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back to article Li-titanate storage balances Indianapolis power grid

Battery-tech firm Altairnano, best known to Reg readers as the developer of kit which might soon drive genuinely practical electric cars, has now produced a really big battery pack for use by power companies. This week Altairnano announced its first sale of the mega-battery gear, to power giant AES. The lithium-titanate storage …

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Fast-charge forecourts

...aren't going to be that easy to implement. A road-side station capable of fast-charging several electric cars simultaneously will need an electricity supply capable of running a small housing estate, several MW at least. That infrastructure is going to cost a lot and it will be difficult to to fit it into urban sites where the existing electricity feeds are under strain as it is.

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Anonymous Coward

Woah, bet that would produce an awesome spark

Pity no-one would live to describe it as the 'legacy' fuel went pop..

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Bronze badge

elreg

Forecourts already have decent 3 phase supplies - So what if initially you can only charge two or three cars at a time - you can't refill many more than that with smelly stuff.

More power infrastructure will be needed anyway, and these places are already well supplied.

The charging could actually be even quicker than above for many cars, very few journeys require a hundred mile range IF you can trickle at the far end (and most workplaces could provide charging parking places, as could most residential streets tbh)

The few real long journeys will need a supplement of some sort, probably a battery box that clips onto each bumper, or under the chassis. The added weight is valuable for long journeys, not short ones. For the seriously long journeys with unknown stations a trail generator would do nicely.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fast-charge forecourts

Robert, not necessarily... if the road-side station uses similar Li-titanate cells like the Indianapolis substation does, then it could quite possibly 'trickle' charge from the grid while it is not in use, and when someone charges up their car, use the intermediate storage.

;-)

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locally stored/powered?

Your fast charge fore-court could be locally powered by a wind turbine as wella sa grid connection. on a windy day the charge capacity could be say 8 cars simultaneously, however on non windy days (the few we have) the capacity decreases to 2 or 4 whichever the grid allows.

the garage could also have some of these battery's anyway, so that when it's 8am and everyone wants to recharge thier car local stored capacity is available which recharges once the full car drives away, thus locally supplying the peak demand from a smaller grid feed. caching as it where.

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Anonymous Coward

Forecourts & Balancing

The garage could have a massive battery bank itself. Charged more slowly of course.

Power companies could offer customers a cheaper tariff if they have a battery bank in the house, thus the customers could balance the load themselves.

It would make sense that if you have an electric car you slow charge your charging battery in the house while you're out (thus balancing the grid) and charge the car from that when you plug in.

It depends on effective and long lasting battery tech though.

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Bronze badge

Some Odd Things

An all-nuclear grid would not need energy storage. The nuclear power plants, since they do not produce any carbon at all, could simply be run, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, producing more power than the maximum that would ever be needed at peak times.

It would be nice to use the extra power at other times so as not to waste it: this could be done by using the extra power for producing heavy water and aluminum, for example, only at off-peak times.

Also, batteries that can power eight households for one day don't really seem quite big enough to make using things like wind power feasible, unless one had an awful lot of them. Pumping water uphill for hydroelectric dams comes closer to the scale required, I would think

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Anonymous Coward

How Things May Pan Out

Considering many people (exactly how many in Blighty, I don't know, seeing as I'm on the other side of the world) will have garages/carports where they can comfortably trickle charge, the need for rapid charging won't be as high as the need for petrol stations now, but there would still be some need.

Keep in mind that although street-parking has its limitations, carparks at or near people's work can offer day-time charging, even if the carpark's local Li-titanate (or equivalent) storage is trickle-charged overnight from the grid (this was demonstrated in California in the 1990's). And it's feasible, albeit not ideal, to build street-side charging points in some neighbourhoods (probably limited to trickle-charge, but it can be made safe and weather proof and controlled by electronic meter, similar to electronic-metered parking). I'm sure creative minds will come up with additional solutions. Of course, this assumes that driving range is short enough to require frequent charging ... if, in the long term, driving range is say 1500+ km per charge, then the problem is much reduced.

I expect there will be greater incentives to use public transport offered as part of the mix of solutions. (As much as I'd like the future to be houses, garages and cars, it will, unfortunately, increasingly involve high-density apartments and public transport).

In the medium term, I'd see plug-in hybrids as the preferred private vehicle approach, which defers questions of electrical infrastructure until technology matures and the economics are clearer. In the long term, all-electric seems best. I don't see "a sub-station behind every forecourt" as a problem - there will be fewer forecourts and that situation is many years away yet. And, IMHO, that infrastructure is simpler and more versatile than large-scale hydrogen infrastructure.

I think the future won't be 100% battery-electric, though, as much as I'm a strong advocate for battery-electric(#) on efficiency grounds. There will be niche applications, specialised vehicle types and some personal circumstances that would require something else as an additional energy source, e.g. long-distance haulage, buses, emergency vehicles(##). It may be that, despite the options mentioned above, some private citizens may prefer to still use plug-in hybrids - in that case the additional energy source may no longer be a small petrol/diesel engine - perhaps a hydrogen fuel cell or bio-fuel engine, even though it won't be as efficient or as cheap (by then) as all-electric.

Lewis has correctly pointed out that there are still plenty of problems to work on, but I believe that the need for energy efficiency will drive us toward a predominantly battery-electric transport future.

Perhaps there's one thing we can all agree on now: People's current expectations and lifestyles will not remain fixed - and that's going to be one mighty PR issue for governments.

Notes:

# Other direct-electrical storage technology could conceivably replace batteries in the long term.

## The military have somewhat different vehicle energy problems that may lead to quite different solutions.

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Anonymous Coward

@John Savard

The reality of the power grid is that it is demand-driven. *Very simplistically*, as load is placed on the grid, current increases, voltage drops and grid sensors detect the need to increase supply - generators come on line. Supply is also increased predictively, based on history and expectation of demand - and voltage rises in the interim. In order to keep supply voltage relatively constant and sectors of the grid within spec, much switching goes on to balance generators and loads. There are also frequency and phase effects of imbalanced loads, but that's getting into detail.

Power stations runing full-bore with low demand would need "dummy" loads to balance them, which would be *incredibly* wasteful on a large scale.

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@John

As i understand it you can't over produce on the grid, supply has to equal demand, hence the need for peaking plants, etc, instant on hydro and the likes for when we have shortfall.

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Black Helicopters

How long do these batteries really last?

Folks - this article triggered a number of questions for me, and I found this Wikipedia article useful.

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

Black helicopter icon 'cos it's amazing how much fast charge technology has already been invented and licenced by the MIC already :-)

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Silver badge

Nice

Are they on e-bay yet?

A handy replacement for my little 12 powerpack as a temporary supply.

Could save on having generators at some festivals if they are recharged between sets - Eavis has got loads of three-phase for his cowshed. Sod cars, how about something useful for a change.

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Silver badge

A way to get storage into the grid

Well there would be a fairly simple way to get storage into the grid. Just price electrical power by the minute for consumers.

So essentially you could buy yourself a battery pack and it would automatically buy electricity while it's cheap, and it would sell it when it's expensive.

Atomic power is no solution, BTW. You cannot just waste atomic power as uranium is quite rare. Currently it's not a major issue as the surrounding costs are so high, but the demand for uranium is already far greater than the supply of new one. The plants are running on old atomic bombs from the cold war. Once those are gone, well now you know why nobody is building new atomic reactors anymore. Even conservative people don't believe it will be around for more than 50 years.

Another idea might be solar-thermical plants. Those would use the light of the sun to generate heat which is then converted into electricity. By principle the efficiency of that is limited to about 20-30%, but that is even more than photovoltaic cells can do. There is also no need for pure silicon and you can store the heat during the night.

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Fast charge - Load balancing

"The vehicles of the numerous non-garage-owning classes, parked on the street overnight, would only ever be connected quite briefly at the forecourt - so denying the grid any serious chance to benefit from their existence"

This is the problem. You don't get *both* fast charge *and* load balancing.

If fast charge of cars is balanced through local storage, then efficiency drops. (E.g. Using a subsidiary forecourt battery with 15% losses on charge and discharge plus 5% loss in the control circuitry, electricity consumption is increased by 50%.)

If the car batteries are used to balance the grid, taking power when load falls and sometimes providing power when demand peaks, then charging times will be increased substantially and somewhat unpredictably, and there won't be the convenience of a top-up in minutes.

It will take a fair but of juggling to get a system like this working smoothly and to make the best use of the capital cost of the batteries.

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@Savard comments

John S was proposing D2O plants as shunt regulators to take the excess fraction of generated power. Apart from the fact that we don't really need D2O except for one or two nuclear power technologies, the idea is good. It's as easy to use load sensing to control the regulator as it is to control the generator. If you think about it though, a D2O plant generates huge amounts of H2 relative to the D2O product, and this could be used as a fuel or chemical feedstock (think Jet A-1 when the oil runs out...). There are undoubtedly other kinds of shunt regulator that could store electrical energy or generate other products where a variable production rate is not a major handicap.

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Boffin

@Kevin Pollack

Altair claim:

"High cycle life—10,000 to 15,000 charges vs. 750 for existing batteries "

Even if you only get 100 miles per charge, that still equates to a one million mile plus lifetime - far greater than most internal combustion engines. You could actually recycle the batteries to your next car(s) when the rest of the mechanics packed up.

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Let's kill the grid!

I can't help but think electric cars will completely destroy the electric grid unless we find a miracle first. Many places (such as California) already have massive problems supplying power to the point where they either have or are considering legislation to allow the power companies to remotely shut down people's aircon (I don't see how they would do that, but that's another discussion).

Even if you trickle-charge your car (or battery pack which you'll use to charge your car), you'll likely still be using 10-15 amps to do it. When you already have a severely-stressed electric grid, what do you think the effect will be when you have millions of people each using an additional 10-15 amp draw?

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@GrahamT

Hi Graham. Thanks for that.

Indeed these batteries do seem to have extremely good forecast lifetimes. I was interested to learn from various Wikipedia articles that there's a market for recycled car batteries for reuse in home generator systems.

Do you think manufacturers will recycle batteries into new vehicles? It strikes me that manufacturer warranties are so generous these days that they usually want to make sure everything in the car is totally quality-controlled. While the recycled battery could be explicitly excluded from the warranty, I assume a faulty battery could also damage the electric motors, or other parts of the electrical system.

I suppose if you stuck to the same make of car so there was continuity of service history...good opportunity for car manufacturers to lock us into the authorised dealer network!

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Coat

Foreseeing another problem

If we all get electric cars and they're not used to balance the grid, we're going to have massive brownouts when everyone comes home from work and plugs their car in. Especially since this would be mostly at peak air conditioning time in the summer as well. Clearly load-balancing or some kind of demand-sensing smart chargers will be needed.

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@Christian Berger

Have you ever heard of this wonderfull fissionable material called 'Thorium' which we have thousands of tons of just sitting around doing nothing? Old reactor designs can't handle the stuff very well, however newer Thorium High Temperature pebblebed reactors can use it, which is exactly why China and South Africa are looking into these technologies.

Nuclear fission, for the next fifty to a hundred years, is the only reliable way to go. After that, we should have gotten fusion to a level where we can replace our fission plants with fusion plants and hopefully by then get Helium-3 fuel from the moon.

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Thumb Up

Load smoothing

The article pointed out that the primary purpose of this technology was to provide load-smoothing to even out peak demands in the Grid -- essentially like a giant battery-backed UPS.

This has been done for years -- both by rapid-start gas turbine plants and, more spectacularly by pumped storage stations. Years ago I contracted at the Dinorwig pumped-storage station near Llanberis in North Wales. This was a hugely impressive civil engineering feat and also impressive in operation. Water stored in an upper lake could be released through giant inlet valves and through turbine generators -- then draining into a lower lake. When dry-spinning in air, the plant could be up, line-frequency synchronized, and providing about 1800MW to the Grid in only 15 seconds or so. It would run about 5-6 hours before the lake was drained. Water was then pumped from the lower back to the upper lake using off-peak cheap rate electricity.

They used to plan to bring Dinorwig on-line for known events. I cannot recall which TV program, but there was something major showing on ITV (this would have been about 1991) that was broken up by the 10 o'clock news. The boffins reckoned that umpti-million kettles would therefore be boiled at that time and Dinorwig was brought on-line to take up the peak in demand.

Interestingly, because they were used for Grid load management, Dinorwig and it's sister pumped storage facility at Ffestiniog, were not considered to be "generating" plants from a business perspective.

IT angle? Well, all data and signals to/from the underground complex had to be optically isolated because there was a 70 volt (IIRC) potential between below/above ground. <zot!>

Back to the article -- the unknown for me with lithium-titanate and other exotic battery technologies is the environmental impact of both manufacturing and subsequent disposal of the chemical constituents at the end of life.

Cool stuff though.

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I don't get it

It seems so simple to me:

Load smoothing on the Grid to accommodate renewable energy - pumped storage stations like Dinorwig. Proven, scalable, durable.

Improving range on electric vehicles - exchange the batteries at service stations. Recharge at leisure.

What am I missing?

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Let us get this into perspective

...The energy equivalent of 250 Kilowatt-hours is about 25 litres of motor fuel (petrol or diesel), or about 5 gallons. Taking two of these as the average fuel capacity of a family car, "The two stacks and ancillary power converters, control hardware etc. fit into a truck trailer-sized shed" is not going to leave much room in the driveway of your average suburban house.

You have to realise that petrol/diesel fuel is an incredibly compact form of energy. If electricity is to compete in the motor industry with motor fuel, it has to do so on the same terms. Your average commuter is not going to want to wait hours for a "fill-up". Taking a rather slow forecourt pump, filling up your car at 10 seconds per litre, that's about seven minutes for your ten gallons, and most commuters would be muttering under their breath at the end of that. The energy equivalent for this in electrical terms is about one kilowatt-hour per second, or a charging rate of 3.6 Megawatt. The energy efficiency of a motor fuel fill is almost 100% ( you lose the energy to power the pump and a minute amount of fuel vapour). With an electric charge, even with an efficiency of 99.99%, you, somehow have to get rid of 3.6 Kilowatts of heat.

The more you delve into the data the less feasible it all becomes.

You could say that one of the best arguments for the existence of God (as the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy would have put it), is that only God would have had the forethought to have provided such an energy efficient fuel when man had invented the motor car.

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Boffin

@G R Goslin

Actually, if it's 99.99% efficient, waste energy (which may be heat) would be 360 Watts not 3.6 kW.

You miss the point entirely that an electric car is several times more efficient than an internal combustion engine car (well-to-wheel efficiencies of typically 0.28 km/MJ for ICE vs 1.14 km/MJ for battery-electric). That is to say, you don't need the same input energy to drive the same distance, so your comparison is meaningless. That also means that MUCH less energy is required to "re-fill" an electric vehicle. Example: The Tesla Roadster, with a driving range of around 220 miles/350 km, is fully charged with about 80kWh (~300MJ).

You also obviously haven't worked in the electricity industry .... handling the required charge rates with fixed equipment is pretty straightforward.

Almost everyone I know is only proposing home charging for commuters at a trickle-charge rate, at overnight off-peak rates requiring very little in control electronics (a timer would do it - I can get a 10A timer for about $20 at the hardware store that fits in my hand .... hardly filling the driveway now is it?). And before you get carried away, the average daily trip is 33 miles/53km or about 12.5kWh (45MJ) of electrical energy, hence EVEN NOW, trickle charging is more than enough for most people.

I don't suggest that there are no problems remaining to be solved, but reality is far removed from what some people would have you believe.

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Anonymous Coward

@Chris C

Most trickle charging would be done at off-peak rates overnight - EVEN NOW that is feasible without additional electrical infrastructure, according to power companies, though I'd foresee additional infrastructure in the longer term anyway.

California: the primary cause of electricity problems in California was electricity market structure - privatised generating, transmission, distribution and retail sectors where insufficient investment has lead to both transmission bottlenecks and generating shortages. (The activities of Enron featured in the most publicised problems). There were/are no technical problems preclusing better electricity supply in California. In short - they stuffed up the privatised market framework.

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Boffin

At least things are moving in the right direction

Internal combustion engines are very inefficient, (25-30%) and near the limit of their theoretical maximum efficiency (third law of Thermodynamics?) so some of the energy density advantage of petrol/diesel is wasted. Energy density of batteries is low, but these new battery technologies are addressing that. Efficiency of electric motors is comparitively high (about 60%) and could be made higher.

There was research into "room temperature" superconductivity which potentially could push electric motor efficiency up to 80-90%. If this could be reached, then even at 1/3 the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels, batteries would become feasible.

50 litres of fuel weighs about 50Kg (Plus the weight of tank and pump) so if a 50Kg battery pack could produce the same performance, say 500 miles/ 800 Kms, before recharge and 50bhp/38kw, I think the balance would suddenly swing towards fully electric. (OK so a battery doesn't get lighter as the "fuel" is used like a fuel tank does, but the principal remains)

That just leaves the problem of charging. The battery would probably have to have 500 kwh capacity so to charge it in 10 minutes, i.e. at 3000 kw rate (the Lithium titanate batteries can be charged in one minute) at 99.99% efficiency would mean dissipating 300watts, (all mental arithmetic with lots of rounding). That sounds do-able to me.

I'm sure some of my working and assumptions are wrong, but the practical mass-produced electric car suddenly seems a lot closer.

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Flame

@John Savard

> An all-nuclear grid would not need energy storage. The nuclear power plants, since they do not produce any carbon at all, could simply be run, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, producing more power than the maximum that would ever be needed at peak times.

I'm sorry, John, but that's idiotic. To run the plants at peak capacity all of the time would use up the nuclear fuel unnecessarily quickly. Sure, you'd have to use a fast-breeder technology to make them viable, but this isn't *magic*. There's a finite amount of energy available here. It's a non-renewable energy source (as all all energy sources in the final analysis).

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@grahamT

actually electric motors are much more efficient than that... typical traction motors used in electric vehicles are anywhere between 85 and 95% efficient already... there are other inefficiencies in the system, for instance the power controller, and charging systems, which reduce overall efficiency of the system, but as far as the motors themselves are concerned, they are pretty damn good already.

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