Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World

2015 by Steve Levine

Spoiler: Chapter 45, "Black Box". Envia's Sujeet Kumar did not measure his battery properly. Battery capacity is coulombs times voltage and he only counted colombs. When voltage drooped, he way overstated capacity. Also, Envia boasted an anode invention that was only a small tweak on supplier Shin-Etsu's anode - the tweak provided an initial improvement to capacity, but not a long term one, and caused the anode to swell after many cycles.

A somewhat interesting story about the politics and hype of electric car batteries, mostly centered around the researchers and managers at Argonne National Labs.

Batteries are surrounded by a strong reality distortion field. Politicians, lab managers, entrepreneurs, suppliers, and car manufacturers all make big claims about future miracle improvements of cost, capacity, durability.

The takehome message for me is that batteries will slowly get more energy-dense, a few percent at a time, after massive investment. Factor of two improvements are probably not possible - indeed, larger improvements may still be made with internal combustion engines.

My thoughts:

1) the battery development community needs better measurement tools, or the tools they have should be used more rigorously. There is no equivalent of a standard "big battery test-o-matic" which performs standardized tests and emits data that can be compared between systems. Entirely missing from the measurements described is shock and vibration and environmental tests - these big batteries fail in the static, protected environment of a lab - what will they do in a crash, perhaps doused in gasoline from the internal combustion car they crash with?

2) Batteries are heavy and bolted on like infrastructure, yet they are actually consumables, they wear out. Why oh why don't we change out batteries at service stations instead of recharging them off of inadequate suburban power distribution grids? If we change them out, we can use designs that can be automatically refurbished after 100 or 10 or even 1 use, and that changes the equation. If we can change out batteries ( or more generally, portable chemical producers of electricity) rapidly, we could do it faster and more safely than filling a tank with gasoline. We might even be able to do so while we drive, or driving through an automated swap tunnel (like a car wash only faster) and simulate infinite range.

3) Related note - gas stations can read a car's EZ-pass toll transponder to get billing information - no credit card needed. This could be refined to adjust fuel taxes by vehicle type, possibly good, probably evil.

4) Taking TWO steps back - how can we re-engineer our society so we don't spend so much time and treasure moving back and forth? Of course, freedom requires mobility, and public transit can be a totalitarian chokepoint. But is ten thousand miles and a thousand hours a year spent commuting "freedom", or is it a 5 year prison sentence added to every citizen's life?

Powerhouse (last edited 2015-03-21 16:27:59 by KeithLofstrom)