back to article Uncle Sam's boffins stumble upon battery storage holy grail

According to the head of ARPA-E – the research arm of the US Department of Energy – a number of breakthroughs in battery technology have been achieved, with huge implications on the use of renewable energy and electric cars. Speaking at an ARPA-E event in Washington DC this week, director Dr Ellen Williams told an interviewer …

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"Which in real terms would mean cars travelling 300-500 miles on one charge for less than $10 – a fifth of the price of gasoline."

It's not just a matter of range and cost. It's also a matter of how quickly you could get the energy into the car. Can they achieve a charge rate equivalent to a petrol pump's delivery rate and as simple to operate?

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At highway speeds, 500 miles is 6-7 hours. After that much driving you should be taking at least an hour break anyway.

Also, electric vehicles can be charged at home, which (for most of us, anyway) can't be said of petrol-powered ones.

It's a different rhythm, certainly, but in many ways more efficient.

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Or for car batteries, instead of charging there's the concept of hot-swapping - which might make the charge time moot for some drivers

http://techcrunch.com/2013/06/20/tesla-shows-off-a-90-second-battery-swap-system-wants-it-at-supercharging-stations-by-years-end/

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Also, electric vehicles can be charged at home, which (for most of us, anyway) can't be said of petrol-powered ones.

Having run out of petrol on a number of occasions and had to thumb a ride to the nearest service station with a petrol container, I'm wondering how you get the vehicle home for a recharge. Bet the missus refuses to carry the battery for you when the nearest is a few hundred kilometres away. And for what it's worth I've "recharged" petrol vehicles at home before from the aforementioned petrol container.

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Anonymous Coward

"hot-swapping"

Suggested that once, but the girlfriend wouldn't be in it...

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Green Prince of Darkness....the "sustainable" fraud....

There is no overcoming the limits if Physics and Chemistry.....

Too detailed for comment section, see "Green Prince of Darkness"

posted at FauxScienceSlayer, along with info on climate hoax and Abiogenic oil.

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Re: Green Prince of Darkness....the "sustainable" fraud....

I know I shouldn't have gone there, but just for the lulz I visited your website. In one essay (Nullius in Verba, presumably yours) I found:

"Uranium has a half life of 4.5 billion years in laboratory conditions but the decay rate is unknown and unpredictable in the Earths molten mantle"

This assertion tells me who is the faux scientist in one sentence.

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Meh

Re: Green Prince of Darkness....the "sustainable" fraud....

Mike, that is the conventional wisdom, given the relative differences in the strengths of the electro-magnetic forces and the nuclear weak force. When actually tested, you know, like empirical science is supposed to, it has been found that some elements (no I dont have list to hand) do seem to increase in decay rate under very high pressure. Only one report so I await followup testing. Scepticism of all claims is a virtue IMHO. Whether site is faux is irrelevant to its testable claims.

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Regenerative towing?

I'm wondering how you get the vehicle home for a recharge

I have seen Tesla's towed, but I'm wondering if towing wouldn't be one way to get some charge back into the batteries (slowly, of course, or it would be hard to tow). Regenerative braking without the braking, so to speak.

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Since we don't have a driveway, and have to park in the street in front of our house, charging an electric car would mean running a cable from our house across the sidewalk to the car. And that goes for the majority of houses here in the Netherlands. I imagine that would give quite some health&safety risks, not to mention a whole new way for vandalism. And the people in those houses, constitute the bulk of car owners you need to convert to electric vehicles to make a serious environmental impact.

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Put an extension (underground) to the street with a locked cover on it?

I know it's not perfect, but if someone really wanted an electric car this would make things a lot easier.

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Anonymous Coward

@uncle sjohie

This is one thing that so many of the advocates promote. They presume that everyone lives in a 2 car garaged suburban household.

Take the UK Victorian streets, it's not uncommon to have to park 20m down the road, or on a completely different street altogether, forget about allocated parking, not going to happen, not enough space.

What about tower blocks, converted factories, flats and so on?

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@Steve

Also, electric vehicles can be charged at home, which (for most of us, anyway) can't be said of petrol-powered ones.

I've recently bought an electric car* (plug-in hybrid). It has a 10kW battery giving a pure electric range of "up to" 30 miles (realistically, more like 20). It takes over 5 hours to recharge from empty using a 10A (2.4kW) socket at home - how long would it take to charge a car capable of a realistic 400 mile range (like most internal combustion vehicles)? It's true that I can pay (several hundred pounds, even with subsidies) to have a 16A charger installed, which would cut the time to 3½ hrs, but it hardly seems worth it for a relatively small gain.

Public 'fast' chargers can deliver up to 60kW, but they're designed to stop charging at 80-85% 'full' (my antique A-level physics suggests to me that this is because the battery 'resistance' rises to the point where the heat generated (and energy lost) during charging becomes insupportable - can anyone confirm this idea?) But making such chargers universal would require rewiring every home in the country (and corresponding improvements to electricity generation and distribution)

FWIW I really like the car and it's saving me a lot of money (measured 90 mpg - equivalent to 60 mpg once I include the cost of electricity) and that's for a substantial SUV. There's a Register review (of the old model) here.

* Full disclosure: the decision was almost entirely the result of government subsidies and little to do with any desire to save the planet.

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less than $10 – a fifth of the price of gasoline

Only because gasoline for road use is taxed much more than electricty. At present.

a matter of how quickly you could get the energy into the car

Which is one place where flow-technology batteries might actually be useful. If recharging became simply a case of draining the used electrolyte and refilling with fresh, refuelling could be as quick and easy as it is today for gasoline vehicles. Small filling stations could be refilled by tanker using a similar system, larger ones with good grid access might have on-site electrolyte recharging facilities. It would be interesting to see numbers on fluid quantity versus range.

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Re: @uncle sjohie

I guess all these people living in places that are not convenient for electric cars will need to live with the social stigma.

At least until some SJW starts campaigning for "basic human rights"

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Go

At last - someone who realises that the energy in a flow battery system is stored in the electrolyte! So, yes, just fill up with new electrolyte, and the spent stuff can be recycled. We need to get away from the thinking that electric vehicles need to be powered by something "like an AA battery, but better"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @uncle sjohie (and others)

Yes there are lots of people for whom home charging isn't the answer. It's a shame, but it's not insurmountable, shirley?

Why does the vehicle need to be recharged at home? Why not at place of work, or shoppers car park, motorway service station, whatever? All these places can have fast chargers, quite a few of them already do here in south Birmingham, home in the 1980s to Lucas Chloride Electric Vehicles (sodium sulphur battery on Bedford CF Transit-class van) and in the 2000s to the LDV Maxus Electric (lithium ion powered Transit-class van):

http://www.ldv.co.uk/electric_maxus.aspx

Maybe this time round electric vehicles might actually catch on.

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Anonymous Coward

Also, electric vehicles can be charged at home

That is assuming you have the electricity to do it in reasonable time as well as the money to pay for it.

Another thing, where is all of this electricity coming from?

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"Another thing, where is all of this electricity coming from?"

From renewables producing at the the time, and the same technology being used to store energy from renewables not producing at the time.

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"Also, electric vehicles can be charged at home, which (for most of us, anyway) can't be said of petrol-powered ones."

That's great - IF you have your own off-street parking area. If you don't, and are forced to park on a public road, then you're pretty screwed, aren't you? I often have to park my car more than 100 meters from my house, so that makes charging at home impossible. At least if my petrol car runs out of fuel, I can walk to the nearest petrol station and return with a can of go-juice. What am I supposed to do with an electric vehicle? Run back and forth with rechargeable AA batteries?

If you live in a flat, and are lucky enough to have allocated parking, there would be a significant disruption and huge costs involved to get 3-phase 63A power points to every parking spot. For comparison, the average UK home only has a 60-100A single phase supply, so the electricity company is looking at effectively doubling the potential supply current to each and every house, plus retrofitting each house with 3-phase instead of single phase.

So any kind of vehicle that requires home charging, would require the right kind of house to go with it!

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Re: @uncle sjohie (and others)

The car is a personal transportation device. The idea of which, is that you can use it whenever you want. Going backwards, and being restricted by charging times and places, and you are now removing that freedom. Given that, you might as well save yourself a fortune and get public transport instead.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @uncle sjohie (and others)

"being restricted by charging times and places"

Many people already go to the supermarket, or workplace, or retail park, anyway.

"save yourself a fortune and get public transport instead."

That'll really go down well with people that "don't want to be restricted". Especially those not on a usable public transport route, but who already drive to supermarket, workplace, retail park, etc.

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Anonymous Coward

" the electricity to do it in reasonable time"

Come back when you've looked at the numbers.

Here are some starting assumptions: the electric car is the 2nd car, or other vehicle used for school run, shopping, or part time local commute. There's a lot of those about. Assume the charger is a plug in (3kW max).

If you do do the numbers, you'll find that for typical round-town use, the time taken to recharge your electric car from a charger at home is very very roughly the same as the time spent driving. So an hour's drive, an hour or two's charge. The time taken to recharge from a fast charger at work or shopping centre will obviously be significantly less.

Still see a big problem?

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Re: @uncle sjohie (and others)

"Many people already go to the supermarket, or workplace, or retail park, anyway."

Yes, but how many places have charging points? And two out of three examples you have given are shopping areas - how are they going to pay for the installation? Oh, of course, they aren't - YOU, the customer are! Expensive retrofits of high current charging points will ultimately be paid for by the shopper.

As a point, my local Costco has electric charging points. I have NEVER seen these being used.

"That'll really go down well with people that "don't want to be restricted". Especially those not on a usable public transport route, but who already drive to supermarket, workplace, retail park, etc."

And the moral is - don't get an electric car!

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@Flashdunce: Tesla Hot Swap

"Or for car batteries, instead of charging there's the concept of hot-swapping - which might make the charge time moot for some drivers"

http://fortune.com/2015/06/10/teslas-battery-swap-is-dead/

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Re: @uncle sjohie

In the UK there is funding for on-street residential charge point installations which means that in principal it's possible.

But it means getting your local authority to do it, which means the practice might be very different.

And nothing there will solve the bar steward parked in my spot problem even if you do manage to get one installed.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-funding-for-residential-on-street-charging-for-plug-in-vehicles-a-guide-for-members-of-the-public

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Hot swapping

Hot swapping was mooted in my Usborne book about electricity a generation or more ago - and expected twenty years ago. Works well enough for gas canisters etc, why not batteries? "Just" requires standardisation as the main hurdle.

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@uncle sjohie - no driveway

Lots of people seem to run charge cables across the sidewalk/pavement where I live (Wimbledon, a suburb of London, where the vast majority of houses don't have a driveway). Never tripped over one yet, and heard of anyone complaining.

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Maybe not

In my neighborhood in Washington, DC, I often see an electric car parked at the curb, charging with a line run from the house. Admittedly there is no sidewalk there, so people walk in the street. Still, I'd think the main health and safety risk, if circuit is properly wired, would be tripping over the line. There is not a great deal of vandalism of cars around here, and I have always supposed the Netherlands to be more law abiding than the US.

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I'm also based in NL and the council have installed quite a number of 2-car charging posts in my area here in The Hague and they seem to be in regular use. One of my customers has charging points in their car park, as do Ikea.

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Re: Hot swapping

"Just" requires standardisation as the main hurdle.

No, that's the easy bit.

All those swapped-out batteries have to be stored somewhere they can be charged, ready to be swapped back in again. Work out how many cars a typical petrol station refuels in a 24-hour period, and then calculate how much space and electrical power you'll need to store and charge that many batteries, while venting off the surplus heat so your charging station doesn't go up in flames like an apple charger.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: " the electricity to do it in reasonable time"

So an hour's drive, an hour or two's charge. The time taken to recharge from a fast charger at work or shopping centre will obviously be significantly less.

Still see a big problem?

Yes. Forget the maths, do the physics. You're looking at charging:use ratios well below 1:1

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Re: @uncle sjohie (and others)

I don't want to plan my day around where I can refuel my car. Sorry. I've got better things to do and they've got this miracle fuel which is cheap, energy dense like you wouldn't believe and in such easy supply that its price has been falling for the last few years. I think they call it petrol or gasoline or something.

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Joke

Re: Regenerative towing?

That'd give a new interpretation of 'one for the road'... (legally!)...

Colin: "Sorry mates, can anyone help me, me battery's gone right flat?"

Joe: "There's little blue pills you can get for that mate!"

Colin: "No, I don't mean that, I just need to get home."

Joe: "Ah, you don't want to keep that sort waiting!"

Bob: "Hey, Colin, I can hook you up okay, gotta be on my way anyway. How far?"

Colin: "It's 15 miles home but if that's too much it's only 10 to my bit on the side."

Bob: "No problem mate, I've got some ropes in the back and 10 miles ain't too far."

Colin: "Ta, don't get me wrong, I've already pulled but we're not into the kinky stuff".

Bob: "Oh okay then, I can get yer home, 6 pints of the high-octane stuff okay?"

Colin: "Yeah fine, I'll bring it round tomorrow. Tell me better half we've been playing golf ok?"

Bob: "Yep, no worries. Ya can bring a funnel with it yes?"

Colin: "Yeah. It's all the 'extra commuting' that's done it, never had to get a pull before though."

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Re: @uncle sjohie

Well, if you're going to make the sort of unicorn fart powered car assumptions the greens make, adding in a public plug at every car parking spot interval is small potatoes. I've even seen the first two Tesla power stations at my local grocery store just last week. I can't wait for the public to finally see through these boondoggles.

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Unhappy

battery charge times

Under 5 minutes is possible, if a little inefficient and heat producing, with some cells.

The main constraint is energy per unit weight. It simply isn't good enough yet, and it would push the limits of battery technology to get it almost there.

Everybody is working on 'promising technology' but frankly I am skeptical. Batteries are well understood beasts and although incremental improvements are possible, I doubt that total breakthroughs are.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Green Prince of Darkness....the "sustainable" fraud....

Oh you have found your way here have you? here's a tinfoil hat and a megavolt battery to plug it into..

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Joke

Re: calculate how much space and electrical power you'll need

No problem. You won't actually store the batteries at the swap point for long. Every five minutes you'll launch an Amazon drone to carry a load of car batteries to the charging station in Alaska where the heat dissipation won't be an issue.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @uncle sjohie

charging points in all streets.

Put your card in, plug the car in, and leave.

IF - and it is an IF - electric cars become reasonable, that's how it will happen

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Re: @uncle sjohie (and others)

My supermarket already has charging points

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Rol

Re: Hot swapping

Gas canisters slowly degrade over their lifetime, with no loss in storage capacity, until the very end.

Batteries degrade over a much shorter lifetime, with huge losses in storage capacity

So when you truck up to the motorway services wanting to swap out your brand new lovingly cared for battery you might just be getting a real shag nasty replacement with a hundred miles off your range.

To make it work would require some kind of charge counter embedded in the battery, or a customer readable testing meter, coupled with a discounting scheme for those batteries that have degraded.

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Re: I doubt that total breakthroughs are.

Total breakthroughs are ALWAYS possible and rarely foreseen because if they could be easily foreseen somebody would already have done it.

Of course that doesn't actually help the green weenies any because hope is not a plan and while such breakthroughs are possible, they can't be predicted or juiced by throwing more funding at them.

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@Rol

The only way I've been able to imagine a system that works is one where you don't own the hot swap batteries the hot swap company does. You have a service subscription to them based on your usage. Whenever you swing into a station, they give you a fresh pack, recharge the old ones, and do the inspection for old check. Then they pull the near EOL ones and replace them. It also "solves" the problem of disposing of the old one because now the company instead of the end user is responsible for it. I used scare quotes because obviously it doesn't solve the problem of how to process the thousands of batteries that would be going through such a system if even 50% of cars were electric.

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Rol

Re: battery charge times

It doesn't work for everyone, in every instance, but does that really matter?

For probably (hold on I'm pulling on this really hard, urrgh, urrgh, arrgh, there) 90% of the population a vehicle that has a range of 100 miles on an overnight charge, with supplemental charges at work would be perfectly adequate.

The other 10% can stay with the combustion engine.

and of the 90% who occasionally want to slip off to Cornwall for the weekend, then might I point you towards public transport, or car rental services.

Oh, but the cost of having to rent a car, when there's one already parked outside?

Well, for every mile in your leccy car, you could put 5p in a jar, representing money saved, and then spend it on hiring Stig to drive you in a DB9 when the whim takes you.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: " the electricity to do it in reasonable time"

"You're looking at charging:use ratios well below 1:1"

Never mind the physics, what the eff is that supposed to mean?

ps

I are physicist. What you?

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Anonymous Coward

"Also, electric vehicles can be charged at home, which (for most of us, anyway) can't be said of petrol-powered ones."

Yes, big problem with the long lines at the petrol stations with all those lawn mowers and chain saws "recharging".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: battery charge times

and of the 90% who occasionally want to slip off to Cornwall for the weekend, then might I point you towards public transport, or car rental services.

Won't work. All the demand for those rental vehicles would be bank holiday weekends, and school holidays. You'd need a large fleet, which would lie idle for most of the year, taking up space and costing the rental companies a fortune in depreciation while they got no income. There'd also be the problem of who would make them, and who would run the fuel station network, if they only got used by people a few days a year.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: " the electricity to do it in reasonable time"

Never mind the physics, what the eff is that supposed to mean?

Precisely what it says. You need to charge for 'n' hours to use it for 'm'. The ratio of n to m is much worse than 1:1. If you charge your phone for an hour can you make an hour-long call? Like fuck you can, it'll be lucky to give you 15 minutes. Same for a car.

I are physicist. What you?

A chartered electrical engineer.

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Boffin

About "After that much driving you should be taking at least an hour break anyway."...

Other technical changes (self-driving cars) may render that irrelevant.

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Re: Green Prince of Darkness....the "sustainable" fraud....

"This assertion tells me who is the faux scientist in one sentence."

Agreed, but to play devil's advocate for a second, there is probably a much higher amount of radioactivity in the mantle than in a lab, so the decay rate may be different due to nuclear bombardment (at which point you could legitimately say that it's a different isotope so his entire 4.5 billion year comment is guff anyway). But I'm taking his comment out of context because I'd rather read the comments here than read his article.

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