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Li-Ion Batteries Hit Final R&D Phase for Plug-in Cars 238

Posted by Zonk
from the and-then-i-was-like-vroom-vroom dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Tesla finally delivered its first production model of the all-electric Roadster this month. Coinciding with that, researchers from the big automakers and their outsourced startup labs are hitting stride in the development of cheap, high-powered lithium-ion batteries. These may actually end up in our garages. Toyota, in fact, says it's got enough of the chemistry down to roll out a test fleet for the plug-in Prius before the end of 2009. It's mass production of battery tech that's the holdup — which might mean Mercedes' electric hybrids beat the Prius to market en masse by 2010 or 2011."
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Li-Ion Batteries Hit Final R&D Phase for Plug-in Cars

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  • by LinuxDon (925232) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:01AM (#22332714)
    Actually, a lot of research has gone into making those tanks as safe a possible.
    In a crash: they will bend, not break.
    How often does a car catch file after a crash? Only very rarely.
  • by plague3106 (71849) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:30AM (#22333000)
    Um, to the Telsa Motor's site, and they'll have answered this already. Basically a cell in the battery pack can be on fire, and it won't affect the other cells.
  • by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:32AM (#22333038)
    Lithium iron phosphate batteries (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_iron_phosphate_battery [wikipedia.org]) are supposed to be pretty safe, at the expense of storing a bit less energy per size and weight than current Li-Ion batteries.
    They are also made from relatively cheap and plentiful raw materials, so I'd expect them to become the most frequently used batteries in electric cars.
  • Re:Infrastructure? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:39AM (#22333142)
    "Sure, you can charge your car at home for the daily commute"

    Well, I can't. Only public parking places here, this goes for most of the Netherlands.

    "Plug-in hybrids are a good compromise, though."

    Or maybe a hybrid-hybrid. I'm not joking :)
  • by plague3106 (71849) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:43AM (#22333210)
    I can't believe how many people can't be bothered to even visit the companies page. The price of the car includes battery replacement, and they require you ship it back to them and they recycle it.
  • Re:Oh noes!!! (Score:2, Informative)

    by NeilMaguire (1109347) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @12:13PM (#22334664) Homepage
    These batteries do require several levels of protection circuits and thermal management but its no where near the challenge of containing 22 gallons of the most highly combustible fluid on earth. Also Lithium, unlike Nickel-Cadmium and Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, is not a toxin. Commercializing Li-ion batteries takes investment and American engineering know-how. False perceptions about safety hurdles are not helpful. Since we are quoting Bruce: "The Doors open but the ride it ain't free"
  • by NeilMaguire (1109347) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @12:27PM (#22334862) Homepage
    I used to design E85 and gasoline fuel systems and now I work on Li-ion batteries. Gas tanks do not blow up contrary to Hollywood's depiction. The vapor is too rich to burn even when a spark is ignited. If you shoot a bullet at a gas tank it leaks. A second spark after leakage could ignite. E85 is actually combustible at certain temperatures in the fuel tank. We had to invent a flame arrestor for the fill pipe which would quench a flame as it heads down the fill pipe. This is for idiots who smoke when they fill a tank.

    As for Lithium batteries, they do need to be protected by electronic circuitry and mechanical enclosures but no more so than a fuel tank. If you shoot a bullet through it, they could produce a thermal runaway (fire). But if someone is shooting at you, you have bigger concerns.

    Net is we need to move cars off of Saudi oil and onto our grid, then we can have independent discussions on how we power our grid. In CA, we are ~ 50% renewable. Search for eGrid and you will find data that supports the fact that burning coal and natural gas in power plants is many times more clean than in cars, 2-stroke weedwackers, and other gas applications.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2008 @12:46PM (#22335198)
    I think everyone with a rudimentary knowledge of science understands that electric cars are not free-energy/perpetual-motion devices. Of course the energy has to come from some place, and we all know where it's coming from: the power grid. In the U.S. this corresponds to roughly 50% coal, 20% nuclear, and the rest a mixture of fossil fuels, hydro, and renewables.

    What many people fail to realize is that using gasoline is hardly a direct way of powering cars. There are two important components that go in a car: gasoline, and motor oil. The distillation of gasoline uses an enormous amount of energy that we do not account for when arguing against electric vehicles. 19% of the pump price of gasoline is the cost of refining (distillation, cracking, reforming, etc.). So, no, we are not merely shifting the consumption of fossil fuels from one place to another. In effect, having all-electric vehicles would mean 20% of the electricity used is from nuclear energy, ~10% from renewable sources, minus the energy used for refining the gasoline, and the energy saved due to the efficiency of power generation and the efficiency of the electric motors. As for motor oil, this is also a component handled by the petroleum refining industry. Its manufacture is very energy intensive and there is a large market for it. Remember all those signs you see around storm drains that tell you not to dump your motor oil there? Guess what, it turns out motor oil is pretty bad for the environment. When people bring up the argument that electric vehicles have batteries that need to be replaced every so often, well internal-combustion vehicles have motor oil that needs replacing every 4000 miles.

    Another thing that bothers me that people don't talk about is pollution. There are two type of pollution: point source and non-point source pollution. The former means that there is a well defined area where the pollutants are being put into the environment, while the latter means the source of pollutants is diffuse and comes from many sources. Pollution from automobiles is non-point; they are everywhere. Pollution from power plants is point; you can point your finger at the building and say "that is where the pollution is coming from." When you shift to all-electric vehicles, you are effectively moving millions of diffuse points of pollution (tailpipes) into a few source locations (power plants). The advantages of this are enormous. With electric vehicles there is no need to worry about the emissions from individual vehicles (that means the emissions testing industry dies), all you need to worry about are the power plants. If the policy makers decide we need better air quality, we just need to fit the power plants with better scrubbers, or carbon sequestering equipment. If there is a development in fuel-to-electricity efficiency only the power plants need to implement it, and the benefits are immediately passed on to the electric car drivers. This is to say that you don't have to retrofit millions upon millions of vehicles with a new technology every time the emission or efficiency standards change. All of this is of course very inconvenient for car manufacturers, the car service industry, and the oil industry in the U.S. and abroad. No wonder the EV1 went the way it did.
  • by jcaplan (56979) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @01:30PM (#22335974) Journal
    Well, not necessarily, I know some folks with a solar car. Well, its a truck, actually - an electric Ford Ranger. The solar part is on the rooftop of their house. (You didn't think they were dragging around a solar array, did you?) They generate more than enough power to run their house, charge their truck and sell extra back to the utility. Who are these fabulously wealthy people who can afford this technological extravagance? A school teacher and a tutor. The economics of their situation is helped by California sunshine and California tax rebates and a lack of kids.

    This is all with yesterday's technology. Tomorrow's technology will make this solution available to more people, as cost of solar seems to be dropping rapidly (Nanosolar.com, etc).

    There are still issues with peak demand and charging, but if you can plug in at work or at the parking meter, then you nicely match solar power's power peak.

    -Jon
  • Re:Heat (Score:5, Informative)

    by loshwomp (468955) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @01:40PM (#22336148)
    How do these things handle short trips in freezing weather?

    Quite well, actually, speaking as an electric vehicle engineer.

    A simple resistive water heater for cabing heating uses about 2000 watts on average, and perhaps 4000 watts worst case. Compared to a typical road load of 20,000 watts, it's obvious that the cabin heat makes a difference, but it's on the order of a 10% reduction in range.

    In the future, electric vehicles will use heat pumps (basically a bi-directional air conditioner) that will reduce the cabin heat energy budget by at least a factor of 3. The air conditioner in AC Propulsion's eBox vehicle uses about 700 watts worst case, and less depending on duty cycle.
  • by WalksOnDirt (704461) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @01:55PM (#22336434)

    ...there's this problem of obtaining lithium which isn't nearly as abundant as nickel.
    Lithium is about half as abundant as nickel, which isn't that great a difference. For comparison, boron, only half as abundant as lithium, is thrown away with the wash by people who use Borax.

    Considering that the lithium used will eventually be recycled, I don't expect lithium availability to be a major long term bottleneck.
  • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @03:53PM (#22338730)
    "The electricity to charge all those batteries has to come from someplace. all you are doing is shifting the the consumption of fossil fuel from one place to another. The energy required to manufacture these batteries in VERY large quantities has to come from someplace as well."

    The above is correct. But there are two other factors

    (1) In the US only about 1/2 of our electric power is from burning fuels like coal. But even coal, as bad as it is, it is not imported. We expect this trend to improve as other types of power plants are built, nuclear, geo, wind soloar and so on. An electric powered car even today runs mainly on hydro-electric power if you live in the north on either US coast.

    (2) Even if 100% of our electric power were generated with liquid fuels it would be BETTER to to burn those fuel in some big plant some place. When you burn them in a car very little of the energy from the fuel goes into moving the car, most goes to heating the air around the car and is wasted. A large plant can do to things (a) be very efficient at conversion and (b) can capture the products of combustion - they can pump the carbon back underground where it came from. Cars have to be light enough to move under their own power but power plants can be massive because in a stationary plant mass has zero effect of efficiency.

What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying. -- Nikita Khruschev

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