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Power Technology

The Replacement For the Battery? 318

Posted by kdawson
from the charge-it dept.
jackd writes "Great article in Technology Review, bordering on 'too good to be true,' about a small company in Texas that is developing the replacement for the electrochemical battery. The device is a kind of hybrid battery-ultracapacitor based on barium-titanate powders. Quoting: 'The company boldly claims that its system... will dramatically outperform the best lithium-ion batteries on the market in terms of energy density, price, charge time, and safety... The implications are enormous and, for many, unbelievable. Such a breakthrough has the potential to radically transform a transportation sector already flirting with an electric renaissance.'"
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The Replacement For the Battery?

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  • by sinij (911942) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:22PM (#17731000) Journal
    Leave cars to companies that specialize in cars, like Honda or Ford, that can apply your batteries to already working hybrid or electric cars with manufacturing, distribution and sales in place. If you have amazing [anything] technology - focus on that technology instead of re-inventing its applications.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ArcherB (796902) *
      Why are they even trying to do cars?

      Because companies like Honda and Ford won't produce a viable electric car on their own!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Planesdragon (210349)
        Because companies like Honda and Ford won't produce a viable electric car on their own!

        Yep. GM's essentially just waiting for the battery. Honda and Ford will follow suit, or try and get out in front. Either way, once the battery is avaliable, they will put it in their cars.
    • Exactly, First make a regular car starter battery. There is already an infrastructure based around 12v batteries: cars, boats, many off-the-grid homes use these or banks of these heavy, limited lifespan lead/acid things that would provide an eager market to replace with a lighter/longerlasting/fastercharging battery.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Usquebaugh (230216)
        Nope,

        my car battery is cheap, lasts longer than 5 years and just works.

        My laptop battery however is a piece of expensive useless junk.

        Fix broken things not things that are already fixed.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by arielCo (995647)

          Your car battery, if it were made large enough to hold the same amount of energy as your 50-liter tank, would weigh about 17 tons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density [wikipedia.org]):

          50 l * 0.74 kg/l (gas) * 46.9 MJ/kg (gas) / 0.1 MJ/kg (Pb batt) = 17353 kg

          For your laptop's battery, that figure improves by a factor somewhere around 6.

    • by mcg1969 (237263)
      Uhh, that's what they're doing. EEStor is not in the car business, they're in the ultracapacitor business.
    • by Harmonious Botch (921977) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:28PM (#17731628) Homepage Journal
      Becuause the State of the Union speech is tonight?

      Ok, this will sound like conspiracy theory stuff, but is it not interesting that a small company in *Texas* just happens to announce a 10- to 20-fold imrovement on battery technology - and emphasises cars more than they ought to - just when an embattled prez is preparing to announce new domestic energy policies, and is widely blamed for foreign policies that are driving up oil prices?
  • Miracles Required? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EricBoyd (532608) <mrericboyd@yCOLAahoo.com minus caffeine> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:22PM (#17731008) Homepage
    I've blogged about this EESTOR stuff twice already:

    http://digitalcrusader.ca/archives/2006/09/power_s torage_r.html [digitalcrusader.ca]
    http://digitalcrusader.ca/archives/2007/01/ultraca pacitor.html [digitalcrusader.ca]

    And I remain unconvinced that they are going to actually achieve what they claim. And even if they did, we don't have the 10,000amp service at my house necessary to actually charge them at speed. And we haven't heard anything about "leakage" (or "self-discharge") rates.

    It's all vapor ware until they show us a functioning prototype instead of just bragging about materials purity...
    • And I remain unconvinced that they are going to actually achieve what they claim

      Indeed, FTA:

      "I get a little skeptical when somebody thinks they've got a silver bullet for every application, because that's just not consistent with reality," says Andrew Burke, an expert on energy systems for transportation at University of California at Davis.
    • And even if they did, we don't have the 10,000amp service at my house necessary to actually charge them at speed.

      I'm skeptical as well, but your argument above is silly. I don't have a refinery or a pumping station at my house, yet my car is quite practical.

      • by bunions (970377)
        filling a gas tank and charging a battery are surprisingly different propositions.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          filling a gas tank and charging a battery are surprisingly different propositions.

          So are filling a tank with gas compared with getting a bag of feed for the horse.

          • by bunions (970377)
            > So are filling a tank with gas compared with getting a bag of feed for the horse.

            well, if it's ok to take as much time to refuel your car as it is to let a horse eat it's fill, then I guess we have no problems.
            • Well, maybe the right solution is the same as with horses: Just like one changed the horses at relais stations, maybe one would simply change batteries at the filling station. Then it wouldn't matter too much how long they need to get refilled, only how long they need to be exchanged.
        • Not if the time frame becomes the same.

          Roll up to the pump connect it to the refill tube, press the button hold the handle and it's all done. Now did I flow gas or electrons.

          Who cars as long as I don't attach a gas pump to my electric tank.
          • by bunions (970377)
            erm, the point was that the time frames can't become the same because:

            we don't have the 10,000amp service at my house necessary to actually charge them at speed.
            • by Henneshoe (987210) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:03PM (#17731970)
              Where did you get your 10,000 amp service number?

              TFA states the energy storage of the battery was 15 KWH. Therefore to charge it in 10 minutes would require 90 KW or 375 Amp service at 240 Volts. Now this would be a lot of current for a household circuit but totally within reason for a "filling station". A typical household application (30 Amps at 240 Volts) would be able to charge the battery in 2hrs 5min.
              • by PietjeJantje (917584) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @05:57AM (#17735552)
                Why charge batteries for cars on the spot and wait for it? Once, I like to drive up to what was once my petrol station, and quickly swap the battery for another one, fully charged. Now if Shell etc. is to produce or charge batteries, that would leave the logistics chain to the "petrol" station intact, hence leading to a higher probability of success.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hirsto (601188)
        I have 300A 240V service to my house. I can run the breaker at the design limit and pull 15kW-hr from it in 12.5 minutes and only spend $1.00 (I live in an obscenely cheap power state) I think the battery would be very hot.

        I'm extremely skeptical of the new super-capacitor claims as it implies a 6 Farad capacitor rated at 3KV that weighs less than 100lbs and can supply 15kW continuously for one hour all the way down to 0V. To perform the same feat I'd need something like 2,200 Maxwell BCAP3000 super-capa
    • by mcg1969 (237263) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:36PM (#17731138)
      I see the claim about charging in 10 minutes---but I've never seen them claim that will happen at home. It is indeed quite clear, as you've figured out yourself, that a residential hookup just doesn't have the capacity for a fast charge. But frankly, that's not that big of a deal, because in practice it will not be impractical to recharge a car at home over the course of hours.

      It's when you're on a long trip and you need to refill and go that you'll be wishing for a filling station with an ultracap-compatible, high-power electrical supply---for which you'd likely be willing to pay a premium kWh rate.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by mdsolar (1045926)
        Well, if you don't mind the expense of having two of them, you could keep one charged at home, make a quick pit stop, and off you go. If they can make the amps, they can take the amps.

        Stop, stop, I can't help flogging this:
        If you have solar power you can take your transportation off of fossil fuels too. The range issue looks as though it may be fixed with this technology. Once you get an electric vehicle just add a few solar panels to your locked in rate solar system and your fuel costs are fixed to
      • by cbc1920 (730236) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:09PM (#17731468)
        Um... Couldn't you just use another bank of capacitors? At home, you can charge one bank slowly, and when you get back from the trip, use them to dump power into your car. The ones at home would be cheaper because there are much lower size and weight restrictions.

        The same concept applies at the gas station- just have a big bank of capacitors. On the other hand, this type of power is perfectly doable if you have a high voltage line going to the gas station. I think people forget how much juice is going through those things, thousands of times more than what gets to your house.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by camperdave (969942)
        a residential hookup just doesn't have the capacity for a fast charge.

        You could use some sort of energy accumulator. Store up the hydro for 24hrs, then dump it in 10 minutes. You could dump 144 times what a normal residential service could provide directly.
    • by Fordiman (689627)
      Why would you need 10kA service? To fill up the 12kWh at home on the spec'ed out batteries, you need 120V@12.5A and an eight hour nap. Don't have that kinda time? Go to your service station which will be happy to fill you up at 12000V@30A (coming directly off their own ultracapacitors which are filling up off 120V@100-500A).
    • Bigger issue is whether there is enough of the raw materials needed to produce their product on the scales they claim. Short answer: no. Barium isn't a problem, though it's energy intensive to refine, but Titanium supplies are pretty tight, and mostly eaten up by aerospace. Now, maybe they can start with refined TiO2 (which is cheap), and skip the pure metal stage, but I would want to see the synthesis and yields first.

      Iron-Phosphate is much more probable as a battery material, as it's available on the
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by adrianmonk (890071)

      And even if they did, we don't have the 10,000amp service at my house necessary to actually charge them at speed.

      Having a special hookup from the electric company is not the only possible way to charge one of these quickly at home. This electrical engineering problem can be solved with a technique that software guys have been using for quite some time: double buffering. Simply buy another bank of ultracapacitors with a slightly higher capacity (to account for losses), and slowly charge that up overni

  • Color me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Buelldozer (713671) <cliff@gind u l i s . n et> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:24PM (#17731032)
    a deep shade of skeptical. In fact I'm borderline disgusted. A claim like this should ONLY be made when at least an engineering sample is available for review.

    I'm tired of "too good to be true" products whose primary goal is to draw VC.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jonnythan (79727)
      Well those products cannot make it to "engineering sample" unless they have funding.

      How do you propose they get it?

      "Yes, sir, this probably won't work. If it does it probably won't be any better than what we have now. But give us tons of money to find out!"
  • by scoot80 (1017822) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:25PM (#17731036) Journal
    Geez.. ultracapacitors.. we had supercapacitors till now.. whats next.. ubercapacitors? ubersuperultracapacitors.. anyhow..

    So far, the supercaps i know of are quite expensive, and their performance degrades - i.e. with each charge cycle, the capacity gets smaller and smaller. I am not sure what the lifespan of a supercapacitor is, but it surely isn't terrbily long. I guess for the current applications (flash in cameras for example) its not all that critical - how many times is flash used over the lifetime of the camera.. If the lifespan is really improved, then they may be onto something.
  • by gweihir (88907) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:27PM (#17731054)
    I bet in a few months, they will only be somewhat better and in a year, it will turn out that their product is actually inferiour for mots applications. Same scam over and over again.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:27PM (#17731060)
    > Ultracapacitors have many advantages over traditional electrochemical batteries. Unlike batteries, "ultracaps" can completely absorb and release a charge at high rates and in a virtually endless cycle with little degradation.

    10 amp-hour 12V Li-Ion Battery: 500 grams ($100).

    versus

    10 amp-hour 12V Ultracapacitor (or 36-amp-second 12kV ultracapacitor): 50 grams ($100).
    Current-limiting resistor of sufficient wattage rating to ensure that ultracapacitor storing that much energy won't vaporize any conductor that it happens to touch...: 450g. ($Priceless)

  • The company is expecting delivery of the systems later this year.

    Great. Call me on December 31 and I'll tell you how it's looking. At least they gave a date of delivery. We'll know when they didn't make it. Not that I'm hoping they'll fail. I would be a good fit for an electric car. But I'll never buy a chemical battery based electric or hybrid. Why? I'm in Alaska. Capacitors can work at low temps much better than the chemical batteries. Not to mention a cell phone with longer life, lighter lapt
    • by volsung (378)
      Unfortunately, it sounds like they aren't yet able to make things work in very cold environments. From the article:
      He also doesn't believe that the ceramic structure--brittle by nature--will be able to handle thermal stresses that are bound to cause microfractures and, ultimately, failure. Finally, EEStor claims that its system works to specification in temperatures as low as -20 C, revised from a previous claim of -40 C.
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        I read that it is rated at -20, not -40, but that doesn't matter for me. They need -40 for automotive applications, according to the article. For some of the same reasons GM wouldn't let anyone outside CA and AZ get an EV-1 (led acid sucks in the cold), they'll have to make it work or not sell it. Some electric cars have warmers around the batteries to keep them in proper operating range and prevent damage. That wouldn't be hard with this system. It gets colder in MN than here. I'm in Anchorage, coast
    • by ArcherB (796902) * on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:42PM (#17731212) Journal
      But I'll never buy a chemical battery based electric or hybrid. Why? I'm in Alaska. Capacitors can work at low temps much better than the chemical batteries.

      From TFA:
      Finally, EEStor claims that its system works to specification in temperatures as low as -20 C, revised from a previous claim of -40 C.

      "Temperature of -20 degrees C is not good enough for automotive," says Miller. "You need -40 degrees." By comparison, Altair and A123Systems claim that their lithium-ion cells can operate at -30 C.
      • Of course, a heater on the capacitors would work wonders. Add a small battery that is used just to heat the capacitors. This ultra capacitor could be made to work up north without too much work esp if this is a hybrid system (as opposed to pure electrical).
  • Are they going for a patnet or do they have one? If so it is guaranteed that they are either full of shit, or will be so high priced that it won't be worth it.
  • Or does the stock not yet exist either?
  • by Quick Sick Nick (822060) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:34PM (#17731118)
    I find this shocking.
  • Seems unlikely (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mgemmons (972332) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:37PM (#17731144) Homepage

    Per the article,

    Pound for pound, it will also pack 10 times the punch of lead-acid batteries

    So, let's see...lead-acid batteries have a energy density of 30-50 Wh/Kg. Lithium-ion is 110-160 Wh/Kg. If it packs 10x as much as lead-acid batteries we can expect an energy density of 300-500 Wh/Kh. About 3-4x that of li-ion battery. Although the claim doesn't seem overly outrageous I find it unlikely that someone has managed this sort of improvement while the rest of the world is clueless.

    • by mcg1969 (237263)
      The 10x comment must be pretty rough. From the article, the EEStor ultracaps will come in at 280Wh/kg, with Li-ion at 120Wh/kg and 32Wh/kh. So really, it's more like 2.3x the density of Li-ion. I dunno, that doesn't seem that far to me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by budgenator (254554)
      FTA

      For example, the company's system claims a specific energy of about 280 watt hours per kilogram, compared with around 120 watt hours per kilogram for lithium-ion and 32 watt hours per kilogram for lead-acid gel batteries

      so they're claiming more like 2 1/3 an Li-ion battery. On the other hand even if the thing is too fragile and doesn't have enough temperature range for over-the-road use as some anticipate, I can think of some useful thing to do with it in a stationary mode such as peak buffering

  • Dupe (Score:5, Informative)

    by ed_g2s (598342) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:40PM (#17731180)
    As likely as it was in September: http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/09/ 25/1837254 [slashdot.org]
    • This one has more info. The other one was more business aspect. This one is lightweight tech and has a bit more behind it. Now, the skeptics can attack it.
  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:41PM (#17731200)
    The good news: everything in the article is true, and they've already started production with a major worldwide OEM.

    The bad news: it's Sony.
  • by StikyPad (445176) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:44PM (#17731232) Homepage
    The trick is to modify the composition of the barium-titanate powders to allow for a thousandfold increase in ultracapacitor voltage--in the range of 1,200 to 3,500 volts, and possibly much higher.

    Oh man.. as if tossing a charged capacitor to an unsuspecting victim wasn't funny enough already.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcg1969 (237263)
      Oh man.. as if tossing a charged capacitor to an unsuspecting victim wasn't funny enough already.

      I just don't get this danger angle. I mean, yes, charged high-voltage capacitors can be dangerous. So can bottles of gasoline with flaming pieces of cloth stuffed in the neck. And yet, none of us seems to be particularly freaked out by a fifteen-gallon can of gasoline strapped under our butts when we're driving---even with thousands of tiny explosions occurring per minute under the hood in front of us.

      I'm not sa
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by StikyPad (445176)
        I'm pretty sure the GP was referencing the practical joke of throwing a charged capacitor at someone. Obviously if that's funny on its own, then using a supercapacitor will be hilarious.
  • by pecosdave (536896) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:54PM (#17731338) Homepage Journal
    The Not For Hire ran on a batacitor charged on the grail stones. According to Phillip Jose Farmer these things were supposed to have been developed in the early 80s. 5th paragraph [everything2.com].
  • by sonoronos (610381) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:20PM (#17731558)
    Taken from the Technology Review article:

    "We're skeptical, number one, because of leakage," says Miller, explaining that high-voltage ultracaps have a tendency to self-discharge quickly. "Meaning, if you leave it parked overnight it will discharge, and you'll have to charge it back up in the morning."

    The Jim Miller quote above confuses me, as Maxwell Technologies advertises a 125V output power module which is spec'd to only lose 70% of its charge after 30 days. So why is he contradicting his own company's products?

    For those who are unfamiliar, while ultracaps sound fantastic, they are ultimately bound by the physical laws of capacitors, one law being that their output voltage drops (linearly) as they discharge. Maxwell Technologies knows about this, so they develop ultracapacitor arrays with extremely high internal voltages (4000+ V) and regulate the power output using efficient step-down converters. Battery cells, of course, do this naturally, because the electrochemical reactions generating the current do so at a voltage determined by the electric potential of the galvanic reaction inside the cell.

    This is one reason why you don't hear much about using ultracaps in portable electronic equipment. While ultracaps may be relatively compact, they are still bulky, and though they may be able to provide the necessary voltage, you have to factor in doubling or even tripling the required voltage to use efficient step-down converters. The story gets even worse for charging. Let's say you want to charge using 12 volts DC. Do you run through dedicated charging circuitry which takes in "safe" voltage, but can only charge the ultracap at battery-style rates (low current), or do you try and charge the ultracap in its theoretical minimum charge time (high current), which means that the wall-warts you are used to seeing will look more like big, boxy IGBT/Invert-based welders (and you thought your xbox 360 power supply was big...)

    In short, while it sounds good in theory, the practical challenges of discharging and charging ultracaps are fairly sizable.

    • You are almost there, just put the parts together correctly. You said:

      > Maxwell Technologies advertises a 125V output power module which is spec'd to only lose 70% of its charge after 30 days.

      and

      > they are ultimately bound by the physical laws of capacitors, one law being that their output voltage drops (linearly) as they discharge.

      Now do the math. Or you could if enough numbers were available, so lets do it back of the envelope style. It's all about the discharge CURVE. Remember caps won't self d
      • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris.beau@org> on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @01:14AM (#17733924)
        Typing too fast.... before someone else points out the idiocy in my original post I'll fix a few of em myself.

        > Get the losses down where those Maxwell caps are and you lose 15 miles per day to losses.

        Since the power loss is not constant, which was the whole point, obviously this part has to be taken in the context of the next (fairly mangled) sentence and assume nightly recharging to 100% to enable the 500 mile advertised range. Which would be the logical course, so an unexpected trip could be undertaken without worrying about charging.

        > Large losses mean splitting it into banks and only charging what you plan on needing plus a reserve.

        Doh. The obvious method is of course to leave it one big bank and only recharge it to give tomorrow's driving plus a fudge factor if self discharge is a problem. (Explanation left as exercise)

        But running the numbers a little more gets some disturbing trends. Assume the loss is only equal to 15 miles of driving per day as I did in the best case above. That means every single car would be wasting enough power to drive a NYC to LA round trip annually. But keep the caps around 25% charge most days would cut the waste in half. Assuming that the real world loss curve looks close to a perfect capacitor discharge.
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:26PM (#17731604) Homepage

    First off, this was reported in Business Week back in 2005 [businessweek.com], with some of the same quotes.

    What's striking is that Kleiner Perkins, one of Silicon Valley's top venture capital firms, is funding this. If they're funding it, it's not totally bogus; they will have done a due diligence and had some competent people look over the technology. There may turn out to be some reason it's not feasible, but if it was physically impossible, they wouldn't have obtained money from that group.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jeffrey Baker (6191)
      Kleiner Perkins has funded dozens of not hundreds of completely bogus businesses that failed miserably. I've been to conferences consisting entirely of K-P startups pitching their bullshit business plans to each other.
  • by viking80 (697716) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:48PM (#17731834) Journal
    barium titanate has an extremely high dielectric constant of around 5000 at room temperature. see http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/selvaduray/page/papers /mate115/hsiaolin.pdf [sjsu.edu]

    This is hundres of times more than polystyrene, but the challeng is still formidable:

    A cap with 320Wh/kg or 1GJ/m^3 or 1kJ/cm^3 at 3kV would require:

    C/cm^3=0.7Farad

    Since C=k*e0*A/d, e0=8.8E-12, k=5000
    we get C(BaTiO3)/cm^3=4.4E-8*A/d
    and with A*d=1cm^3 (not all of the cap can be dielectric so this is a ceiling)we get:
    A=4m^2 and d=250nm

    So with d=250nm, and U=3kV, the voltage across the dielectric is 12GV/m. Breakdown voltage for most ceramics are less than 300MV/m.

    This would imply less than 1% the capacity claimed. Still an incredible feat, but the car would only go a few km.

  • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    This has been hyped every few months (VC funding cycles?) for a couple of years now. I remember it was supposed to be in Cars last year, I expect I may be saying that next year as well. As of yet they have not delivered a single testable capacitor for anyone to test. I am not talking about a car sized unit, I am talking the smallest cell that delivers on any of the extraordinary claims.

    I have seen a couple of people with some related physics knowledge exam
  • by heroine (1220) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:25PM (#17732186) Homepage
    Isn't this the 3rd year these startups have been pitching supercapacitors? The first one was in San Diego. In exchange for a super sized check, they gave you a 5F capacitor that supported up to 1V and recharged 100 times before it died. Still nothing new to report here.

    The "electric car revolution" is a funny thing. As soon as you cross the Sunol grade, all the hybrids, vegetable oil, methane, ethanol, corn starch, soybean powered cars disappear and you're back in giant SUV land.

  • by J05H (5625) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:50PM (#17732450) Homepage
    Heard about this on the radio and looked it up a couple months ago:

    http://www.brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/20 06-07/06-022.html [brown.edu]

    It's a battery-capacitor hybrid that has interesting properties. It's not at the same production level, but doesn't provide quite the same strong claims as the EESTOR system. Any opinions on the Brown effort?

    Josh

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