back to article Hot new battery technologies need a cooling off period

Scientists began buzzing about electrochemical energy cells in the 18th century; consumers bought their first low-density Lithium-ion batteries in the late 1980s, and industry became hooked on the things in the 1990s. Ever since, the comedy electronic-device conflagration has been as much a staple of tech news kibble as the …

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  1. G R Goslin

    The battery is only one part of the problem

    And a minor part at that.The REAL problem is charging the things in the time scale of a petrol/diesel tank re-charge. And that's never going to happen. Hydrocarbon fuel is so energy packed the the "re-charging" rate can be considered to be in the range of megawatts. It'd certainly put quite a dent in the local power supply to do the same with an electrical re-charge.

    1. Terry Barnes
      Thumb Down

      Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

      "Never" is a long time. You'd be waiting a long time at the petrol station if they had to refine oil into usable fuel for you too.

      The obvious and easy answer is to use interchangeable battery packs - with the exchange being robotised. I'd imagine the 'Calor Gas' model will be adopted, whereby you pay for the energy and 'borrow' the container. That also solves the problem of batteries failing over time - it's not yours and so you don't care.

      If recharging isn't done in real-time, it can be done at times more convenient to the grid - it can be done overnight. The 'petrol station' of the future then just needs to store enough exchangeable batteries to last a day's trade and have enough power supply to recharge them overnight.

      Adopt the battery exchange model and combine it with overnight home charging (with a rebate if you exchange a battery still partially charged) and electric cars become eminently practical.

      This isn't a 'never' scenario, it's just one that requires some thought and imagination.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

        "The obvious and easy answer is to use interchangeable battery packs - with the exchange being robotised. I'd imagine the 'Calor Gas' model will be adopted, whereby you pay for the energy and 'borrow' the container. That also solves the problem of batteries failing over time - it's not yours and so you don't care."

        This was the plan of that company founded by SAP's ex CEO-in-waiting .

        Excellent idea and technologically updateable as the battery tech improves.

        Didn't work so well in practice and the company is being wound up.

      2. PyLETS

        Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

        I'm sure exchangeable batteries at recharge stations will happen at some point, but probably not while very rapid changes to the technology are occurring and uptake is still very low. Some level of maturity is needed first, or the tech has to be so good and widespread that the value added by having exchangeable batteries is greater than the value lost through losing flexibility over adoption of newer technology on a more rapid schedule. The investment in building such recharge stations and equipping various models of car with standard battery sizes is huge, compared to custom fitting this year's best battery in this year's latest model of electric car, when a manufacturer is expecting to sell only a few thousand of the latter to early adopters in a conventional auto market of millions of units.

        The car manufacturers have to agree standards for mounting and connecting standard sized and shaped batteries which can be slid in and out in a standard way first. That's a big ask if next year's battery technology is likely to be 10% more cost effective than this year's, and incompatible with the constraints which this kind of standardisation is likely to place over the design issues which have to become fixed for the batteries to become interchangeable.

      3. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

        Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

        "The obvious and easy answer is to use interchangeable battery packs - with the exchange being robotised. I'd imagine the 'Calor Gas' model will be adopted, whereby you pay for the energy and 'borrow' the container. That also solves the problem of batteries failing over time - it's not yours and so you don't care."

        You did notice that Better Place is closing shop, right? Apparently the answer is not so easy.

        1. Terry Barnes

          Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

          "You did notice that Better Place is closing shop, right? Apparently the answer is not so easy."

          Their failure is a timing issue. The vast majority of early computer manufacturers went bust, yet we do seem to have a number of computers in our society.

      4. Jim 59

        @Terry Barnes

        Bang on !

      5. Aitor 1 Silver badge

        Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

        I don't really see that as a solution.

        How much will they charge you, full battery? state of the battery? fraud?

        If you have to fill the battery, it will be usually 75% of the capacity. ->In 2 hours you can have that. And, potentially, in half an hour you can recharge it, if you cool it down (liquid refrigeration).

        But in highways, you could induct charge trucks and cars, expensive but feasible.

        The main problem is price: if enough cars start rolling, infrastructure will come with them.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

        One should note that after a billion dollars the Israeli "rapid battery change" (Better Place) went titsup, and that was in a country one would think ideal for batteries. Of course, they were trying to shill French electric cars, which could have been part of the problem....

        I still can't figure out exactly where all that money went to. Maybe the ex-CEO was having too good a time touting the idea.

    2. AndyS

      Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

      You're absolutely right about the recharge rate, but in fact you only need that re-charge rate because you can only fuel the vehicle in a remote location, standing out in the weather, in someone's forecourt on the side of a road.

      If you can "refuel" at home, at your own leisure, and don't need to be absent, there's a complete change in user patterns possible, and for 99% of use cases, a few hours is perfectly acceptable. There are a few cases where you may exceed the range of your vehicle and need to re-fuel mid trip, but with a decent range comparable to liquid fuelled vehicles, they will be few and far between, and for very many people they will be non-existent.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

        >The REAL problem is charging the things in the time scale of a petrol/diesel tank re-charge. And that's never going to happen.

        That's an issue for longer trips, but many people's commutes are shorter than the current range. For longer journeys, a small diesel car is suitable - and diesels are more efficient on long journeys anyway.

        1. TeeCee Gold badge
          Facepalm

          Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

          That's an issue for longer trips,

          Or just "an issue" full stop. When it comes to efficiency and eco-friendlyness building and running two cars, when only one is really required, is beaten out by using a steam vehicle fueled by burning old tyres.

      2. G R Goslin

        Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

        True enough. But an awful lot of car on the road are permanently on the road. Their owners don't even have the facility to park on their own property. So all street parking is out of the question. Too, an average fill of petrol, say 40 litres, works out at 360KWh. re-charging that, at home, over a period of 10 hours would require an power outlet giving 36 KW. Twelve time the maximum allowed on your average ring main. If your light dim when the fridge kicks in. Think what 36KW will do

        1. Terry Barnes

          Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

          I think we'll see a lot of street charging posts being installed - there are already some in car parks and on the roadside in the nearest city to me.

          You presume as well that a vehicle will be empty every night and need a complete charge. That's unlikely for most users. They'll either charge only occasionally when a lower charge threshold is reached, or 'top up' overnight. And, you're forgetting exchangeable battery packs.

          The problems you highlight are "if we do nothing" problems. The point, I think, is that we will do things. These are things to be solved, not barriers to progress.

        2. Steve Todd

          Re: The battery is only one part of the problem - @G R Goslin

          Other than the fact that electric cars can get similar ranges as 40 litres of petrol in a conventional car using only 50-60KWh (those IC engines are woefully inefficient at converting energy to drive) you're still ignoring the options of battery exchange and street charging points (there are already public charging points available). In the unlikely event you've run a 50KWh battery pack near empty a domestic 240 volt, 30 amp ring main circuit could recharge it in about 7-8 hours. Industrial grade 440 volt, three phase power can improve significantly on that.

        3. Trygve Henriksen

          Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

          Your math may be right, but your presumptions are wrong.

          How far do you drive on that 40L tank?

          Over how many days?

          When going from a gasoline/diesel-based vehicle to an electric you also change refill/recharge patterns from 'Fill when near empty' to 'recharge when parking'.

          Also, you assume that an electric uses the same amount of energy as the equivalent size gas-guzzler.

          That said, most electrics today are poorly designed crap only manufactured to keep the greens at bay.

          You have a 'mostly stock' vehicle with a big Electric motor, a gearbox, and even a differential and axles in it.

          That's a lot of heavy junk that steals power.

          The best way to design it would be with 2 or 4 smaller electric motors placed in the wheelhubs.

          The only problem then is that you'd need a slightly more advanced motor controller...

          A bonus is that it makes it much easier to implement regenerative braking.

          The Hybrids out on the road today?

          With gas-guzzler engines almost as big as the 'normal' version cars, a big electric motor and a heavy lump of parts to make them work together?

          Also a disgrace of engineering.

          They need to drop that crap and go directly to the 'Extended Range EV', with a small motor to continuously recharge batteries and a set of electrics for propulsion.

          A small gasoline engine optimised to drive a generator is much more efficient than todays car engines that are built to 'perform over a wide range of speeds'.

          Also, the generator doesn't even have to deliver enough power to replenish what the car uses at 'cruise', much less what it uses when accelerating.

          It just needs to keep the batteries from draining completely before you get to your goal. And any time you stop for a red light, to do a number 1, or to get something to eat, the little engine that could will still be busy recharging the batteries. (Unless you stop at an IKEA or other place that has charging stations of course... )

          1. Steve Todd

            Re: The battery is only one part of the problem - @Trygve Henrksen

            The current generation, piece of crap designs are using about 300Wh/mile. Models built from the ground up as electric are down at around 180Wh/mile. Either way, even allowing for a certain amount of internal self discharge (which you can easily top off from domestic power, in which case you could go for months between needing a visit to a refuelling station) they are way more efficient than IC engines (even current hybrids are up at about 750Wh/mile in terms of the energy in the petrol that they consume).

            The point for comparison was how much battery capacity an electric would need to drag about and how much it would need to charge in order to match a theoretical 40 litre tank of petrol. The answer is that the amounts are't unmanageable as was being claimed.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The battery is only one part of the problem - @Trygve Henrksen

              Current hybrids are substantially better than 750Wh/mile... to pick one at random... the Peugeot 3008 Diesel Hybrid4, does a claimed* 83mpg combined (thats per UK gallon), which equates to 540Wh/mile (34ml/km => 1.2MJ/km => 540Wh/mile). That's a 200bhp, 4WD & 2,200kg vehicle too... a small car of similar design could be substantially more effecient.

              * admittedly the manufacturers own figures, so who knows as to real world figures? I don't, haven't got the £27K spare just to find out

              The question is given the technology exists... why aren't the car manufacturers trying harder? Both with EV only and EV/hydrocarbon hybrids?

              1. Trygve Henriksen

                Re: The battery is only one part of the problem - @Trygve Henrksen

                The reason why manufacturers doesn't try harder?

                I would guess that a lot of the engineers are too set in their ways.

                To them a car MUST have 4 wheels, all driven by the same big engine.

                And if there' a Gasoline engine anywhere near it, of course it has to be the driving force...

                Frankly, I'm sometimes surprised that they don't stick exhausts on pure EVs...

                83 mph?

                Why aren't I impressed?

                The first Citroen 2CV did 80mpg, and a Citroen AX did 87mpg when it traveled from Dover to Barcelona on 10Imperial Gallons...

                (Those are real world numbers. Just check the book the next time you're in the pub, enjoying a pint. Nope, not buying for you... )

                4WD?

                Doesn't matter to me. Off-roading is generally not legal here in Norway, and my Berlingo gets me everywhere else without problems. (A diff-locker would have been nice for winter use, though.)

              2. Steve Todd

                Re: The battery is only one part of the problem - @Trygve Henrksen

                Nice of you to bring up the 3008, no it doesn't give those numbers in real life. See http://cars.uk.msn.com/features/real-world-mpg-the-biggest-car-fuel-economy-losers?page=5

          2. annodomini2 Bronze badge
            FAIL

            Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

            @Trygve Henriksen

            "The best way to design it would be with 2 or 4 smaller electric motors placed in the wheelhubs."

            NOPE, NOPE, NOPE, NOPE!!!!

            In wheel motors increase unsprung mass which has a significant impact on the handling of the vehicle.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

              Mitsubishi abandoned hub motors for the MiEV, and apparently this was just one of several reasons.

              A neighbour has one...even though it has many disadvantages, I still experience envy every time I see it.

      3. Steve 13

        Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

        Very many people NEVER drive further than the range of a single tank of fuel (or charge of their EV).

        I call bollocks on that. There will be some for who this is true, but I expect it's a small minority of people.

        Visiting friends or family in different parts of the country, going on holiday, going camping for the weekend, they aren't uncommon activities.

        You might argue that I can charge up again over-night at my friends, but I think that's making one too many assumptions.

    3. GettinSadda
      Boffin

      Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

      >And a minor part at that.The REAL problem is charging the things in the time scale

      >of a petrol/diesel tank re-charge. And that's never going to happen. Hydrocarbon

      >fuel is so energy packed the the "re-charging" rate can be considered to be in the

      >range of megawatts. It'd certainly put quite a dent in the local power supply to do

      >the same with an electrical re-charge.

      Actually the problem here is thinking that is based on using new technology with usage patterns based on the way old technology worked. Like having a typing-pool full of typists using word processors instead of using your own PC to write documents.

      Assuming you are not doing some very unusual relay-based car-share you will have one driver, or possibly a couple that share the driving on a long trip. You are rarely going to want to drive for more than ten hours, and with a single driver you really shouldn't drive longer than that without a significant break. At the national speed-limit that would get you 700 miles. However, you can expect to need to eat at least once during that ten hour stint and (assuming you want to remain legal) that needs to be done while the car is parked. Lets say 20 to 30 minutes to eat, go to the toilet and stretch the legs that will have been pretty much immobile for about 5 hours. This means that a car with a 500 mile range needs to be able to add about 200 miles of range in about half an hour. Assuming 300Wh/mile (which seems to be a pretty reasonable figure for current EV technology) you would need to add 60kWh in 30 minutes. Current "rapid" EV chargers tend to be 50kW or 70kW, so you would either need to double the charge-rate, or wait for an hour (not exactly an insurmountable issue). You will have an empty battery at the end of the 700 mile journey, but you will also need some time to rest and sleep before another similar stint - you should expect this to total about 12 hours including evening meal, sleep then breakfast. The 500 mile battery will need to regain 150kWh during this time, at a rate of 12.5kW - so not vast.

      1. Chris Miller

        Battery swapping also has problems

        1. Getting on for half the value of an electric vehicle is in the battery. If you've just spent £50k on a new electric Beemer, how happy will you be to have half its worth (and possibly performance) swapped out for a 10-year-old Toyota when you first 'refuel'?

        2. The energy supply problem remains. Count how many cars fill up in an hour at a typical filling station. Multiply that by 30kWh per battery and you've got an approximation of the power demand. It's not trivial, I reckon about 10MW for a fairly busy establishment. If you recharge on site you're going to need a hefty power supply. If they're taken away to a central recharging station and replaced by fully charged ones (analogous to the present petrol/gas tanker) that's a major logistical challenge - batteries are heavy. A 30,000 litre tanker carries 300,000kWh of energy. 10,000 batteries will need a lot of 'tankers'.

        1. Ian Yates

          Re: Battery swapping also has problems

          "1. Getting on for half the value of an electric vehicle is in the battery."

          Except, it wouldn't be. You would rent/borrow the battery and only buy the vehicle.

          "swapped out for a 10-year-old Toyota"

          I'd see the battery system as being standardised, but that doesn't mean all batteries are alike. In the same way we have diesel, unleaded, LPG, etc., you could have batteries with higher "performance", even if that's just capacity.

        2. Steve Todd
          Stop

          Re: Battery swapping also has problems

          Firstly it seems you don't understand the Calor Gas model at all. You don't buy the battery, you pay a refundable deposit to use it, plus the cost of the energy for the charge. You care not a jot who had the battery before you, what condition it is in etc, only how much energy it has stored.

          Secondly the demand for fuel station provided power is much reduced as you can top up at home or in public car parks. You still need significant power feeds to these stations, but they draw off peak power for their charging. Why on earth would you want to physically ship the batteries about when we have a perfectly good way of delivering electric power to wherever we want?

        3. Terry Barnes

          Re: Battery swapping also has problems

          "Getting on for half the value of an electric vehicle is in the battery"

          I'm not sure you understood my point. You won't own the battery and so it won't be part of the value of the vehicle. You borrow the battery as a container for the energy you've bought. If the battery is faulty, it gets exchanged.

          "going to need a hefty power supply"

          Yep - But it's preferable to build a few sites with hefty power supplies than to try and build out the infrastructure to do this to every home. If petrol stations didn't exist today, they'd look tricky to build - thousands and thousands of litres of highly flammable liquid stored in urban areas? And you're going to trust people to pump this explosive stuff into their cars themselves? And how will you transport that flammable liquid safely and fill the giant tanks?

          1. Chris Miller

            @ Terry Barnes et al

            Batteries are not at all like calor gas. Gas is gas, petrol is petrol, but a new battery may perform very differently from an old one (even if they are nominally equivalent). Batteries deteriorate over time and with each cycle, in reality it's unlikely they will last usefully longer than 5 years, but I suppose the technology will improve. But you claim that people will be happy to exchange 'their' brand new one (irrespective of who may 'own' it), for one that may be on its last legs and won't hold enough charge to get you home? I think a reality check may be in order.

            I'm sure if petrol were a new discovery, green zealots would be campaigning against the 'dangers' of filling stations in much the way they do with nuclear power. When was the last time you saw a filling station explode (Terminator doesn't count), or even a significant spillage? It's true that it's possible to get a few splashes of petrol if you're a bit careless while refilling, which might result in a dry-cleaning bill. But a 'splash' from a few hundred kW recharging device could ruin your whole day.

            Gosh this 'green' technology is more complicated than it appears.

            1. Steve Todd
              Stop

              Re: @ Terry Barnes et al - still not getting it

              It's not YOUR battery, you haven't bought it. You are renting it, plus paying for the amount of power you load in to it. You don't care if it brand new or 5 years old, only that it stores the amount of power that you paid for. You go into the filling station and select, for example, high capacity, regular or economy batteries (where economy are getting towards the end of their life - think more like 10 years for this - and don't store as much charge). Providing you know how much power the battery holds and have only paid for that what do you care?

              You honestly think that (a) petrol isn't dangerous if allowed to slop about in the open by it's self and (b) electric charging stations aren't carefully insulated and loaded down with safety devices? Pull the other one.

            2. Terry Barnes

              Re: @ Terry Barnes et al

              "won't hold enough charge to get you home?"

              I'm not sure what you mean. The point of the 'borrow' arrangement is that when a battery does reach the end of its useful life, the owners of it retire it. I'd imagine that vehicles using exchangeable batteries will report on how the battery has performed when it gets swapped again and ones that are on a downward spiral get taken out of circulation. This isn't a giant problem to solve, it's trivial.

              Why would your new car have a new battery? It might do, but equally it might not.

              It's *exactly* like Calor gas. If I extend your argument to gas, it would be like claiming that some of the gas bottles in the shop have got holes in them and the gas leaks out before you get home. There are processes in place to prevent that.

              1. Steve 13

                Re: @ Terry Barnes et al

                Except that batteries deteriorate with every cycle, they hold less charge, they have voltage drop and plateaus.

                A gas bottle either works or it doesn't, you don't get old gas bottles that hold less gas, or where the gas comes out more slowly...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

        Or you could just pop at the "power station", have the local bloke press the 2 buttons on the automated system to replace your car battery with full ones and be on your way with a full charge in something like 5 minutes.

        That only requires things that already exist, like a charge counter on the batterie that can record how many times it was recharged, laws governing how often it can be before it as to be recycled and standards to ALL EV have compatible batteries.

        There, fixed the recharge problem for you, but I won't take the credit, cause it's such an obvious idea lots of people had it before I did.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

      We could fix the recharge problem by using primary cells instead of rechargable ones. I've never understood the focus on rechargable batteries. We already have infrastructure that is designed to replenish liquids so it's not a stretch to adapt that to electolyte replacement.

    5. itzman

      Re: The battery is only one part of the problem

      Actually the recharge time is NOT so much of a problem. There are many techniques for storing electricity that will cope withshort term peaks pretty well. Including - ahem- batteries.

      No energy density, safety and cost are the three major parameters.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Picking nits

    The lead acid battery is surely the commonest rechargeable battery system, certainly in terms of installed watt hours. And is the total installation base of nickel based batteries - whether NiCd or NiMH - less than the lithium installed base?

    The article doesn't mention magnesium, which would be better than sodium (2 electrons versus 1), is cheap, and is much safer than either lithium or sodium.

    But surely the conclusion is right; like fusion, very high density batteries at reasonable cost are a long way from realisation for vehicles. Meanwhile, the rate of introduction of renewable and nuclear energy is such that an electric vehicle is unlikely to release less carbon dioxide per kilometre than either a hybrid or the most efficient Diesels, for a very long time to come.

    So far, Toyota is winning the argument.

  3. AndyS

    Very interesting write-up of interesting technologies. I work in a role connected to HEV design. There are four parameters to measure how good a battery is: energy density per kg and per litre, and power density per kg and per litre. Energy matters for distance, and power for maximum charge/discharge rates, which equate to vehicle power and efficiency (how much it can shove back into the battery when you brake hard).

    The only actual figure in the article is 2600 watt hours per litre. Petrol is 9600 watt hours per litre, but it's only burnt at about 30% efficiency. Electric vehicles put power down at around 80%, and then get lots back in regenerative braking, so in fact that's very similar, in terms of usable energy density, to petrol. This could certainly be a game changer, and lead to 500 miles between charges, assuming the power density is also good.

    Word of warning though - there's lies, damn lies, and battery manufacturer's datasheets.

  4. Chris Miller
    Paris Hilton

    Is there an electrochemist in the house?

    The claimed energy density "2600 watt hours per litre" is about 3.6x that for the best Li-ion batteries (2600 kJ/L). Is this chemically plausible, or has a mistake in unit translation occurred (probably by a journalist)?

    [Paris, because she knows almost as much about electrochemistry as I do.]

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is there an electrochemist in the house?

      I too am very suspicious of that figure. Not because it is theoretically impossible (it isn't) but because 200 years of battery development tell us one thing, and that is that new technologies never, ever live up to the hype. There is always a tradeoff that wasn't spotted until rather late in the day. The main tradeoff is that we are talking about chemical reactions here, and those reactions (except in a pure liquid/liquid system) involve changes to molecules which affect the form of solids. Lead acid batteries eventually see their electrodes crumble away, lithium batteries produce dendrites. Liquids have their own problems of contamination, which is one reason fuel cells have never lived up to their promise.

      Battery improvements will continue, but anybody betting the farm on a radical new technology being a gamechanger in a period of a few years would do better putting it all on a lucky number on the roulette table.

  5. Drakkenson

    I would very much like to see batteries made of these things:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/02/21/ucla_dvd_burner_supercapacitor/

    Stuff windmill pylons full of these and you have grid load balancing and energy when it is not windy. Make car batteries with these things and they will go hundreds of kms on a single charge (anyone willing to do the quick and dirty calculations?). Put these in smartphone batteries and they will go on for weeks with bluetooth and wifi on all the time...

    1. AndyS

      Supercapacitors generally have very high power density, but low energy density (so they're good at things that need a sudden burst of power, but bad at providing it for a long time). They also leak charge very badly over any length of time. Although they're reasonably cheap to make, they don't make very good load-balancing, where you need high energy density and low energy leakage.

      Where they are very interesting is as a buffer for batteries in electric vehicles, so that you can use an energy dense battery (long range) but use a capacitor for sudden bursts of high acceleration, or for capturing the energy during braking. Some hybrids and hydrogen vehicles have used them too, where the energy store is still hydrocarbon, but the short term power store is a small super-capacitor pack.

      1. Drakkenson

        @Supercapacitors generally have very high power density...

        Yes, I know that is so with usual capacitors, but in the video in the artcle I linked they powered a led for 10 minutes out of a single small foil of those capacitors, so the energy density is there, I am sure. Moreover, discharge intensity can be controlled with clever electronics, so that you can control how fast you use the energy reserve.

        1. AndyS

          Powering an LED is a famously deceptive way of proving how much energy you've got. A low-current LED can is often rated at about 2 mA at 5 volts, so 10 minutes could be as low as 6 J, or 0.0000017 kWh. That's not really very much energy - enough to power a 2kW kettle for about 3 milliseconds.

          Unless someone actually gives you numbers, the rule of thumb is that they don't have anything worth selling.

          What seemed interesting in that article was the method of manufacture, not the technology being manufactured.

          1. Drakkenson

            Well, someone in the comments to that article said something about 1 F capacitance for that single foil, I thought that was quite a big deal. I don't know much about electronic devices, though, so it may be you are right and this is not very interesting after all.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Contacts more important than capability.

    Technology will only be embraced if the right people are making money.

    www.ukcolumn.org/article/aluminium-fuel-cell-why-government-blocking-it

    1. AndyS

      Re: Contacts more important than capability.

      ...and 911 was an inside job.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Meh

      Re: Contacts more important than capability.

      TL:DR

  7. Brian Miller 1
    Mushroom

    Releasing _Pure Oxygen when charging?

    That sounds like a fire risk to me. Anyone remember the Gemini Rocket? Pure O2 is pretty dangerous.

  8. KierO
    Mushroom

    What we need is...

    Nuclear Fusion (Or at least Molten Salt Nuclear Fission reactors, instead of the light water reactor crap we have now) and Direct Borohydride Fuel Cell batteries (DBFC's for short). Hell yeah.

    Safe Hydrogen storage in a fuel cell is a much better option then electrical batteries, at least for cars anyway.

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: What we need is...

      "Safe Hydrogen storage in a fuel cell is a much better option then electrical batteries, at least for cars anyway."

      How so? You can charge a battery at home and the enabling infrastructure (the national grid) exists to enable battery exchange or centralised charging in the future. Electricity allows us to build IC/Electric hybrids for longer range vehicles if we need them.

      Hydrogen would mean starting from scratch. Importantly, we can do electric right now - the technology exists. The local council could arrange for charging posts to be installed in the local car park with a week if they so wanted.

    2. jubtastic1
      Trollface

      Re: What we need is...

      Cars with braided steel moustaches that spark along tracks in the road, automated travel and a small onboard battery used for parking / getting it out of the way when it breaks down / driving back to the track when it spins off at hairpins.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    Garages *used* to offer a battery charging service for regular customers.

    Of course that was when battery chargers were floor standing, chemistry was anything but lead/acid and terminals were of one size and shape.

    But if you could get such minimal agreement a garage (which should be able to host 3ph electricity connections) and if open 24/7 offer flexible enough access to make the service viable..

    As for the "Calor gas"model. How about leasing two batteries per vehicle, one to run, one to charge.

    Since they are leased they are your batteries and their charge retention (or lack of it) is your business and under your control. NO one else can use them.

    For people who mostly commute (the vast majority of UK journeys) picking up their freshly charged battery (whatever its shape, size or chemistry) for next week could become as a common as the weekly shopping run to Tesco.

    Just a thought.

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: Garages *used* to offer a battery charging service for regular customers.

      "Since they are leased they are your batteries and their charge retention (or lack of it) is your business and under your control. NO one else can use them."

      But they're expensive, and what benefit do you get from owning them? Why would I want to increase my costs by leasing an extra battery I'm not actually using? It doesn't make sense.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: Garages *used* to offer a battery charging service for regular customers.

        "But they're expensive, and what benefit do you get from owning them? Why would I want to increase my costs by leasing an extra battery I'm not actually using? It doesn't make sense."

        First this would be a lease not an outright purchase. So the company is responsible for handling it at end of life and you don't have to put a big chunk of cash down up front.

        Secondly because you signed the contract with the company the battery can't be dropped into anyone else's vehicle unlike the "Calor gas" model described in previous posts.

        It's a pretty simple idea for people who keep 2 batteries for their mobile, one in the phone, one on charge.

        1. Terry Barnes

          Re: Garages *used* to offer a battery charging service for regular customers.

          "Secondly because you signed the contract with the company the battery can't be dropped into anyone else's vehicle unlike the "Calor gas" model described in previous posts."

          But that increases cost for no benefit. A battery that gets used by lots of vehicles will have a higher duty cycle than one that just sits in your car - or one that sits in your car half of the time and is idle the other half. Given that the leasing company will want to recover their costs and make some money. all you've done is make your electric car much more expensive.

          Why do you care if it goes into someone else's car? It's the energy you want, the container is neither here nor there. You've never been on a camping holiday where you put your iceblocks in the freezer and take out what used to be someone else's? All you care about is the ice - as long as the container is functional - and remembering that I'll be swapping it again tomorrow or the day after - what's the issue?

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

            Re: Garages *used* to offer a battery charging service for regular customers.

            "Why do you care if it goes into someone else's car?"

            Convenience and control.

            It's a curious effect that if no one feels they "own" something (at least in the UK) it tends to get destroyed more quickly than otherwise.

            The battery is yours. And as it is yours you don't have to worry about going down to your local garage (well "filling station might be more appropriate) and discovering they have no charged battery in, as with other models.

            Yes it would primarily tie you to a particular garage near your home. But IRL that is the pattern for most journeys in the UK. It does not demand some nationwide network of stations to exist already,

            It's evolutionary and incremental, but it does require either the support of a big chain (perhaps those at a supermarket chain, where petrol is not their core product) or enough independent garages (how many are even left ?) to feel there is a market they can serve and maybe make money on.

            Naturally it all hinges on how complex it is separate the battery pack (packs?) from their vehicles and the complexity of the interface their mfgs have given them.

            I'd like to think it's within the bounds of modern power electronics to accommodate most types.

          2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Unhappy

            Re: Garages *used* to offer a battery charging service for regular customers.

            "But that increases cost for no benefit. "

            Not so. It enables several features.

            1) Your battery gets charged off line. If you told the garage "I won't be back for it till Wednesday" they could plan their charging schedule and maintain an even load on the grid, but with access to 3ph power they could get a faster charge without hammering the battery using a "super fast" charge. When you arrive its a quick swap.

            2) It's a local solution. If a local garage near where you lived offered the service, that would be all you needed. Most UK car journeys are commutes. It could increase the viability of EV's without needing a nationwide infrastructure roll out. If every UK employer provided charging points for EVs that would probably eliminate the use of this idea. Now how likely is that to happen soon?

            3) A lot of car owners do not have off street parking and charging at home is not an option either.

            I'd agree in the ideal world where everyone had off street parking and there was a strong enough grid to supply every home with enough power to charge your EVs battery overnight, every night this would be redundant.

            But we don't live in that world. This is an incremental solution to making EV's a viable option for the bulk of people who don't drive 1000Km a week across country but do drive maybe 40Km a day to and from their work, with the odd side trip to pick up a takeaway.

            1. Kiwi
              Mushroom

              Re: Garages *used* to offer a battery charging service for regular customers.

              Your battery gets charged off line. If you told the garage "I won't be back for it till Wednesday" they could plan their charging schedule and maintain an even load on the grid, but with access to 3ph power they could get a faster charge without hammering the battery using a "super fast" charge. When you arrive its a quick swap.

              Are you kidding? You want a garage to hang on to your battery for a few days?

              Do you have any idea at how large these batteries will be? Think about it. Lets say that your battery is the size of a 20 litre container (I'm pretty sure most will be somewhat larger). Lets say your garage does a measly 1000 customers/week. Can you imagine the storage space needed for these things? And they're gonna let you keep it there for a week without charging you for it?

              For the small computer repair shop I work in, customers who don't pick their PC's up quickly are a major pain, and one of the worst parts of that is the floorspace needed for each machine - even when stacked.

              And you want some poor garage owner to keep your fucking waste of space until next Wednesday???

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Steve Martins

    charging times not the only practical issue

    People will run out of charge, guaranteed. these days a friendly passing driver or a long walk to the nearest pump, fill up a can and recover car is inconvenient but works. Fast forward and it'll be an iAA(tm) truck with a white lead that needs plugging to your iCarriage for an hour before you're on your way again.

    Batteries are an environmentally unfriendly technology when thought of at this kinda scale, but as long as we're not producing carbon at the wheel people can engage their smug mode for saving the planet. Electric vehicles will come, but I still feel a piece of the puzzle is missing and producing tonnes upon tonnes of lithium batteries with a 3-5 year shelf life doesn't seem like an environmentally positive scalable solution to me.

    My money is on hydrogen fuel cells - yes there are problems here too but imho lead to a much better overall solution.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: charging times not the only practical issue-My money is on hydrogen fuel cells

      Your comment "yes there are problems here too" is a bit like observing that the Himalayas are a range of hills in Asia. It rather fails to catch the awe-inspiring size of those problems.

      If I expected to be around in 50 years to collect, I'd bet that a hydrogen economy, if it comes at all, will come after successful nuclear fusion.

  12. johnck

    Holefully someone can answer this

    I don’t know if this is would work but, given that to use all electric transportation would require much more electricity generation (where this comes from is a question for another time although it is related). Why no simply take the extra energy generated and use it to reverse the chemical process of burning petrol/diesel/LPG/JP8 or whatever, and using the current system to distribute it and use it, may be with a slight change to use the most efficient fuel form.

    It can be done see http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0022072894033005 (you need to pay if you want to see the whole paper as PDF sadly) and http://phys.org/news/2012-10-air-fuel-synthesis-petrol-future.html or just search for it using your search engine of choice

    I suppose my question is would this system be more or less efficient then batteries given the whole cost of batteries (production, transport, recycling/replacing, and changed to infrastructure)? Comparisons would have to be made with existing technologies from both sides as it is impossible to predict what will happen in the future, as either side could see massive improvements in efficiency.

    1. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: Holefully someone can answer this

      Actually you can create artificial petrol using the sun as a direct source of the energy required. So yup, a super idea - of course not one the government would take up as there are insufficient backhanders and bungs involved.

      1. johnck

        Re: Holefully someone can answer this

        So I did see that on TV a while back, wasn't sure if I'd had one too many an dreamed it up.

        Sadly I think your all too right about the backhanders and bungs, as it’s the only thing I can think off that explains the lack of water wheels and stuff in rivers. They were there a hundred, or so, years ago, every town on a river had a water wheel powering a mill of some sort and people think they are “quaint” so no complaints on that front either.

        1. Steve 13
          Facepalm

          Re: Holefully someone can answer this

          Perhaps you can estimate how much power would be generated, and then equate it to modern electrical usage patterns.

          Then you'll probably understand local water wheels aren't deployed regularly, but damning the Severn Estuary might be effective.

  13. Dave 15 Silver badge

    Costs

    Still have to charge the battery - as many have pointed out this is not always going to be easy - and it seems that it is unlikely to ever be properly quick.

    Fireless steam has a potential to offer a better outcome. A steam container can be charged quickly (e.g. at the equivalent of a petrol station), It can be insulated to provide storage for overnight even in cold conditions, could potentially be filled at home (even by taking the tank inside if you don't park on a drive),

    The technology exists and is very cheap. Fireless steam locos were used for many years in industrial settings such as munitions factories where a fire wasn't so useful. These often did whole days of work hauling hundreds of tons of material around between charges.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Costs

      "Fireless steam has a potential to offer a better outcome. A steam container can be charged quickly (e.g. at the equivalent of a petrol station), It can be insulated to provide storage for overnight even in cold conditions, could potentially be filled at home (even by taking the tank inside if you don't park on a drive),"

      True. Modern high temperature plastics could hold up to 200 atm at around 300c. The hardware would be (relatively) mechanically simple and a fair bit of it (like the tank) could be made in fibre reinforced composites, so pretty strong and light. Also direct electric water heating is a very efficient way to boil water.

      The trouble is it sounds so completely mad.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Costs

        "A steam container can be charged quickly"

        I believe that shunting engines at oil and gas plants used to have fireless boilers which were recharged from a steam generator at a safe distance from the hazardous substances. But it only worked because the range was low and a stuck engine could easily be rescued.

        As a small child I suspected that the gas works at Ponders End used these locomotives but was never able to find out. Can anyone confirm or deny?

  14. squigbobble
    Meh

    Sidestep the problem...

    "Firstly, any membrane must entirely remove all water and carbon dioxide so that only completely dry air enters the battery system."

    Why even bother? Just seal the whole battery in with it's own pure oxygen atmosphere. Veg is often packaged in a 'protective' atmosphere so it's not a difficult process, there's only 2 hurdles to it- maintaining a gas-tight seal for 10+ years of the battery's life and the gaseous oxygen attempting occupy 24x the volume of the oxygen in the oxide state. Some sort of gas-sponge* similar to what's being developed for hydrogen storage would be the ideal solution, one that absorbs oxygen when the pressure is greater than a certain value (as the cell outgasses during recharging) and releases it again when the pressure falls (as the oxygen is consumed by the cell during discharge). That said, developing the gas-sponge is probably a bigger job than the cell.

    The actual amount of oxygen required will be tiny so the fire hazard won't be much different to a tank of petrol, except that it'll be harder to put out.

    *Not the technical term? It is now.

  15. itzman

    asuming nuclesar electric power generation....

    what in the end matters is whether the total cost of ownership of a fuel car running in completely synthetic hydrocarbon fuel is better or worse than the cost of an all electric battery powered car.

    In the same way that what finally matters is the cost of spiralling hydrocarbon fuel versus nuclear power in electricity prime energy generation.

    (It is accepted that so called renewable energy will never be reliable or competitive as an alternative).

    There is also an issue of how much lithium there is available and extractable and sensible energy costs..

    BEVs work in an overall context for short haul uses to electric train stations. Equipped with charging points. The problem of transportation be solved that way in a fossil energy free world, but its not a drop in replacement for the motor vehicle.

  16. The Grump
    Holmes

    Wouldn't it be easier to...

    put overhead electric lines over roads, and equip cars with a gantry-type overhead power connectors - like electric commuter trains use every day ? Unlimited range, and a Leaf type 70 mile battery for off grid use, like parking garages - what's not to like ? A meter would keep track of the amount of power used.

    Somehow, swapping out batteries every 70 miles or so doesn't sound all that appealing. To defeat range anxiety, we have to get the electric to the car. We can't just wait for another Tesla type genuis to emerge and create an uber-battery - we have to power electric cars now. We can invent the uber-battery later.

    1. Test Man
      WTF?

      Re: Wouldn't it be easier to...

      Overhead electric lines over roads - Cost, unsightly, dangerous, etc. You're advocating overhead gantries over every single road? Even if it was only over major roads, it's still a ridiculously expensive and unsightly venture to be getting into.

      1. The Grump
        Thumb Up

        Re: Wouldn't it be easier to...

        Test Man sounds like a classic NIMBY.

        Unsightly ? No more than the normal electric lines on poles beside nearly every road in the nation.

        Dangerous ? No more than the very same lines listed above. We are warned repeatedly about trimming trees, using ladders, etc near the power lines that decorate our roads now.

        Cost ? When you factor in all the lives lost defending oil interests around the world, the cost of exploring for more oil, the costs of more power plants (including new nuclear plants) needed to charge all those very costly L-ion batteries, it would be a bargain. And the construction alone would employ thousands of the unemployed.

        We need more people to say "Yes, we can", and less people who say "No, we can't". I can easily imagine a future with overhead powered cars. Can you imagine the future if the Wright brothers had asked Test Man's opinion of their new-fangled airplane invention ?

  17. James Bayley
    Go

    Video of robotic battery changer

    This is a practical alternative to a pump.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c29Ps4e-sXY

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Video of robotic battery changer

      "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c29Ps4e-sXY"

      Man that video is RAF.

      The idea of sub dividing the battery into standard packages with a standard charging circuit is a pretty neat idea. But that did not stop the last go at it has shut up shop.

  18. Dieter Haussmann

    I would like to see lifetime-guaranteed, self-charging batteries by way of radioactive decay which is captured overnight in an accululator - until then...yawn.

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