bit-tech.net

Silicon to improve batteries tenfold

Silicon to improve batteries tenfold

Obsessing about battery life might be a thing of the past in a few years' time.

A recent paper in the Advanced Energy Materials journal details a new technology to lower the charge time of a lithium-ion battery to around 15 minutes and increase battery life to around a week. Apologies if that link doesn’t actually link to the paper – we think it does, but even the abstract has us baffled.

The helpful chaps and ladies at Northwestern University have decoded the science for us, so we do at least know something about the new technology. It relies around adding silicon layers to the layers of carbon-based grapheme sheets that comprise the anode of a typical lithium-ion battery.

The huge increase in battery life, and the massive drop in charge time, is possible because a silicon atom can accommodate four lithium ions per atom while it requires six carbon atoms to accommodate a single carbon atom in conventional designs.

It’s the flow of lithium ions from the anode to the cathode through an electrolyte material that creates the electrical energy, so the more you can pack into the anode, the more charge can be stored. Equally, the quicker you can get lithium ions from the cathode back into the anode, the quicker a battery will recharge.

Previously, silicon was seen as a poor material for an anode, as it suffered from ‘fragmentation’, but by interlacing silicon and grapheme layers this problem has been solved. Tiny holes – 10-20 nanometres wide - are drilled in the grapheme sheets to help the lithium ions access the silicon.

Harold H. Kung, the lead author of the paper, said, ‘Even after 150 charges, which would be one year or more of operation, the battery is still five times more effective than lithium-ion batteries on the market today.’ As well as avoiding the issues of batteries wearing out over time and massively reducing charge time, the technology could lead to a tenfold shrinking in battery size for the same power output or ten times the capacity for the same size, or anything between those two extremes.

While the shrink in size will suit tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices, the increase in capacity and huge decrease in charge time could be useful for battery-powered vehicles. However, silicon-graphene lithium-ion batteries are said to be 2-5 years away from mass production.

Excited by the future, or just annoyed that it’s taken this long for a big advance in battery technology? Let us know in the forum.

43 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
.//TuNdRa 16th November 2011, 16:44 Quote
It'd be nice to have a laptop that doesn't require charging every five minutes if it actually packs any large amount of power.

Equally; I see this going down a treat in most portable markets, simply because everyone would benefit from longer battery times. (Perhaps not a few companies, but meh, Almost everyone then.) Plus the slower degradation would make fussing over battery life a lot less common, which would be nice. I keep having to flatline my Mp3 player because I'm concerned about it not charging fully.
yassarikhan786 16th November 2011, 16:48 Quote
Brilliant news. I really hope these new fangled batteries come to fruition in the estimated time frame. A day without charging is unheard of so a week would be something really special.
wuyanxu 16th November 2011, 16:48 Quote
Quote:
‘Even after 150 charges, which would be one year or more of operation, the battery is still five times more effective than lithium-ion batteries on the market today.’

just under a year by smart phone standard, keeping in mind bigger capacity battery = more power hungry processors get used.

im not a fan of degrading batteries....... the best thing about lithium-ion was that they don't degrade as much.


hope they figure that out. even just 3 to 5 fold would be more than enough, for immediateness future.
damien c 16th November 2011, 16:52 Quote
Focus on the car batteries and then the company I work for can get rid of the Diesel's and go to them, so then I don't have to pay for private mileage grr £200 a month that cost's me at the moment.

Would be interesting to have some sort of battery though that could run a high spec PC all day or all week, and only take a few minutes to charge just think of the money saved from it.
[ZiiP] NaloaC 16th November 2011, 16:59 Quote
Vastly improved portable power supplies, if that technology can be expanded and enhanced greatly then technology in general, not just computing, would be alot less restricted in capabilities.
TheKrumpet 16th November 2011, 17:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by damien c
Would be interesting to have some sort of battery though that could run a high spec PC all day or all week, and only take a few minutes to charge just think of the money saved from it.

You might think, but somehow I can't see it being less costly to recharge one of these, it'll probably just be more energy pumped in for less time, granting only a very small net saving.

That being said, I'd like this simply so I stop obsessing over my phone's battery life. Lasts 10 times as long? Whatever then, leave Wi-Fi enabled. Oh, and why not do some light video encoding?

All right, maybe I'm being optimistic.
sWW 16th November 2011, 17:38 Quote
Please change grapheme to graphene.

Also
Quote:
Originally Posted by damien c
Would be interesting to have some sort of battery though that could run a high spec PC all day or all week, and only take a few minutes to charge just think of the money saved from it.

Unfortunately there wouldn't be any energy savings to be had. You would just be stockpiling all the energy for a day/week in advance. Still costs the same amount of money to put it in a battery in 5 minutes as it does to slowly dribble it into your computer over the day/week. Only really helps if there is a power cut.
proxess 16th November 2011, 17:38 Quote
How about the weight? Will they be lighter?
FelixTech 16th November 2011, 18:43 Quote
Quote:
...while it requires six carbon atoms to accommodate a single carbon atom in conventional designs.

I think you mean a single lithium atom :)
javaman 16th November 2011, 19:27 Quote
I think "bout bloody time" sums it up
PingCrosby 16th November 2011, 22:48 Quote
Wow, I'll be able to charge our lasses boobs up
and play with them for even longer........ ang on
Jordan love, I'm just looking for the heavy duty charger.
Hazchem 16th November 2011, 23:32 Quote
"a silicon atom can accommodate four lithium ions per atom while it requires six carbon atoms to accommodate a single carbon atom in conventional designs"

I think that second carbon should be turned to "lithium".
iwod 17th November 2011, 03:46 Quote
I have absolutely no idea why they are still researching on these technology based on Lithium. Most of these tech aren't even ready for another 4 - 5 years.

And we are running out of Lithium soon. Or precisely, we could no longer produce Cheap Lithium like we currently do within 4 - 5 years.
Wicked_Sludge 17th November 2011, 05:43 Quote
id be excited to see this technology make it into the electric vehicle market. instead of lugging around 1,000lbs worth of batteries to have 60-70 miles of useful range we could actually make electric cars a competitive alternative to fossil fuels.
yassarikhan786 17th November 2011, 12:38 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wicked_Sludge
id be excited to see this technology make it into the electric vehicle market. instead of lugging around 1,000lbs worth of batteries to have 60-70 miles of useful range we could actually make electric cars a competitive alternative to fossil fuels.

It might be competitive, but it will probably cost a hell of a lot more to travel the same distance. And imagine how long it would take to charge the battery.
Denis_iii 17th November 2011, 13:04 Quote
Available in 2050. Keep reading about battery advancements but they never surface.
Hakuren 17th November 2011, 15:11 Quote
It is about bloody time we see some real progress in battery longevity, capacity and power delivered. I'm not talking about tablets, phones and other rubbish. I'm talking about big industrial applications from cars to emergency power systems. Lead acid, AGM and other classic batteries are well over 50 years old. And nothing really change since all of that stuff was introduced. In particular institutions like hospitals can benefit greatly from this. Emergency power demand for hospitals 40-50 years ago and now grew, probably, by factor of 50. Stronger batteries with extended battery life are seriously needed now, in this [crazy] power hungry world.
yassarikhan786 17th November 2011, 15:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Denis_iii
Available in 2050. Keep reading about battery advancements but they never surface.

It's the same with most so-called advancements.
metarinka 17th November 2011, 18:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Denis_iii
Available in 2050. Keep reading about battery advancements but they never surface.

I work in research and development. Most often discoveries like this are made on the laboratory scale or sometimes just with theoretical models o proofs based on a few molecules under ideal conditions.

Really the hardest and most expensive aspect is to turn something into a production scale process that can be done at a reasonable price. A lot of times when you try to scale up you run into all sorts of technical hurdles, or find you need to go off and invent new manufacturing processes. Often those advances are just as big if not bigger than the initial breakthrough.

Remember the "worm drive" hard drives that were supposed to surpass the read/write speeds of conventional HDD's.... yah conventional caught up before the technology ever matured the largest one ever made was like 100 mb...http://www.storagesearch.com/view64.html
Wicked_Sludge 17th November 2011, 20:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by yassarikhan786
It might be competitive, but it will probably cost a hell of a lot more to travel the same distance. And imagine how long it would take to charge the battery.

you do know all-electric cars already exist right? range and recharge time are already problems. these new batteries would take a huge chunk out of both of those, closing the gap between electric and gasoline cars.

as far as price per mile, electrics already have fossil fuel vehicles beat by a long ways.
l3v1ck 17th November 2011, 21:34 Quote
That's really cool. Hopefully it'll be here sooner than later.
Sloth 17th November 2011, 22:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wicked_Sludge
you do know all-electric cars already exist right? range and recharge time are already problems. these new batteries would take a huge chunk out of both of those, closing the gap between electric and gasoline cars.

as far as price per mile, electrics already have fossil fuel vehicles beat by a long ways.
Electric motorcycles, too! But as you say, range and recharge time make them only useful for a narrow band of applications. For something like a 50 mile a day commuter it's already there, easily within range and rechargable overnight but good luck going more than a couple hundred miles without significant downtime to recharge.

With the new technology from the article there are really two applications to electric vehicles: Keep the same bulk of batteries but have massively increased range (1000+ miles), or reduce the battery bulk in order to reduce weight and cost while maintaining a range which is deemed acceptable.
Quote:
Originally Posted by metarinka
I work in research and development. Most often discoveries like this are made on the laboratory scale or sometimes just with theoretical models o proofs based on a few molecules under ideal conditions.

Really the hardest and most expensive aspect is to turn something into a production scale process that can be done at a reasonable price. A lot of times when you try to scale up you run into all sorts of technical hurdles, or find you need to go off and invent new manufacturing processes. Often those advances are just as big if not bigger than the initial breakthrough.

Remember the "worm drive" hard drives that were supposed to surpass the read/write speeds of conventional HDD's.... yah conventional caught up before the technology ever matured the largest one ever made was like 100 mb...http://www.storagesearch.com/view64.html
Or more recently, HAMR technology meant to increase capacity on physical hard drives. Ended up having HDD capacities balloon past the typical user's needs anyway. It's always a good thing to be researching new technologies, people just need to look at them for what they are and, equally important, journalists need to stop over hyping technology which is still quite far away.
xrain 18th November 2011, 04:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by yassarikhan786
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wicked_Sludge
id be excited to see this technology make it into the electric vehicle market. instead of lugging around 1,000lbs worth of batteries to have 60-70 miles of useful range we could actually make electric cars a competitive alternative to fossil fuels.

It might be competitive, but it will probably cost a hell of a lot more to travel the same distance. And imagine how long it would take to charge the battery.
The battery we built into our electric snowmobile could be charged from flat to full in around 15 min, you would just need a sufficiently powerful charger. Our battery pack was 176 volts and could output 350 kilowatts in bursts or 246 kilowatts sustained. If we upgraded our batteries to the premium version we could charge the whole battery in less than 2-3 minuets, and it would output over 1 Megawatt in bursts or, could run at ~600-700 kilowatts sustained.

The problem with current batteries isn't their power density (How much HP they can output) and charge time, it is their energy density. (How much power they store)



As for costs, an electric vehicle costs around 20% to go the same distance as the gas powered vehicle.
xrain 18th November 2011, 04:44 Quote
Oops hit the quote button instead of the edit button :(
Wicked_Sludge 18th November 2011, 05:13 Quote
uhhh....what?

i dont mean to doubt you, but those numbers are all ludicrous. the tesla roaster, the worlds fastest street legal electric vehicle, does 0-60 in 3.7 seconds and runs the 1/4 mile in 12.7 seconds all while pulling a maximum of 183kw. something as light as a snow machine putting down that much power would be moving too fast for a rider to hold on to. the tesla also takes 3.5 hours to recharge using a state of the art (it is a super car after all) charging system.

i guess im just going to require some proof before i can swallow those figures.
johnnyboy700 18th November 2011, 09:38 Quote
We'll see if this can actually produce the lab results in the real world - assuming it actually becomes a commercial product.
TheLegendJoe 18th November 2011, 10:21 Quote
Wow, is it just me or would Electric cars now make sense? they'd take 30 minutes to charge and go 1,000 miles? I doubt you want to do much more than that in a day! And that'd easily take me to scotland for my jollydays....

Thats assuming, obviously, this technology is 'safe for use' in cars and the current average of MPC (miles per charge) of 100Miles (LOL) is true.
yassarikhan786 18th November 2011, 10:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wicked_Sludge
you do know all-electric cars already exist right? range and recharge time are already problems. these new batteries would take a huge chunk out of both of those, closing the gap between electric and gasoline cars.

as far as price per mile, electrics already have fossil fuel vehicles beat by a long ways.

Yes I do know that :). I read the story again because I had a feeling I had missed something and I did indeed. I missed the bit about faster recharge times, lol. You are right about these new batteries taking huge chunks out of range and recharge times, but I am still cynical about electric cars in general.

If you can show me proof that electric cars provide better price per mile, I would believe you, but for the time being you have nothing to back up that claim.
minimad127 18th November 2011, 14:53 Quote
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/17/nissan-leaf-electric-car-cost

bit old so not totally up to date prices but basics is

electirc car 2p per mile
petrol car 14p per mile
yassarikhan786 18th November 2011, 14:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by minimad127
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/17/nissan-leaf-electric-car-cost

bit old so not totally up to date prices but basics is

electirc car 2p per mile
petrol car 14p per mile

Cheers for that.
Wicked_Sludge 18th November 2011, 17:16 Quote
assuming one of the less efficient vehicles im familiar with, the ford ranger EV:

the battery stores 30kwh
electricity is $0.066 per kwh in my area
a full charge would cost you $1.98
real world range on this vehicle is about 65 miles
$1.98/65=$0.03/mi

a gasoline 4 cylinder ranger gets about 25mpg
yesterday when i filled up, i paid $3.66/gal
$3.66/25=$0.14/mi

even my fuel sipping escort costs me $0.10 a mile, 3 times that of an electric vehicle with the aerodynamic properties of a brick.

obviously savings will vary depending on local prices, but electric vehicles always come out on top by several fold.

sauce
yassarikhan786 18th November 2011, 17:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wicked_Sludge
assuming one of the less efficient vehicles im familiar with, the ford ranger EV:

the battery stores 30kwh
electricity is $0.066 per kwh in my area
a full charge would cost you $1.98
real world range on this vehicle is about 65 miles
$1.98/65=$0.03/mi

a gasoline 4 cylinder ranger gets about 25mpg
yesterday when i filled up, i paid $3.66/gal
$3.66/25=$0.14/mi

even my fuel sipping escort costs me $0.10 a mile, 3 times that of an electric vehicle with the aerodynamic properties of a brick.

obviously savings will vary depending on local prices, but electric vehicles always come out on top by several fold.

sauce

Thanks for getting the information to me. I still think we need to wait a number of years for electric cars to be suitable for the majority of consumers. They save money in the long run, but the initial price is too high to be viable for most people.
Fizzban 18th November 2011, 18:34 Quote
Why do people think that electric vehicles are somehow better for the environment? Most electricity still comes from burning fossil fuels. So whether you burn them in your car, or at a power station, you are still using them up. Big waste of time. Wait for the hydrogen fuel cell.

But back on topic. Yeah I'm pretty excited about this. Seems batteries have needed to be improved for a very long time. Let us hope they don't run into production issues.
Farting Bob 18th November 2011, 20:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fizzban
Why do people think that electric vehicles are somehow better for the environment? Most electricity still comes from burning fossil fuels. So whether you burn them in your car, or at a power station, you are still using them up. Big waste of time. Wait for the hydrogen fuel cell.

Gasoline powered vehicles need oil, which is **** for the environment, expensive and getting harder to extract. Electric motors can be powered by anything. Coal, oil, solar, wind, nuclear, hamsters etc etc. Its easier to improve the source of the electricity without any effects to the end user than it is to change how gasoline vehicles work. If you buy a Electric car now and in 10 years you can power it entirely from renewable sources from the grid, you dont need to change your car.
Grimloon 18th November 2011, 20:58 Quote
Fizzban, there are already some hydrogen fuel celled vehicles out there, Honda have the FCX Clarity for example. The initial problem is where do you fill them up? The first public station only opened in the UK September this year and it requires a significant infrastructure change before they become a viable option. Don't get me wrong, I agree whole heartedly that it is the better, greener alternative but even these are going to be using fossil fuel to generate the hydrogen, either directly from the fuel itself or by using electrolysis. Add on top of that the cost involved in producing the fuel cells themselves and we're still a fair way off.

Improved batteries are a good interim measure that may help in the shorter term by making it more viable for more people to go electric over fossil fuel (yes, I know it still ends up powered by fossil fuel but a degree more efficiently AFAIK) whereas fuel cells are a much longer term investment.

I definitely agree that would be nice to have a decent powered laptop (minimum quad core) with a charge lifespan measured in whole days as opposed to a few hours here and there though. I might even consider them as being less of a waste of space then :p
Wicked_Sludge 18th November 2011, 22:01 Quote
i never said anything about electric vehicles being better for the environment, but since we're on the subject...

saying "most" power still comes from fossil fuels is kind of a blanket statement. it varies highly by area. for example about 80% of the power in my area comes from 3 major hydro-electric projects in the olympic range. the rest is made up by natural gas fueled plants. even if 100% of my power came from the natural gas plants my carbon footprint would still be smaller than that of a gas vehicle due to stricter emissions standards on power plants and natural gas burning cleaner than gas or diesel.

hydrogen cell vehicles will be cool once someone is brave enough to stand up to the oil companies and start installing stations.

Quote:
Originally Posted by yassarikhan786
...the initial price is too high to be viable for most people.

it used to be, but thats also getting better. the newest electric production vehicle, the nissan leaf, has a base price of $27k. thats not much more than a similarly equipped mid-size sedan.
minimad127 19th November 2011, 09:12 Quote
[QUOTE=yassarikhan786]
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wicked_Sludge
but the initial price is too high to be viable for most people.

wait whats this, early adaptors of a new technology pay more money than people using old technology shocker, something i think 99% of this site has experienced
yassarikhan786 19th November 2011, 18:20 Quote
[QUOTE=minimad127;2879330]
Quote:
Originally Posted by yassarikhan786


wait whats this, early adaptors of a new technology pay more money than people using old technology shocker, something i think 99% of this site has experienced

Yeh I know, but we are talking 10's of thousands of pounds here, which means my point still holds.
Spuzzell 20th November 2011, 14:42 Quote
[QUOTE=yassarikhan786]
Quote:
Originally Posted by minimad127
Quote:
Originally Posted by yassarikhan786


wait whats this, early adaptors of a new technology pay more money than people using old technology shocker, something i think 99% of this site has experienced

Yeh I know, but we are talking 10's of thousands of pounds here, which means my point still holds.

Balance that higher up-front cost against the huge savings you make in terms of tax and fueling across the life of the vehicle, and in cost terms you undoubtedly come out ahead with a battery powered EV.

I still will never want one as my only car though. Even with a 10x improvement on current battery technology I wouldn't be able to drive from university to home without a recharge. Hydrogen F/C are the answer.
yassarikhan786 21st November 2011, 11:14 Quote
[QUOTE=Spuzzell;2880219]
Quote:
Originally Posted by yassarikhan786


Balance that higher up-front cost against the huge savings you make in terms of tax and fueling across the life of the vehicle, and in cost terms you undoubtedly come out ahead with a battery powered EV.

I still will never want one as my only car though. Even with a 10x improvement on current battery technology I wouldn't be able to drive from university to home without a recharge. Hydrogen F/C are the answer.

Yep, the recharging is the main problem. Even if it does improve 10x you will still have to wait considerably longer than filling up a regular petrol/diesel car.
Bakes 28th November 2011, 21:34 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by xrain
The battery we built into our electric snowmobile could be charged from flat to full in around 15 min, you would just need a sufficiently powerful charger. Our battery pack was 176 volts and could output 350 kilowatts in bursts or 246 kilowatts sustained. If we upgraded our batteries to the premium version we could charge the whole battery in less than 2-3 minuets, and it would output over 1 Megawatt in bursts or, could run at ~600-700 kilowatts sustained.

The problem with current batteries isn't their power density (How much HP they can output) and charge time, it is their energy density. (How much power they store)



As for costs, an electric vehicle costs around 20% to go the same distance as the gas powered vehicle.

The issue with fast (dis-)charging is that it kills the battery far, far quicker - so you frequently have to replace the battery. That's why electric car manufacturers tend to build in checkers to see how fast you've been charging the battery, to protect against spurious warranty claims.

Quote:
Originally Posted by yassarikhan786


Yep, the recharging is the main problem. Even if it does improve 10x you will still have to wait considerably longer than filling up a regular petrol/diesel car.

If you manage to get 400 miles off a charge with a 30 minute break in between, that'd be fine - most drivers would take a 30 minute break by that point (and if they didn't, they'd likely be in an unsafe situation).
yassarikhan786 29th November 2011, 11:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bakes
The issue with fast (dis-)charging is that it kills the battery far, far
If you manage to get 400 miles off a charge with a 30 minute break in between, that'd be fine - most drivers would take a 30 minute break by that point (and if they didn't, they'd likely be in an unsafe situation).

Yeh, that would be awesome. But right now it is just a concept/idea, so I wouldn't get my hopes up.
elthusiast 6th August 2012, 12:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fizzban
Why do people think that electric vehicles are somehow better for the environment? Most electricity still comes from burning fossil fuels.

I get so sad when I see this. Are you really so incapable of being just slightly sceptical or so uninterested that you don't actually try to LISTEN first? That would prevent asking stupid questions that only betray your own ignorance.

There are many reasons why electric vehicles are better for the environment. The most fundamental is simply that electric motors are far more efficient than combustion engines. The most efficient internal combustion engines out there spend 75% of the chemical energy released when burning the fuel to heat the engine, the radiator, and the exhaust system.

In addition, fossil-tech engines exhibit a quite narrow band in which the engine can output anywhere near maximum power and torque. This is why the cars have multiple-speed gearboxes, which means further mechanical losses (heating the transmission) and more parts that wear out (not a big factor in the environmental respect, but a small one).

Another major reason is of course the fact that electric cars produce no tail-pipe emissions and much less noise than fossil-tech cars, both of which have a major impact on our human environment in cities. The WHO has warned about the now well-established link between NOx and lung cancer, a problem that has become much more serious in Europe as the car park has shifted to more and more diesel vehicles. In Norway, the government has already announced that it will introduce restrictions on diesel cars when pollution levels run too high in cities, meaning that it will be illegal to drive a diesel car during those periods. (Local pollution level depends mainly on how much traffic there is to emit it, and wind to disperse it.)

Even if you ran your EV exclusively on power from coal stations, and even if your EV was a big, heavy, luxurious vehicle like Tesla's Model S, your driving would cause considerably less emissions than if you drove a Golf BlueLine diesel (the most fuel efficient internal-combustion engine in the world). And of course no tailpipe emissions wherever you drove.

To get a handle on how energy efficient EVs are, I recommend the following exercise: Head to Wikipedia. Look up Tesla Model S and find out what the largest battery pack capacity is, and the range you can expect with that. Then look up the energy density of gasoline and diesel, and convert the Tesla battery pack to the equivalent "tank volume" (i.e. storing the same amount of energy).

Since I am aware that most people are too lazy to ever try to look up actual numbers for anything (even though they do enjoy pretending that they want to know stuff!), I am going to provide the answers here: The largest battery pack you can get for the S is 85 kWh, and gives you a range of up to 300 miles (though the EPA2 rating is lower, as more of the miles are stop-and-go city driving - which reduces range the same for EVs and other cars). The energy density of gasoline and diesel is a little over 10 kWh per liter. In other words, the Tesla takes you 300 miles on a battery storing as much energy as just over 2 gallons of gasoline or diesel. (The energy density of diesel is slightly higher than that of gasoline, but not enough that it's worth bothering with when comparing such completely different beasts as fossil-tech cars and electric cars.)

Now, I've said that an EV is better for us even if we run it on coal. But, even more important: An EV means your car is able to run on any energy source. Electricity is not found in nature (well, we don't find it in practically exploitable forms anyway) but can be generated from pretty much any source (though with varying degrees of efficiency and at very different costs). This means that running EVs is a shift from reliance on fossil fuels to a reliance on energy. There is no shortage of challenges to produce enough energy in the future, in a safe, sustainable, cheap and reliable way, but EVs help both by being much more energy efficient, and by being completely agnostic about the actual power source. If we find better ways to make electricity in the future (and much is underway) EVs are ready for them. While we do continue to find new ways of extracting more fossilized energy, nobody that knows anything about it could look you in the eye and say they are "better ways": "ever more intrusive, ever more expensive" is rather closer to the mark.

Finally, an important point that is too seldom mentioned: Renewable energy sources tend to be intermittent; the wind comes and goes, waves are sometimes huge and sometimes not, the sun is strong or the cloud-cover thick, and so on. In order to rely on renewable energy it is paramount to be able to store huge quantities of energy. (As it is, we constantly monitor and adjust production to match consumption at all times.) Several possible solutions to this problem have been proposed, for instance to pump water up into reservoirs during times of excess (e.g. when the sun is strong and the wind blows fast) and use traditional hydropower to make electricity in times of starvation. But, given batteries that have the capacity people need and then some, an electric car park with smart chargers could provide a very cost-efficient and capacitious energy store. Our cars could charge up when there's excess power and put energy back on the grid (in fact, selling it!) when there is too little, while making sure to have enough power to meet our needs. Batteries aren't currently good enough to allow this, but there is good reason to expect batteries to improve quite dramatically. The Obama administration has devoted a few hundred million dollars to research in this field (which, if it leads to any significant gain at all is really peanuts, about a tenth of what it costs to make a movie!) with the stated goal of halving the cost per kWh (from 3,600$ to 1,800$) by 2014. McKinsey, by the way, estimates that electric cars become cost-competitive (total cost of ownership) with traditional cars at a cost level of about $2,500 per kWh. In other words, if batteries improve nearly as much as we can reasonably hope, electric cars will fairly soon be much cheaper to own as well as far more pleasant and far more environmentally friendly.

This is running far too long, but lastly I'll just encourage people to consider what else might change if your car has all its energy reserves available in electronic form and without a motor running. Tesla and several others have already implemented a few of the more obvious ideas, such as being able to use your phone to tell the car to heat up the coupé and be nice and comfortable by some preset time. Where I live there are many days every winter with 20 below freezing, and I can vividly imagine arriving at my cosy space-age car while my neighbour is trying to get the ice and snow off the front window some particularly cold morning...

Sorry about the length. But I care passionately about electric cars and hope I don't write so boringly that none of it can rub off to someone who reads this.
Log in

You are not logged in, please login with your forum account below. If you don't already have an account please register to start contributing.



Discuss in the forums