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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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  • Still waiting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by The-Bus (138060) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @09:47AM (#22332612)
    I'm still waiting for the Ariel-Atom-based Wrightspeed X1 [wrightspeed.com].

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by CSMatt (1175471)
      I'm still waiting for my hovercar. Parallel parking is a nuisance.
      • Re:Still waiting (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Rei (128717) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @04:26PM (#22339380) Homepage
        How about one that just looks like it could take off [wikipedia.org]? :) It [youtube.com] comes out next fall. I get mine in late summer of '09.

        Really, Tesla's approach is not economical for anything but the high-end market. "Laptop batteries" (graphite anode, LiCoO2 cathode) are ill-suited for EV applications. They're too expensive, and even if they weren't, their lifespans are too short, so only those who have money to burn can afford them. I think Aptera's approach is the most realistic: first, use a reasonable battery choice (lithium phosphate) -- sacrifice a little energy density for long life, a high degree of safety, high power density, low cost, and fast charging. Second, build the car light and ultra-aerodynamic. This adds extra cost, but it lets you get by on signficantly less battery power, meaning less battery expense (the Typ-1e only needs 10kWh for 120 mi). And since battery expense is the big cost in EVs, the extra you spent on streamlining is saved several times over in batteries.

        Anyways, keep your eyes out for:

        Lithium vanadium oxide batteries
        Silicon nanowire batteries
        Barium titanate ultracapacitors

        All of these promise 2-3x energy density with current tech while retaining rapid charge ability, and lower cost -- thus keeping all of the EV advantages over gasoline vehicles (noise, efficiency, home charging, pollution reduction, pollution displacement, high torque, low maintenance, low energy costs, etc), while meeting all of gasoline's traditional advantages over EVs (purchase price, range, recharge time). They're game changers. For now, we'll stick with a normal gasoline sedan for long trips (until a fast charging infrastructure becomes widespread) and our (upcoming) Aptera for daily use.
    • by s_p_oneil (795792)
      I'm still waiting for the Shipstone batteries RAH promised us.
    • Hell, even Clarkson might be converted to Greenery with one of those!
  • Oh noes!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @09:49AM (#22332628) Homepage Journal
    Please, please, tell me they are not getting their batteries from Sony!

    "50 cars caught fire on I-4 today."
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by NeilMaguire (1109347)
      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"
      • no where near the challenge of containing 22 gallons of the most highly combustible fluid on earth.

        Yeah, but most people don't drive around with a car full of the most combustible fluid on earth... (hint: petroleum spirit isn't this fluid).
    • by rickb928 (945187) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @12:37PM (#22335048) Homepage Journal
      Carbeque!
  • Infrastructure? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CSMatt (1175471) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @09:56AM (#22332660)
    No matter how well R&D goes for these vehicles, I don't see how we can successfully convert people to electric cars without some sort of infrastructure in place. Sure, you can charge your car at home for the daily commute, but what about road trips?

    Plug-in hybrids are a good compromise, though.
    • by Loibisch (964797) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:05AM (#22332758)
      Easy...
      1) Buy an extension cable.
      2) Find the nearest Starbucks.
      3) Buy a cup of coffee.
      4) Instead of plugging in your laptop you covertly plug in your car.
      5) Profit! (for you)
      Same difference, isn't it? :D
    • by plague3106 (71849)
      So... 300 miles isn't a good enough range?
      • by CSMatt (1175471)
        For ordinary travel less than 150 miles from your starting point, and if you have your own house/driveway/garage, a 300 mile range is fine. But you can't count on a plug being within convenient reach of the parking lot, especially at places like hotels and apartments.
      • by misleb (129952)

        So... 300 miles isn't a good enough range?


        If it is anything like my laptop, it'll start off at 300 mile range and slowly decrease to about 150 within a year or so.

        -matthew
    • by MobyDisk (75490)
      Infrastructure won't solve that problem either since it takes several hours to charge them. We will need something else, like Ultracapacitors. So for now, you'll need to rent a car or use some other transportation for road trips.
      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        So for now, you'll need to rent a car or use some other transportation for road trips.

        Or, more likely, the idea will flop and people will continue to use a transportation method that fills all their needs. Gas/Electric hybrids do that. They offer good range/economy, and are still flexible enough to be able to use for pretty much any road trip that another car can do.

        Any car that can't be refueled both quickly and at common locations, is not likely to perform very well (in the market place) IMHO.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by jdjbuffalo (318589)

          Any car that can't be refueled both quickly and at common locations, is not likely to perform very well (in the market place) IMHO.

          I've got to disagree there. While I certainly think that gas(unleaded, diesel, ethanol)/electric hybrid will be the most popular choice for single people. I think that in multi-car families there will likely be only one car that is a hybrid and the others will be all electric (they will be cheaper). It's estimated that 85-95% of all driving is done within 30 miles of your home. This means that all electric cars become reasonable at 100 Miles per recharge. Ideally I would like to see ones that can get

    • I would like to see the industry go. Granted Diesel deserved its bad rep as they escaped the EPA rules of the 70s (actually I think only gasoline automobiles got whacked). The problem is getting past zealots in California and other states who have taken on deciding for the rest of the country what they can have. Yes, rest of the country. These states acting on their own are large enough to force manufacturers to accomodate them instead of abandoning them simply with California being the base.

      I still thi
    • Sure, you can charge your car at home for the daily commute, but what about road trips?

      That's pretty easy actually: pack a generator and some gasoline with you, and you're all set.

    • Hmmm...

      1. Rent a car for said road trip out of the savings on $4+/gallon gasoline - for a road trip diesel will probably make more sense than gasoline. Diesel engine vehicles can beat hybrids on highway milage.
      2. Fly or take a train instead
      3. Rent a trailor with a generator(maybe a small, high efficiency diesel?)

      In the longer run, it shouldn't take too much work to install charging booths at restraunts. With a 300 mile range at something like 75mph, you can schedule chargings around reasonable meal sto
    • Just Rent A Car (Score:5, Insightful)

      by soren100 (63191) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @12:01PM (#22334458)

      Sure, you can charge your car at home for the daily commute, but what about road trips?
      Seriously -- how often do you go on a road trip? Most people only go on road trips a few times a year due to job and other considerations. So you rent a car, and you get to drive a new car that is fully maintained by *someone else* -- you don't have to take your car to the mechanic for a pre-trip "checkover". And you better hope that your mechanic doesn't cheat you and tell you something needs to be fixed when it doesn't.

      One of the huge bonuses associated with electric cars is reduced maintenance. There are no timing chains to break, no radiators to leak, no oil to be changed. Electric motors are highly reliable and very easy to fix. In the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" they discussed that the dealers did not like the electric cars at all because of the tremendously lowered need for maintenance and repair. (Of course the mechanics loved them because the cars were easy to work and and the mechanics didn't end up covered in oil and grease all the time)

      If you really do a lot of extended road trips, you should get a gas car or hybrid, but for everybody else the electric car + renting a gas car occasionally would be the much better choice.
      • no radiators to leak

        The Tesla Roadster has a liquid cooled radiator. They tried making the car air-cooled, but the motor and batteries would heat up too much.

        Cooling is going to be required on most electric vehicles that meet national highway safety standards, because those standards require cars to be so crash resistant that they usually weigh quite a bit. hauling that extra weight means needing more power / energy, which requires cooling.

        Who killed the air-cooled car? Ralph Nader :)
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      No matter how well R&D goes for these vehicles, I don't see how we can successfully convert people to electric cars without some sort of infrastructure in place. Sure, you can charge your car at home for the daily commute, but what about road trips?

      How about a gas-powered engine trailer [dansdata.com]? A tiny little engine generator that you tow along for those long car trips. Like diesel-electric locomotives, your car is powered by an electric motor. Give it decent range for the typical commute and them some, and the

    • by pkulak (815640)
      What? Are you kidding? Electric is the most complete infrastructure in this country. Just think if people wanted to build cars that drove on gasoline! I mean, who do you know that has a petrol pipeline to their house?
    • by loshwomp (468955)
      I don't see how we can successfully convert people to electric cars without some sort of infrastructure in place. Sure, you can charge your car at home for the daily commute, but what about road trips?

      You're absolutely right -- electric cars are only suitable for 97 percent of our driving.

      (Oh, and electric infrastructure is more pervasive than any other, *including* gasloline. The infrastructure is called your local utility grid).
    • Who modded this insightful? This is the lowest common denomenator argument against electric vehicles . . . anyone not smart enough to see that there are myriad solutions to this should not be allowed to drive. The other segment proposing this as the killer to electric cars are of course the oil men. Thanks for the FUD though, there's not nearly enough of that these days.
  • by webword (82711) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:02AM (#22332724) Homepage
    OK, so rather than pollute the air as we burn fossil fuels, we'll fill up landfills with bazillions of batteries. Electric cars might not be as "green" and wonderful as people like to think.

    These batteries are probably recyclable but it isn't cost effective, based on what I rad. So, the potential to recycle is there but are people actually going to do it?
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)

      OK, so rather than pollute the air as we burn fossil fuels, we'll fill up landfills with bazillions of batteries. Electric cars might not be as "green" and wonderful as people like to think.
      Oh, it's worse than all that. You're still going to get that electricity for the batteries from mostly-coal.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by legoman666 (1098377)
        You have no idea how clean or efficient modern coal plants are, do you? I work in the power industry and I can tell you that powering cars by charging batteries using electricity from the wall that came from a coal plant is way more efficient and clean than burning gasoline or diesel.

        Go troll some place else.

      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @12:47PM (#22335208) Homepage
        Oh, it's worse than all that. You're still going to get that electricity for the batteries from mostly-coal.

        Uh-huh. And then we replace the coal plant with a nuclear plant, or augment it with wind power, or whatever, and your car magically becomes more environmentally friendly without you having to do anything!

        This is the beauty of the plug-in electric car. It decouples transportation from the source of power. So when a better source of power comes along, you don't have to replace the entire fleet of existing cars to benefit, which would mean overcoming a huge amount of inertia.
    • 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.
    • by misleb (129952)

      These batteries are probably recyclable but it isn't cost effective, based on what I rad. So, the potential to recycle is there but are people actually going to do it?


      Most people will, yes. Since most people won't be changing the batteries themselves, you can just mandate that mechanics recycle the batteries (and fine them heavily if they don't) and mechanics can just charge the customer the recycling fee, if any.

      -matthew
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by NameIsDavid (945872)
      Today's cars have a single lead-acid battery, but this battery is almost completely recycled. Thus, there's reason to be optimistic about the prospects of recycling. The automobile is one of the most fully-recycled consumer products. Think about it ... you don't just toss one in the trash. There are specific permitted ways to dispose of one, meaning anyone who wants to recover value from it are able to do so.
    • by keithjr (1091829)
      In many places it is illegal to put things like large batteries, CRT monitors/TVs, and other very hazardous materials in the garbage. We just need to extend this infrastructure to electric car batteries as well. The real problem is making sure any private companies in charge of this recycling effort don't just sell them off to developing countries, but ACTUALLY follow through and recycle.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Firethorn (177587)
      Batteries, especially 'bazillions' of them like what would be in electric cars would get recycled much like the lead-acid batteries currently are.

      The only reason NiCD and NiMH end up in landfills so much is that they're used and disposed of at home - most people can't be bothered to take them in somewhere to be reycled. Same with liIon.

      An electric car battery, even a hybrid battery is such that you're taking it to a store to be replaced - and they'll have enough to haul them over to the recycling facility
  • The Cold (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Timberwolf0122 (872207) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:05AM (#22332754) Journal
    How well to these batteries fair in the cold? If they are like the Li-ions in my video camera you'll get to the end of the street then they'll die.
    • by z0idberg (888892)
      Problem Solved [wikipedia.org]

      That's why it's taking so long for these electric cars to go into mass production. Bring them in too soon and the planet will be too cold for them to work properly.
    • It's not just camera batteries, the lithium-ion on my electric bike really suffers in the cold during the winter, it's very noticable how quickly the capacity drops when charged and/or used in near freezing conditions.
  • by distantbody (852269) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:14AM (#22332846) Journal
    ...and hopefully good riddance. Say, did you know that an electric vehicle [wikipedia.org] was the first to travel at 100km/h...



    ...in 1899!!!
  • Heat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gilesjuk (604902) <giles.jones@NOspam.zen.co.uk> on Thursday February 07, 2008 @10:18AM (#22332882)
    Heat is a problem with Li-ion batteries. If they get too hot they explode. Leaving a phone in a car with direct sunlight is enough.

    Seems a bit odd they would be used in cars.
    • by jhines (82154)
      Living just outside of Chicago, I've a similar question, but of cabin heat.

      How do these things handle short trips in freezing weather?
      • by UWC (664779)
        Capture heat from the electric motor and/or transmission and pump it through a radiator in the ventilation system. The pump would take more electricity, but a gas car's air conditioning compressor has a similar trade-off. And gas cars have to warm up, too. If the downside to an electric car is that there's not enough waste heat, though, I think that's a pretty good problem to have.
      • I was just thinking of that the other day. My guess is that your mileage-per-recharge will just plain suck in the winter months.

        It's either that, or they start making EV's with a kerosene/gasoline/propane heater option.

        Another thing I would like to know is how well these batteries function in freezing and sub-zero conditions, since chemical batteries have a reputation for performing poorly when cold. In such a case, you might need something like a battery pre-heater to get any decent performance out of it
      • by Chris Burke (6130)
        Living just outside of Chicago, I've a similar question, but of cabin heat.

        Um, well, if the electric engine doesn't produce enough heat to warm the cabin (a positive feature I'd say), then it would be trivial to just create a simple electric heater you can turn on when you want heat, and it would heat up nearly instantly because it doesn't have to warm up an entire engine block before hot air starts coming through the vent.

        Total non-problem.
      • 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 Kokuyo (549451)
      You do realize that the temperature in the passenger box is usually higher than, say, in the trunk or under the hood (when the engine wasn't running)? Windows, man. It's called a greenhouse effect.
    • by Soulslayer (21435)
      There are many many different formulations of battery referred to as Li-ion. The newer variants such as nano-phosphate Li-ion from companies like A123 [a123systems.com] are no longer susceptible to thermal runaway, are capable of delivering enormous amounts of current, and maintain excellent energy density. These are the batteries driving record holding electric dragsters such as the Killacycle [killacycle.com].
    • by loshwomp (468955)
      Heat is a problem with Li-ion batteries. If they get too hot they explode. ...and ignorance is a problem with armchair engineers. Yes, IAAEVE (I am an electric vehicle engineer). Are you?

      Lithium cells do not explode. Cell fires (a la Sony laptops) were a manufacturing defect, and not heat-related. The lithium cells in cars use a different cell chemistry, about which I guarantee you know nothing. Cars, like the aforementioned Tesla, closely control battery temperature to prolong the life of the battery.
    • Heat is a problem with Li-ion batteries. If they get too hot they explode. Leaving a phone in a car with direct sunlight is enough.

      The cabin of a car with direct sunlight with the windows closed can reach air temperatures upward of 130F with surfaces exposed to sunlight temperatures close to 200F.

      Its highly unlikely that the battery of any electric vehicle will be located in the passenger cabin, or exposed to the kind of temperature extremes one would find in the cabin when the car is left in direct sunligh

  • Apparently, part of the business strategy of selling electric cars is to let the customers drive them around for a year and then recall them for no apparent reason, with no option for the customer to keep them.

    I wonder when it will happen this time.

    I'm sure it's Bush's fault. Somehow.
  • by FlyingGuy (989135) <flyingguy@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday February 07, 2008 @11:30AM (#22333938)

    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.

    Last time I checked there are not many rivers left to damn up for hydro so the juice has to come from someplace and since fusion power isn't quite ready for prime time you are going to have to build a hell of a lot more power plants to transfer the power generation from a facility on 4 wheels to some very big stationary ones.

    That being said, you can gain a hell of a lot of efficiency because large power plants do much better then the internal combustion engine, but they still have to burn something, either that or be prepared to have a big nuclear power plant coming to a neighborhood near you.

    • by jo7hs2 (884069)
      Why, oh why didn't we start the game in 2050? Then we would have had Fusion power plants!

    • by Firethorn (177587)
      prepared to have a big nuclear power plant coming to a neighborhood near you.

      Where do I sign up? ;)

      By all accounts, even considering transmission losses and such, even coal power is cleaner than gasoline engines, and has fewer carbon emissions.

      But yeah, if this keeps up we're going to need to build a lot more power plants. And I'd like to see them be cogeneration type plants - capable of exploiting even what's currently waste heat.
    • 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 iansmith (444117)
      Bring on the nuclear power plant in my backyard!

      Seriously, I would rather have one in my backyard than live anywhere near a coal fired plant that emits polution, particulates, mercury and... radiation!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jcaplan (56979)
      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 Cali
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ChrisA90278 (905188)
      "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
  • Funny reading about electric cars 25 years after the first stories came out, and finding lack of mass produced batteries still being the #1 reason for not having them.
  • Man, I really love the tagging feature. When I saw this article it was tagged "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" followed by "hugeexplosion." Gave me a good chuckle.

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