by electrical conductivity, since charge transfer alters the number of charge carriers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_ion

During charging, an external electrical power source (the charging circuit) applies a higher voltage (but of the same polarity) than that produced by the battery, forcing the current to pass in the reverse direction. The lithium ions then migrate from the positive to the negative electrode, where they become embedded in the porous electrode material in a process known as intercalation.
[…]
The three primary functional components of a lithium-ion battery are the anode, cathode, and electrolyte. The anode of a conventional lithium-ion cell is made from carbon, the cathode is a metal oxide, and the electrolyte is a lithium salt in an organic solvent.

The most commercially popular anode material is graphite. The cathode is generally one of three materials: a layered oxide (such as lithium cobalt oxide), a polyanion (such as lithium iron phosphate), or a spinel (such as lithium manganese oxide).

The electrolyte is typically a mixture of organic carbonates such as ethylene carbonate or diethyl carbonate containing complexes of lithium ions. These non-aqueous electrolytes generally use non-coordinating anion salts such as lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6), lithium hexafluoroarsenate monohydrate (LiAsF6), lithium perchlorate (LiClO4), lithium tetrafluoroborate (LiBF4), and lithium triflate (LiCF3SO3).
[…]
The reversible intercalation in graphite and intercalation into cathodic oxides was also already discovered in the 1970s by J.O. Besenhard at TU Munich. He also proposed the application as high energy density Lithium cells

Primary lithium batteries in which the anode is made from metallic lithium pose safety issues. As a result, lithium-ion batteries were developed in which both anode and cathode are made of a material containing lithium ions. In 1981, Bell Labs developed a workable graphite anode to provide an alternative to the lithium metal battery. Following cathode research performed by a team led by John Goodenough, in 1991 Sony released the first commercial lithium-ion battery. Their cells used layered oxide chemistry, specifically lithium cobalt oxide.

The article goes on to explore many variations possible on the chemistry. The only critical material in limited supply or with few options is the Lithium.

So about that “potassium” alternative:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium-ion_battery

That wiki doesn’t say much. Here is the entire text of the body:

Potassium battery or potassium-ion battery was first invented by the American/Iranian chemist, Ali Eftekhari, in 2004 as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries. The battery uses Prussian blue as the cathode material for its stability, the prototype could be successfully used for millions of cycles. The prototype was made of KBF4 electrolyte though almost all common electrolyte salts of lithium batteries (their potassium salts) can be used for the construction of potassium battery. The potassium battery designed had some valuable advantages in comparison with similar lithium batteries: the cell design is simple, and both the material used and the procedure needed for the cell fabrication are cheaper. The chemical diffusion coefficient of K+ in the cell is higher than that of Li+ in lithium batteries, which is due to a smaller Stoke’s radius of K+ in electrolyte solution (solvated ions).

Since the electrochemical potential of K+ is identical to that of Li+, the cell potential is similar to that of lithium-ion. Potassium batteries can accept a wide range of cathode materials with excellent rechargeability, cheaper materials, etc. A noticeable advantage of potassium battery is the availability of Potassium graphite, which is used as an anode material in current Lithium-ion_battery. Its stable structure guarantees a reversible intercalation/de-intercalation of potassium ions during the charging/discharging process.

A potassium battery that uses molten electrolyte of KPF6 was patented.. China’s Starsway Electronics marketed the first potassium battery-powered PMP as a high energy device.

PMP is “portable media player”.

While I’ve not found a current vendor, and these folks look to have failed to beat Apple in the PMP market (even with a cheaper battery), once a chemistry is known, it tends not to be forgotten.

In Conclusion

I have no idea why we are not already seeing a flood of Potassium-Ion batteries onto the market. It looks to me like the chemistry is well understood and there does not look to be any significant manufacturing hurdle. All I can figure is that it takes a long time to go from ‘just invented’ to ‘in your hand’ and it’s “in process” somewhere. Either that, or the Lithium Industry is slowing it down with the usual tricks of patent suits, buying up companies and shelving them, committing merger, or price predation. (It is also possible they are just not willing to pay the royalties asked by the inventor and are inventing other chemistries to bypass his patents or just waiting out the patent clock.)

What is very clear, though, is that the “self life” of Lithium is far more limited that I’d originally expected, the alternatives are clearly in existence and cheap, and that any Socialist Utopia built on the sands of Lithium will be rapidly eroded by a Potassium salt flood…

Or, perhaps, a sodium ion flood…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium-ion_battery

Sodium-ion batteries are a type of reusable battery that uses sodium-ions as a way to store power in a compact system. This type of battery is still in a developmental phase but is forecasted to be a cheaper, more durable way to store energy than commonly used lithium-ion batteries. Unlike sodium-sulfur batteries, sodium ion batteries can be made portable and are able to work at room temperature (approx. 25˚C).
[…]
A sodium ion battery stores energy in chemical bonds in its cathode. When the battery is charging Na+ ions intercolate or migrate towards the interior of the battery where the cathode is.

(I think the wiki writer needs to learn that it’s “intercalate” not “intercolate” ;-)

But they still have a bit of work to do to make the “millions of cycles” of the potassium cell:

A normal sodium cell voltage is 3.6 volts and is able to maintain 115 mA·hr g-1 after 50 cycles. Which means the battery approximately has a storage capacity of 400 W·hr kg-1 Yet, sodium-ion batteries are still unable to maintain a strong charge after repeated charge and discharge. After 50 cycles most sodium-ion batteries tend to store about 50% of original capacity. Researchers are now looking at different anode and cathode materials that will allow a sodium cell to maintain its original charge.

Na/NaxC6

In 1999, D.A. Stevens and J.R. Dahn were the first to test a new anode material made of carbons, (NaxC6). They found the average voltage on the low potential platau was higher on the Na cells compared to the Li cells. They also showed a glucose precursor can be used to make carbon meterials with a high reversable capacity.

NaV1−xCrxPO4F

This type of sodium-ion battery was tested by Haitao Zhuoa, Xianyou Wanga, Anping Tanga, Zhiming Liua, Sergio Gamboab and P.J. Sebastianb. They found that through the reaction:
NaF + (1−x)VPO4 + xCrPO4 → NaV1−xCrxPO4F
the introduction of the Cr helped the battery retain more energy through cycles of charge and discharge. The chart below (from their study) shows the differences between the battery with and without Cr.

The chart has one cell with a 91% capacity after 20 cycles. Quite livable for many uses.

Ov course, you could just replace lithium in half of the cell and still cut the demand dramatically:

Na2FePO4F

In 2007 researchers B. L. Ellis, W. R. M. Makahnouk, Y. Makimura, K. Toghill, and L. F. Nazar tested Na2FePO4F and Li2FePO4F cathode materials in rechargeable batteries along with a mixture of the two cathode materials. They found the sodium iron phosphate cathode easily replaces a lithium iron phosphate in a Li cell. The combined lithium-ion and sodium-ion make up would lower the overall price of the battery.

Ah, “scarcity” going down in flames… Love the smell of “resource substitution” in the morning…

LIT LIthium ETF / Miners fund

LIT LIthium ETF / Miners fund

I think it’s time for cup of coffee #2… or maybe I’ll have tea this time ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Economics - Trading - and Money, Political Current Events and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Lithium, Timing, Bolivia, Socialist Dreams

  1. It used to be that the market fixed stupidity, one way or the other.

    Now, increasingly, the UN (or the IMF) step in to attempt to protect people from stupidity.

    We have free-market-hating people who nevertheless need that market to feed their opportunism, and can only complain to the extent that they must work to earn the world’s trust, and its business. The problem is, there is someone for them to complain to.

    Is the replacing of free markets with quasi-world-government intervention a new sort of resource substitution?

    I think that it is disastrous, and that the UN and company should be subjected to a little free-market natural selection themselves. Let them try to sell their ideas to the US in the open.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  2. PhilJourdan says:

    It has probably not been replaced (Lithium) because so far Boliva’s threats are empty. Should a shortage occur and Morales continue with irrational demands, the market will change on a dime because alternatives do exist. I remember 20 years ago going to a CNA meeting (network engineers) and being shown the wonders of a new “Lithium Ion” battery. It was awesome in specs (if not in size – it was the size of a brief case).

    You are very correct in the short shelf life of technology. Want some old SIMMs or DIMMs?

  3. Richard Ilfeld says:

    The market is far broader than just choosing electrolytes, is it not? The energy density of carbon fuels remains a physical property is spite of being despised by religious greens, and economics has a way of trumping religious proscriptions historically, though it takes some time. I’m guessing that experience with early electric vehicles compared with the cars we are used to will lead to changed minds. Small wager. The government will add a lot of electric vehicles to its fleets. After a while the usage and preference data will leak out. The electrics will be parking lot queens!

  4. Mike Jonas says:

    It looks like the rest of the world may be managing to produce more than enough Lithium, and can safely ignore Bolivia. I have always found information on Li supply/demand/price/etc difficult to find, but this Nov 2009 article (which I assume to be translated from Chinese)
    http://lqbatteryshop.bloggum.com/post/lithium-battery-revolution.html
    seems to say there is a Li oversupply into the foreseeable future. [See the paras about halfway down from “Unfortunately, the current global lithium carbonate production capacity excesses. ” to “So, hybrid cars lithium carbonate scheme to solve the oversupply problem?”]

    Note also that the article says “China’s lithium reserves second only to Chile and Argentina” – who cares about Bolivia?

    Regarding the competing technologies : I believe I am right in saying that the crucial factor re electric vehicles is the recharging life of the battery (for how long can it sustain being recharged), and that this tends to be much more important than the cost of the cathode(?) material.

    There’s some quite good info about Li in this producer’s website:
    http://www.orocobre.com.au/Lithium_Market.htm
    The company, like many others, is not in your ETF, I think. Being a Li producer, it will naturally like statistics showing high demand.

  5. boballab says:

    EM:

    You might be interested in the new battery design that MIT came up with: Semi Solid Flow Cells.

    New battery design could give electric vehicles a jolt
    Significant advance in battery architecture could be breakthrough for electric vehicles and grid storage.

    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/flow-batteries-0606.html

    The paper the article is based on:

    Semi-Solid Lithium Rechargeable Flow Battery
    Mihai Duduta, Bryan Ho, Vanessa C. Wood, Pimpa Limthongkul,
    Victor E. Brunini, W. Craig Carter, Yet-Ming Chiang

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aenm.201100152/pdf

  6. Roger Sowell says:

    “It is also possible they are just not willing to pay the royalties asked by the inventor. . .”

    That could be the case, but typically an inventor can only obtain 2 or 3 percent of gross sales as his royalty. Sometimes a producer copies a patent without obtaining first a license and then is sued by the inventor or patent holder on the grounds of patent infringement. Where the infringer and patent holder cannot agree, a court will order royalty payments in that range, 2 or 3 percent.

    The public policy for this is that a patent should be put to good use for society. A greedy patent holder can not withhold the patent by demanding exorbitant royalties of perhaps 10 or 20 percent of gross sales.

  7. John F. Hultquist says:

    And that reminds me of:
    Near Deary, Idaho there is a small peak called Mica Mountain with an abandoned Mica mine at its top. Mica is one of my favorite minerals being both physically and chemically interesting. Once it was quite valuable. My boyhood home had a gas stove in the living room. Its small windows were reported to be made of mica, but called isinglass.

    Mica has been used for centuries but during WWII there were various military uses. Thus mines were opened and the material stockpiled:
    http://www.geology.enr.state.nc.us/proj_earth/mica_data.html

    These national security uses were of a “short shelf-life” and so, long after the need was gone, the government sold its dearly acquired mica:

    Click to access nds.pdf


    . . . this lists “Mica Miscovite (sic) Block — 301,000 pounds”

    (The spelling is Muscovite after the place of its finding and description – the Principality of Muscovy.)

  8. gallopingcamel says:

    If one gets greedy and demands too high a price for a resource you have created a strong incentive for people to work around you. Therefore your hypothesis that Lithium will be challenged by other technologies that are not at the mercy of Bolivian socialists is highly plausible.

    Here is an example of the opposite. When Ray Dolby invented his noise reduction technology his patent agent (Reddie & Grose) recommended a low “License of Right” royalty. The royalty was so low that Sony and all the other licensees never took the trouble to work around the patent. In the end everyone was a winner and especially Ray Dolby. How do I know? Ray had a room at Pembroke College, Cambridge that shared a wall with mine.

  9. gallopingcamel says:

    John F. Hultquist,
    Mica is truly a remarkable substance. Its dielectric properties are extraordinary. Its exceptional dielectric strength and low loss factor make it ideal for use in capacitors.

    Today we have plastics such as Kapton that can match the dielectric strength of mica of up to 4 kV/mil but it is harder to match the low loss factor!

  10. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    I drove over the lithium field earlier this year. Then we had the whole country go on strike because of the petrol doubling overnight and riots LOL. Also lots of child miners still in Potosi. Good luck getting Lithium out of that place, with the UN saying Mother Earth President is the best ever :P

  11. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    Chile has some big Lithium mines, I think I saw one near San Pedro

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    @Richard Ilfeld:

    For a lot of folks, especially one car families, you are quite correct. At the same time, I’d love to have an electric car. (Then again, I have a half dozen vehicles, so having “special use” is fine with me).

    The spouse has a 20 mile daily commute. An e-Car would be perfect for 99% of her trips. A couple of times a year, we take a very long trip somewhere. That needs Diesel or Gasoline.

    So, for us, the “ideal” would be an e-Car with a 50 mile all electric range and a built in ‘hybrid’ charger OR 2 cars, one electric, t he other Diesel for the long haul trips.

    So I could easily see the e-Cars getting up to a 30% or so market share.

    The Problems:

    Mostly that they want us to charge them off of windmills and the commute happens every day. All that “excess electricity” during their nightime hypothetical charging window is from NUKES left running all night. No nukes, no charging EVERY night… (California doesn’t “do” coal…)

    So they have a built in oxymoron in the scenario of shutting down the nukes while running on e-cars charged overnight…

    Oh, and in California we pay something horrendous for electricity rates… Natural gas is cheaper… about 1/2 the price of gasoline…

    @Boballab:

    Thanks, I’ll take a look. I have a fondness for odd battery designs…

    @All:

    I like just looking at mica. We had a furnace with 3 inch round windows made of the stuff, I think. I’d spend hours looking at it, and the flames behind…

    Still have some mica capacitors somewhere… from my ‘roll your own radio’ days…

    Being the Greedy Monopolist when other folks are free to work around you does just stimulate competition. Now if Bolivia had a brain, they would have invited in a load of capitalists to fund the mine development, and with predatory pricing driven all the alternatives out of business, then raised prices to just a tad over the other guys ‘break even’ (but put in a ‘dip’ every few years…) and gotten the entire world 100% addicted to Lithium Batteries and with nobody bothering to do R&D on alternatives… Could have had a great ride for 50 years or so…

  13. R. de Haan says:

    In general, I don’t see electric cars conquer the market other than niche markets.
    People would still need a second car to perform the real work.

    I don’t think electric cars pose a solution to anything.

    They can be written on the list of totally useless “Green Feel Good” applications like wind and solar power. Extremely costly, using more (fossil fuel) power during the production cycle than they generate during their life cycle.
    Leaving us with an unreliable alternative that undermines our productivity.

    Even the pro Green NYT had a devastating series of articles on the subject:

    http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/10/07/will-electric-cars-finally-succeed/electric-cars-are-not-the-answer-to-our-problems

    That doesn’t mean we don’t have great applications for those batteries.
    What to think of the battery powered semi robotic frame that enables soldiers to lift and transport three times their weight without getting tired and allows
    those who lost mobility due to accidents, war wounds or disease to walk again.
    I also think about the explosion of battery powered scooters and wheel chairs we have watched over the past 20 years, our power tools and all our battery powered electronic gadgets from lap top to smart phone, from GPS to the digital cockpit in gliders.
    Just to mention a few examples.

  14. Roger Sowell says:

    E.M., just a minor point of disagreement re

    “All that “excess electricity” during their nightime hypothetical charging window is from NUKES left running all night. No nukes, no charging EVERY night…”

    I believe that the nuclear power plants are run at base-load essentially all the time, therefore any incremental power for charging vehicle batteries at night must be supplied by non-nuclear power plants. In California, that will likely be gas-fired power plants since solar plants (obviously) will not be online at night, and wind-powered turbines are not very reliable. It is possible that wind power would charge the cars’ batteries, though.

    In other states, the incremental power for car battery charging would include coal-fired plants.

    I like your earlier comment about Bolivia blowing a big opportunity to exploit their resource. They could take a lesson from the Saudis.

  15. boballab says:

    @ R. de Haan

    Take a look at the MIT Semi Solid Flow Cell design, it doesn’t work like regular batteries – you refuel them in a similar fashion as you do todays gas powered engines.

  16. JRadig says:

    E.M., is the chart at the end supposed to illustrate that the markets have realized that Lithium will not be as scarce as expected? Because of alternate technologies? Or perhaps lower demand due to slow production of E vehicles in US, and reduced production in Japan due to the tsunami? Or was it just a speculation bubble?

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    @Roger Sowell:

    Thus my emphasis of the word “EVERY” night. Sure, some nights it will be wind, in some limited geographies. Sometimes even a bit of hydro. But look at the percent of electricity in off hours that is from nuke vs (everything else). Those electrons are largely nuclear. Most of the gas turbine load is summer AC. Long winter nights? I think we’re looking at nukes in California… (IIRC, we even import some nuclear power from other states. Arizona and Washington I think. So incremental demand will be to some extent incremental imports from Arizona, Washington, …). Not sure it’s worth a lot of digging to get exact details, as gas turbines are not a whole lot better solution to car charging… (I’d rather run the CNG directly in the car…)

    FWIW, from my time ballooning, the air was typically dead calm early in the morning before sunrise, so somewhere between evening “prime commute” and morning “time to go to work” the wind dies out to near nothing. Right when “charging” is supposed to be done. As ‘evening peak’ demand runs until well after dinner (dishwasher, A/C until about 9 pm / 10 pm, etc.) we’re looking at not a whole lot of ‘wind hours’ before “dawn dead calm”… Any wind contribution will be winter storms or strictly accidental.

    @Boballab:

    One of my favorite “fuel batteries” is the aluminum air battery. As most of the cost of aluminum is the electricity, you just slap in a chunk of aluminum and go. “Recharging” is washing out the consumed sludge and slapping in a new chunk of aluminum “fuel”. Last I looked, these were availble for UPS use for computer rooms. Big advantage was essentially zero battery maintenance until you used it … and zero loss of power in float charging it.

    @JRadig:

    I didn’t put a particular interpretation on the graph. It just “is what it is”. Lithium miners going down hard in a market down turn. Clearly demand for “stuff” is off, and that means the demand for batteries to power the “stuff”. Which then implies there isn’t a lot of “monopoly pricing power” in lithium mining and it is “just another competative commodity”… subject to price decay in a down turn.

  18. Roger Sowell says:

    E.M., my point is that, without charging a million electric cars, each night there is some demand already for electric power that exceeds what the nukes produce. As the night demand fluctuates, gas turbine or gas steam plants change their output to match the load. The nukes hum right along at 100 percent or thereabouts.

    So, when the EVs need charging, the incremental power won’t be from the nukes. The grid operator will send out a call to some gas-fired power plants, most likely a CCGT – combined cycle gas turbine plant – because it is the most efficient user of natural gas. The pure gas turbines, the peaker plants, will not be cranked during nights since they are only used to meet peak day loads.

    http://caiso.com/green/renewrpt/DailyRenewablesWatch.pdf shows the load by type of resource – this is for yesterday, June 24th 2011. The nuclear output was steady as a rock all day. Thermal (the gas-fired plants) was changed to meet the load, although it also appears that some change was made to hydro also.

  19. R. de Haan says:

    @boballab

    “Take a look at the MIT Semi Solid Flow Cell design, it doesn’t work like regular batteries – you refuel them in a similar fashion as you do todays gas powered engines”.

    I took a look at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/flow-batteries-0606.html
    boballeb,
    The new design Solid Flow Cell should make it possible to reduce the size and the cost of a complete battery system, including all of its structural support and connectors, to about half the current levels and pack 10 times more energy.

    That impressive improvement unfortunately is still much of nothing compared to the energy density of gasoline.

    Here is an energy/unit weight example comparison: The 2010 Nissan Leaf has a 200Kg (440lbs) lithium ion battery pack. Then: 0.20 kWh/Kg x 200Kg gives a theoretical 40kWh. Actually, the pack holds 24kWh. We will not consider the volume relation here.

    Now, regarding the energy density of the Lithium Ion Car battery: Compare Li-Ion energy to the energy density of gasoline at 13.11 kWh/Kg. 200Kg of gas would equal a whopping 2622 kWh! That’s over 100 times as much energy! That’s the equivalent of a 1,000 watt portable Honda generator running day and night for 3 months! No wonder oil company stock is so popular and EVs are so challenged.
    Have a look at the enery density comparison overview and see yourself why it is madness to replace a fuel tank with batteries, even if it’s a 10 times better than a Li-ion battery.

    http://www.evsroll.com/Lithium_Ion_Car_Battery.html

  20. E.M.Smith says:

    @Roger Sowell:

    You are talking production, I’m talking consumption. The nuclear “swing” will come from out of state, so not in state production figures. So take that 2 AM to 7am “fade” in the wind and AC demand. We will take more of the excess nuclear from Arizona and stuff it into our cars as that particular bit of demand rises in L.A. As the day warms, and the cars are unplugged, more of the power will come from gas and Arizona will have first claim on its nuclear power as their AC demand ramps up.

    Somewhere down the line (likely in New Mexico or where ever else Arizona sells excess power) they will have had less nighttime nuke to consume. The replacement there will depend on their particular provider profile. Some are nukes, some coal, some gas. While it would be possible that we could ramp up our turbines in the morning, IMHO, it’s more likely we’d buy in cheaper power from further east. As we’re last on the “sunshine feeding trough”, it may even vary by season. AC load making “excess nuke” evaporate faster on hot summer mornings, not so fast on comfortable fall mornings.

    This chart:

    http://arizonageology.blogspot.com/2008/06/water-use-for-electricity-exports.html

    From this page:

    http://arizonageology.blogspot.com/2008/06/water-use-for-electricity-exports.html

    focuses on water used to make electricity and where it is ‘exported to’ from Arizona, but Nuke ought to have similar customers. California is the ‘big dog’, but a lot goes to the Pacific Northwest (from whom California also imports power… hmmm) and Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada. So to truly answer what the ultimate “fuel” used to generate electricity to replace that used to charge the e-cars will be one would need to look at Arizona, the Pacific Northwest, Texas, and Colorado to see what they will do to generate more power at 2 am – 7am PST. Yes, I don’t expect California to actually build anything more at all.

    BTW, I was not intending to say that suddenly more nuclear plants would be built, and I do know they run, essentially, flat out. It’s more about the electrons consumed in California in the dead of night. We’ll more likely import cheap night baseload nuke from Palo Verde to L.A. than fire up an expensive gas turbine (though that is just as bad) in the L.A. smog basin. In all cases, it isn’t going to be wind or solar.

    Yes, there will be some, perhaps even most, ultimately from gas (at least short term until folks can contract for other nuke power if available) and, as I said, I don’t see that as any “better” an option so don’t see that it’s worth arguing about it. (Other than if bored and looking for an Angels and Pins diversion).

    @R. de Haan:

    A car with a battery pack makes sense for 2 uses:

    1) Regenerative braking. (i.e. efficiency improvment)

    2) Very short trips. (Which make up over half of most folks driving).

    I’d love a car with batteries for, oh, 40 miles. Then kick on the Diesel and forget the batteries…

    What doesn’t work for just about everyone is the dedicated e-Car (unless they never go more than 100 miles…)

  21. boballab says:

    EM:

    That is why I thought you might like the MIT battery since some UPS applications use the Liquid Flow Cell Battery and it is based off that.

    R. de Haan:

    You over looked one thing about gasoline powered engines: How much of that energy density is translated into moving the car and how much is lost.

    While gas has that nice stat you trotted out, most of that energy is lost when you detonate it in a piston engine as heat. The engine in your car is only at best about 20% efficient at converting that gasoline into actual productive work where an EV is at 75%:

    Electric motors convert 75% of the chemical energy from the batteries to power the wheels—internal combustion engines (ICEs) only convert 20% of the energy stored in gasoline.

    http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/evtech.shtml

    Energy Density is only one part of the equation of which would be a better vehicle. Right now the EV is more efficient but it’s energy density is too low, however if you are able to increase the energy density and the efficiency of the motor stays the same an EV can outperform an internal combustion engine. That is what the MIT team is doing.

    Here is a simple comparison for you:

    If you have a car that gets 30 Mpg average between city and highway with a 13 gallon gas tank you can travel up to 390 miles before going empty.

    For the traditional Li Ion battery in the Leaf they claim a 100 mile range from full to dead, however real world testing so far says that is not correct and people have been getting between 60 and 70 miles. So lets be conservative and cut the listed rating in half and call it 50 miles for a full charge

    Now if an actual SSFC type battery does have 10x the energy capacity of the regular Li Ion battery that the Leaf uses that means you end up with a range of 500 miles, 110 miles more then the gasoline powered car, for a SSFC powered Leaf. Even if they are unable to get to 10x over what is now available lets cut it to 5x, that still gives you a 250 mile range.

    However this type of battery overcomes one of the biggest drawbacks to EV’s: recharge time.

    Unlike with the Leaf where if the battery is almost dead it takes 7 hrs to recharge to full at 240v, with this battery it takes about 5 minutes top. You suck the spent liquid out and then pump the new liquid in and then drive away.

    So depending on how much better a SSFC is over a Li Ion at full scale it can get conservatively between 250 miles to 500 miles on a “full tank” (Yes it uses tanks just like gasoline powered cars) and refuel just as quick as a gasoline powered vehicle.

  22. Tim Clark says:

    I’m more concerned with China’s hold on the Rare Earths.
    Although also used in green products, they are used in many products of everyday usage. China can’t be bullied by the world. I have some shares in avalon.

  23. Jradig says:

    -Regarding the relative merits of gasoline and batteries, one advantage for gas is that it has the same energy output in cold weather. I grew up a few miles from the Canadian border, and had to start a car many mornings at 10 below zero or colder. I’d wonder if the battery would be stong enough to turn the engine and get the combustion started, I never worried about the gasoline giving me less than what I expected.

    Until there are huge improvements in battery life, I can’t see anybody living in the Northern climates wanting to rely on a single E-only vehicle. I’m not sure that I would even trust one for 20 mile daily commutes in the dead of winter.

  24. E.M.Smith says:

    @Tim Clark:

    China does not have a monopoly on the supply, only very low cost production. (They are a by product of their iron production).

    Rare Earths are not really rare at all…

    https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/are-rare-earths-rare/

    @JRadig:

    A friend went to college in Idaho. He had stories of needed to bring the battery inside so it would not freeze in the cold…

    It gets REALLY cold in Idaho…

    Once running, the battery heats as it discharges, so I’d expect some kind of “plug it in to keep it warm at night” warning…

  25. DirkH says:

    Thanks, E.M., for explaining the Potassium-Ion and Sodium-Ion batteries. I did know NaS but not Na-Ion.

    I see a big future market for batteries not in electric cars but for grid scale storage. This will require not lightweight, but cheap materials. NaS, flow batteries or liquid batteries of factory hall size.

    H2 or CH4 synthesis will be a competitor in that market, though.

    Electric cars will only be useful once they can get their electricity via induction.

  26. R. de Haan says:

    @boballab
    “Right now the EV is more efficient”

    Not if the electric power to charge the battery comes form a fossil fuel powered
    plant and not if you incorporate the power loss due to the transition caused by the grid. It’s a tough world boballab but to charge a battery of a Nissan Leave for example that travels 12.000 miles a year, four Megawatt hours of electricity would be required. But to get the four megawatt hours of electricity to the consumer requires the use of much more generation energy because of losses in transmission and other generator inefficiencies. Thus 11 megawatt hours of generation would be required to get the megawatt hours to the car. This works out to the equivalent of 38 miles per gallon. This is the same efficiency offered by advanced gasoline, diesel (and hybrid) engines. And you don’t need to pay $33,000, the suggested manufacturer’s retail price of the Leaf, to get them.

    Of cause eliminating the charging time is an immense step forward.
    But the other unpleasant realities stay.

    And don’t say we’re going to get the electrolit by wind power.

  27. R. de Haan says:

    @ E.M,
    @R. de Haan:

    “A car with a battery pack makes sense for 2 uses:

    1) Regenerative braking. (i.e. efficiency improvment)

    2) Very short trips. (Which make up over half of most folks driving).

    I’d love a car with batteries for, oh, 40 miles. Then kick on the Diesel and forget the batteries…”

    E. M,
    I took some serious time to get good info about electric and hybrid cars and I came to the conclusion that they are not worth the money.

    I was also fascinated by regenerative breaking but I found out that the new generation TDI’s which are sold by VW, Audi, Mercedes and BMW all beat the Prius or the Honda in fuel efficiency, purchase price, comfort, handling, safety reliability, space and load capacity.

    There is no gain if you carry the additional weight of the battery pack, the electric motor over large distances.

    Besides that you drive a bigger car for much less money and still make efficiency number comparable with the hybrids.

    For me the most important aspect was the fact that the hybrid’s lacked space, load capacity and handling and because of their complex architecture have become unreliable. In short, hybrids are not worth the additional money.

  28. R. de Haan says:

    Something more to think about:
    http://www.dailytech.com/Honda+Civic+Hybrids+Encounter+Battery+Life+Problems+Software+Update+Problematic+for+Some/article19357.htm

    Maybe I am old fashioned but my first priority is that a car is reliable.
    The moment a car becomes the equivalent of a used lab top in terms of reliability I’m out.

    It must be the pilot in me that says “keep things simple” and “leave out anything that can go broke” engine wise.

    The other aspect I don’t like about batteries is the fact that they have operational limits in terms of temperature.
    Last winter i had the hassle to remove the car battery from the car because of the cold. And that battery was only for starting the car.
    A 100% electric car would not have been operational during those winter weeks and the same goes for a hybrid. We don’t have batteries that perform 100% when temps drop below -20 and the car is parked outside for a few days.
    The same goes for electronics.

    This winter with low temperatures the integrated navy system/radio didn’t work.
    Only when the interior warmed up it worked again.

    Hybrids are packed with electronics that are essential to control the drive unit.
    I think this is all a bridge to far for our Western European climate or the tropics.

  29. R. de Haan says:

    @E.M

    If you have $ 7000.00 to spare you can turn your old Mercedes into a hybrid.

  30. E.M.Smith says:

    @R. de Haan:

    I never said they were worth the money… only that they had two decent uses. (Mostly for folks with spare money to burn).

    My solution is a very old, very reliable, Diesel. I’d love to have a modern 50+ mpg Diesel, but the crap being put on them makes them too “touchy” for my tastes.

    Comparing a TDI to a Prius is “apples to oranges” as the Prius is not a Diesel Hybrid. Volvo in about 1980 had a full sized station wagon prototype Diesel Hybrid that was clocking about 60+ MPG IIRC. Got scrubbed when Ford bought them. I do agree that, for the money, the strait Diesel works out the better deal; but for “shear milage” the Diesel Hybrid wins by a tad. (There is a reason trains here are Diesel Electric, and it isn’t just the traction control… a constant speed Diesel can be just a bit more optimal in use).

    As I live in California, I don’t really care about The Cold ;-)

    And one COULD make a low electronics version of a Diesel Electric hybrid. Folks don’t, as electronics are so cheap, but I’d go with a direct drive Diesel and a simple regenerative braking package myself. (At each start off the line, the batteries power the wheels. If voltage drops, they simply don’t supply added “go”. At each braking, the wheel generator adds some and charges the batters. IF the voltage is ‘high enough’, they just don’t make much. Could be done with very simple electrical gear, not fancy electronics.

    Yes, that’s not at all the way anyone is doing it now. Never said they were bright…

    That’s why I drive a 30 year old Diesel…

    HOWEVER:

    Just like a motorcycle doesn’t work well for taking the kids to football or buying groceries, yet they sell and have a market, and

    Just like an RV is a lousy commuter car, and yet they sell and have a market, and

    Just like the Pickup Truck is a bad car for carrying a dozen folks to choir, but they have a market and they sell, and

    Just like… (all the other special uses)…

    The hybrid and /or electric would suit me just fine as a second car. As I already have about 1/2 dozen, it would be trivial to dump one of them and get an e-car as the alternative. (So, 2 will leave with the kids… someday…) I could easily, for example, dump my second Diesel or even better, my SL that never gets used, and put a e-car in it’s place. Used just to get groceries or for the wife to commute to work (all of 20 miles each day).

    I’d be very happy to go to zero gas / Diesel for those trips. Cold not an issue. Capacity not an issue. Range not an issue. etc. Well, I would be if the State of California were not so busy screwing up our electricity supply to where it is hideously expensive… (Best economy solution is CNG here…)

    As I think about it, 2 of the 4 cars that are “mine” and not the kids could comfortably be e-cars as could one of the kids. (The one who lives at home and never drives further than 100 miles in any trip ever, 10 miles most days).

    But I’d rather have a turbo charged 4 cylender Diesel of about 1 L capacity in an econobox sized car (like that tasty Opel with a Diesel…) getting about 100 mpg and none of the Urea crap and trap oxidizer… but that is not to be… Would be perfect for all but “family trips” when the old Giant Mercedes Diesel Wagon would be used.

    So you see, most of your arguements are about why a hybrid or e-car is not right For YOU, and that’s fine. But for others of us, they do have utitlity.

    BTW, I’ve been waiting for the Battery Horror Stories as the “4 years and dying” on some battery packs kicks in. Guess it’s time to look around for “cheap” hybrids that need batteries… I’ve been wanting to play with one.

    You can get a kit to replace the pack in a Prius and have something like 20 miles on ‘just batteries’. Much cheaper if the old pack is already dead and the car being sold as “broken” ;-) IIRC, it was industrial D cells anyway, so you could just ‘solder up’ your own… voids the warrantee, but if it is already expired…

    Don’t know that I’ll do it, but time to “look again”…

    Wouldn’t want to make the Merc a e-car. Too heavy as it is. The energy density doesn’t work out. You need smaller / lighter, not heavier. Heavier moves the advantage to Diesels. (See large trucks…) It’s a “linear dimension vs weight” thing… Electric golf cart? No problem. Electric Cement Truck? No way… Diesel golf cart? Engine Costs will kill you…

    So I wouldn’t mind at all having a ‘street legal golf cart’ that will do 70 mph for trips to the store and around town. If it breaks, I’m close to home, and it doesn’t get much into freezing around here anyway…

  31. boballab says:

    R. de Haan:

    From your last comment about how you get to “recharge” the battery you haven’t paid one iota of attention to how a Semi Solid Fuel Cell is recharged.

    First: You pro rated the Li Ion Battery on how much energy it takes to get the “juice” to the car to lower the range, but you didn’t pro rate how much energy it takes to get a gallon of gas from the Refinery to the Gas station. So you made an Apples to Orange comparison. On a Apples to Apples comparison as I showed the Electrical Motor is more efficient then the combustion engine.

    Second the way you recharge a Semi Solid Fuel Cell (SSFC) is the same way you re fuel a Gas tank: from a pump. There is no at home recharge station where the juice is transmitted over the grid. The Gas stations of today just put in a two tanks to pump the Anode and Cathode Liquid. Just like they get tanker delivers of Gas from a refinery, they will get tanker deliveries from the Recharge plant that can be built right next to the power station.

    Third: The major cost and weight of modern batteries is taken up by the hardware built into them not the energy storage medium. In a Semi Solid Fuel Cell style battery you use almost 1/4 of the hardware and get greater Energy Density of the storage medium. This means they cost less and deliver more charge.

    Here is a picture of what a SSFC system looks like:
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1002/aenm.201100152/asset/image_m/mcontent.jpg?v=1&s=12747592202550acdda4848c6c61ed47ad369f37

    And if that didn’t work you can see it here:
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aenm.201100152/abstract

    From the paper:

    The design flexibility inherent in the SSFC approach may enable new use-models for electrical storage, such as rapid refueling of vehicles by fuel or fuel tank exchange, tuning of suspensions as needed for power, energy, and operating temperature, and extension of service life by renewing suspension chemistry or incorporating serviceable system components.

    A SSFC does not get recharged like a Li Ion, It does not look like a Li Ion battery and where they are both batteries and use anodes and cathodes to get a current flow the way they get that flow is completely different. So pointing out the limitations of the Li Ion battery of the Leaf does not apply to a SSFC it is an entirely different type of battery. Matter of fact unlike a a Li Ion battery that when the storage medium can no longer hold a full charge and you have to replace both the hardware and the medium, in an SSFC you just replace the medium since the hardware portions are separate and built into the car.

  32. boballab says:

    @Tim Clark

    LNG engines could be practical as an alternative to Gas engines, however it has basically the same problems as the gas engines: thermal efficiency.

    Basically you are just changing the fuel not the way the fuel is used and the internal combustion engine in cars is just not very efficient due to the fact the majority of the heat it generates is not used.

    However LNG powered turbines for generating electricity are a more efficient use of the fuel. You can almost reach 60% thermal efficiency on the latest models in Combined Cycle mode:

    Compare that very first power plant gas turbine with one today, the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries M701G2 heavy frame “G Class” gas turbine. It has an output of 334 MW, an h of 39.5 percent, a firing temperature of 2,732 oF (1,500 oC), and a much higher exhaust temperature of 1,089 oF (587 oC). Such a high outlet temperature is eminently suited for combined cycle steam production.

    With the much higher exhaust temperature, the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries combined cycle power plant has an overall on-site thermal efficiency of 59.1 percent, yielding an aggregate output of 500 MW. Currently, three of these units with a combined output of 1,500 MW are replacing six conventional steam powered plants (which ran at 43 percent efficiency) with a total output of 1,050 MW, in one third of the plant area, at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kawasaki Thermal Power Station in Japan.

    http://memagazine.asme.org/Web/Efficiency_by_Numbers.cfm

    Many of the new natural gas fired power plants are what are known as ‘combined-cycle’ units. In these types of generating facilities, there is both a gas turbine and a steam unit, all in one. The gas turbine operates in much the same way as a normal gas turbine, using the hot gases released from burning natural gas to turn a turbine and generate electricity. In combined-cycle plants, the waste heat from the gas-turbine process is directed towards generating steam, which is then used to generate electricity much like a steam unit. Because of this efficient use of the heat energy released from the natural gas, combined-cycle plants are much more efficient than steam units or gas turbines alone. In fact, combined-plants can achieve thermal efficiencies of up to 50 to 60 percent.

    http://www.naturalgas.org/overview/uses_eletrical.asp

    Notice though that this generates electricity and would require a battery operated vehicle to take advantage of it. That is why if you can come up with a battery that is as easy to “recharge” as a gas powered car is to refuel, has the infrastructure support like gas does in gas stations and can get basically the same range as a full tank of gas; then you got a very solid combo.

    That is why I pointed out the Semi Solid Fuel Cells feature of both high energy density and being able to be refueled like a gas tank. It has the efficiency of the Li Ion battery/electrical motor combo and the convenience of Gasoline. Then you get LNG powered Gas Turbines in combined cycle mode to generate power (Not Wind Turbines!).

  33. E.M.Smith says:

    @Boballab:

    I’d only point out that the Diesel is almost as efficient as a turbine and you don’t have charge / discharge losses as in battery systems. A Turbo Diesel constant speed with an electric drive motor is about as efficient as you can get. Oh, and you can run it with CNG. (I have ;-) Well, propane, actually, but close enough…)

    That’s why all the trains are constant speed Diesels … and not turbines. Well, that and the fact that the turbines didn’t hold up as well in ‘road use’… and had more variation in fuel costs for gas.

    http://www.energyconversions.com/loco2.htm

    vs

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_turbine-electric_locomotive

    Oh, and there is a ‘way cool’ package for busses from Capstone:

    http://www.capstoneturbine.com/news/video/view/bus.asp

    I think they have both a 30 kw and the larger 60 kw version. I’d love to put the 60 kw version in a large pickup truck ;-)

    But I digress…

    The reality is that the gas turbine and the Diesel are so close to the same in efficiency as to be largely interchangable in ‘fixed speed’ operations. Add a hybrid / regenerative braking system to either of them and it’s a damn near impossible package to beat. Especially for a heavy battery pack and all the transimssion losses, battery charge / discharge losses, and “controller” losses of the traditional e-Car.

    The “flow battery” tightens it up some, though. Biggest benefit I see is that captial cost for the car ought to be darned low. Vastly lower than a high tech Diesel with hybrid package.

    That efficiency of the Diesel Hybrid is why I have the “hots” for such a vehicle. I could likely get a full sized 2 ton sedan with about 60 mpg with such a package (and decent aerodynamics) AND with good around town milage… But the capital cost is why nobody sells one. (That, and the added efficiency from the hybrid / regenerative braking is just not nearly as much as on lousy gas engines, so the payback period is something like 10 years… That is: It is too expensive and folks won’t buy it.)

    At any rate, once you are in the Diesels vs Turbines debate, it’s getting close to an “Angels and Pins” arguement as they are just soo close. Measured in 1/10 % kind of variations as to which is the most efficient. You rapidly end up down in the weeds of exactly WHICH model of each with WHAT particular scavanging tech hung on it has 1% more than the other… At one time a ship Diesel held the lead at 54.x%, but IIRC a CCGT has just edged it out by a tenth or two… (unless you add a bunch of heat scavenger gear that COULD also be added to the Diesel but isn’t, then the whole package gets even more than the bare Diesel… so then you have to ask “What if we but the bottoming cycle turbine on the Diesel just like we did on the Gas Turbine?”… and so it goes… )

    Where the flow battery “wins” is the potential for a very CHEAP power train, wiht a low weight penalty and a ‘refuling’ type of charging. It is more like a fuel cell than a battery in that regard. Just the “fuel” is coming in two parts and can be ‘recycled’ easily.

  34. boballab says:

    @EM

    Right at the end you hit the big nail in the head about the Flow Cell that alot of others keep missing: It’s ease of use and basically it is almost identical to what we do now and won’t impinge on our driving habits. Also the fact that it would be far cheaper then the Li Ion version. Which means we can get rid of those stupid subsidies and the car could be market based competitive.

    As to using combined cycle gas turbine tech to generate power I like the idea of using the for energy security reasons. I also think using them to “backup” Wind Turbines is stupid in the extreme. If you are going to be burning the gas anyway why not just use the power it generates. why play with the stupid wind turbine and wasting the money on them.

  35. Roger Sowell says:

    Recently, a sodium-sulfur battery (NaS) storage system from S&C Electric of Chicago, Illinois was selected by Southern California Edison (SCE) for an electric power storage project on Catalina Island offshore Los Angeles, California. The system is 1 MW capacity.

    SCE was required by environmental rules to reduce their diesel emissions from the diesel-powered generators that are the sole source of power on the island. Previously, the grid operator shut down some diesels at night when demand drops, then started them up again next morning as demand increased. The startup emitted too much diesel particulate matter, until the catalytic converting systems warmed up to operating temperature.

    SCE now will run the diesels round the clock, and store the excess power generated at night in the new battery storage system. The battery will discharge during the day into the grid, and provide capacity to recharge the next night.

    S&C Electric is a privately-held company, thus its shares are not available for purchase.

    http://www.sandc.com/news/index.php/2011/06/sc-electric-company-helps-southern-california-edison-reduce-greenhouse-gas-emissions/

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