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Electric Car Nano-Batteries Aim For 500-Mile Range 650

Posted by samzenpus
from the big-things-in-small-packages dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Consortium members read like a Who's Who in technology research for the Battery 500 Project which aims to use nanotechnology to extend the range of all-electric cars 200 miles beyond the 300-mile range of gasoline powered cars. IBM, the University of California at Berkeley and all five of our US National Labs are collaborating to make the 500-mile electric car battery. Within two years, they promise to have a new kind of battery technology in place for the 500-mile electric car. If that happens, then I predict a mass exodus from gasoline to electric powered cars that will make the Toyota Prius look like a fad."
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Electric Car Nano-Batteries Aim For 500 Mile Range

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  • by BBCWatcher (900486) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @01:31AM (#29602195)
    If battery engineers can actually increase energy storage densities to allow 500 mile range electric vehicles, there will be something of a stampede among car buyers, yes. However, one key remaining factor will be the range achievable with about a 15 minute quick charge (i.e. a stop for a Slurpie). If that range is, say, about 200 miles (40% of maximum), and assuming the economics otherwise work (i.e. battery costs and durability), we may finally see the end of the internal combustion engine in widespread automotive use.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @01:47AM (#29602293)

    Battery powered cars will never become popular. Who wants to wait hours (or even tens of minutes) to recharge a battery? Hydrogen powered cars are the future, not battery powered cars. Honda have already created a car that runs off hydrogen: http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx-clarity/ [honda.com]

    Hydrogen sounds cool and it's a great PR stunt but the physics don't work. You'll never get 500 miles out of a hydrogen car. 200 miles would be an achievement and electrics can already do that. The power density is really low for what can be stored in a car. Also storage is an issue period since hydrogen loves to leak. I've been hearing about absorption based systems since the 70s but none has really proven itself. The major problem with hydrogen is it has to be extracted and it's an net energy loss extracting it. Batteries are more efficient. It'll be tough to get hydrogen to match gas prices where as electrics are already far cheaper to operate. Fuels cells are also likely to always be more expensive than batteries so it's not a cheaper option to make the cars or the fuel. Would you still want hydrogen if it was going to cost you 50% more than electric to buy and several times as much per mile? The source for the power to extract it is a major issue. I know nuclear is supposed to save us but we've yet to deal with the waste from the last 50 years and nuclear has never provided more than 14% of the power worldwide. That means 7X the waste and uranium each year to replace existing sources. There isn't enough uranium let alone waste storage for it all. It'd take decades to ramp up and we don't have that much time left in oil reserves. The economic collapse actually bought us a few years but we need new sources in five to ten years not twenty. Wind and solar may not seem as limitless but nuclear is far from limitless it's just another finite resource that can't keep up with demand. We've got to stop trying to find one magic bullet to solve all our woes and tap different sources for more long term solutions. We have two major sources of energy currently used, stored energy like mineral energy and petroleum and solar sources which include biofuels. Wind and tide power are other sources but they need to be better tapped. Solar, wind and tide are long term solutions. Mineral sources are finite and most will soon be exhausted. Even coal won't last forever just long enough to ruin the environment. One way or the other electric is the future because even hydrogen comes from electric it's just not very practical.

  • Re:Prius (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @01:49AM (#29602301)

    You don't buy a Prius to be green and say "Look at me, I care about the environment". You buy a Prius so you can use the carpool lane - at least in California that's the reason.

  • Re:It's not news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hojima (1228978) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @01:57AM (#29602347)

    I'm pretty sure they wouldn't make this claim if they didn't have some hard science to back it up. That's a lot of big organizations putting their reputation on the line, so I'm more worried about how much this battery will cost and how long is its lifetime, because if it is high and low respectively, then it's just as impractical as 200 mpc.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:07AM (#29602405) Journal

    But you don't need 3 MW of power to move a car. Half the reason it uses so much energy is that A. two-thirds to three-quarters of the energy input is wasted (mostly in the form of heat), and B. another huge chunk of it is wasted lugging around that insanely heavy engine block and all the crap that it requires. You can easily get equivalent amounts of torque from an electric car that uses much, much, much less energy than a gasoline-powered car.

    Gasoline contains 121 MJ per gallon, but by the time you factor in the efficiency, you're getting closer to 25-35 MJ per gallon, which is only about 8.3 kWh. With a 15 amp circuit at full capacity, every 5 hours charging is equivalent to a gallon of gas (approximately). As long as you don't *average* more than 60 miles per day, charging overnight is likely to be sufficient. And that's assuming a 110VAC charger. Most electric car chargers, AFAIK, are at 220VAC with a 30 amp circuit or larger, so it would only take two nights (or all day one day and night) to charge up a battery with a 500 mile range, give or take.

    Sadly, it's not necessarily cheaper. At my current PG&E rate, even after accounting for the engine efficiency, gasoline is at a dead tie with what I paid at the pump on Monday---literally within tenths of a cent per gallon. If I could buy an engine that was 100% efficient, it would cost a fourth as much money to run a gasoline-powered generator as it does to buy power from PG&E, and that's at full retail gas prices. There's a fun stat for you, as though I needed any more proof that PG&E is screwing me.

  • solar cars? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by fireball84513 (1632561) <<swolleneyeball> <at> <gmail.com>> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:14AM (#29602441)
    maybe we could incorporate this into that plan to make solar panel roads. cars built with big antennas that scrape along a metal wire above and a metal wheel that runs along the conductive yet somehow transparent material below. everyone will want fords new trollymobile and all of our energy problems will be solved!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:24AM (#29602475)

    We can have batteries that are good for 10000 miles per charge and charge in 5 minutes, and that truly would be great, but that is not enough to make electric cars a mainstream technology. The real questions is, where will the energy come from? What energy source will be used to generate all of that additional electricity that our power grids will require? In North America we already have important segments of the power grid that are under supplied during peak load. Rolling blackouts are occasionally experienced. There is no capacity in the system for this.

    The original poster states, "Within two years, they promise to have a new kind of battery technology in place for the 500-mile electric car. If that happens, then I predict a mass exodus from gasoline to electric powered cars that will make the Toyota Prius look like a fad."

    This is simply impossible... without first figuring out how to generate huge amounts of additional cheap electricity.

    Oil is an incredible substance. It is abundant ( which is why we can use rediculous amounts of it ) and very energy dense.

    Creating a better battery is and exercise in developing an energy storage solution. We are talking about a battery with a high enough energy density to take us 500 miles on a charge. Thats nice but not nearly a game changer. This addresses the "energy density" problem, but not the bigger "energy supply" problem. In order to have a "mass exodus from gasoline", we have to find another source of cheap abundant energy first.

    To get us all into electric cars we would need to generate much more electricity. We could:

    - burn more natural gas or coal. In North America we burn copious amounts of that already to generate electricity. But then again,I'll stick with my gasoline engine if its going to come to that. As a bonus, in this case it is more wasteful to power our electric cars this way. We would be better of fueling our cars directly with natural gas. We would save the energy lost converting to electricity. Coal....could be complicated.

    - pepper the world with renewable energy generation projects. I sure hope we do this. I'm pretty sure we will, but it will take time and a very large investment. Germany is WAY ahead of everyone else on this and still, they only hope to realize a goal of 45 percent renewable energy in Germany's total energy mix by 2050, and they don't think that will be possible without major conservation efforts. So, don't strap your buick to the backyard windmill just yet.

    - innovate - find new power sources. I hope we do this too. Although the next big breakthrough could happen tomorrow, this will probably also take a lot of time and money.

    Oil is an incredible substance. It is very abundant ( which is why we can use rediculous amounts of it ) and very energy dense. Replacing it will be a big challenge.

    By the way, we already have an energy storage soltion that has a far greater energy density that of gasoline....hydrogen. Hydrogen is just like a battery. It is an energy storage medium (a very good one too) but not a source of energy. There is no freely available source hydrogen. Like electricity, we have to create it using some other source of energy.

  • Re:Already A Fad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Polo (30659) * on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:42AM (#29602573) Homepage

    This seems like a troll to me. But maybe not.

    I just read this article about this history of the SUV:

    http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_01_12_a_suv.html [gladwell.com]

    I wonder if they did a similar study on Prius owners what the feedback would be.

    I've been mildly considering a Prius, and my though was: it would be an efficient and responsible purchase (and buying an SUV would be an irresponsible purchase).

    I suspect this is what people think. I was following a car the other day with this license frame: "Your SUV Sucks" "My hybrid sips"

    So maybe the Prius is the SUV backlash.

    Or maybe it's the first (practical) step towards really efficient cars.

  • by coaxial (28297) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:45AM (#29602581) Homepage

    Technically you don't need to charge at home. If you can charge at your destination, then that's good enough. I've seen several companies that have been introducing charging stations, and Berkeley has stations installed in several of its downtown city owned parking garages. Of course, probably none of this helps you, but it shows that it can be done, IF you have a progressive enough environment.

  • Re:Already A Fad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Chris Oz (684680) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @03:04AM (#29602647)

    No the original poster is quite correct. The Prius relies on the fact that the car is stopping and starting to lower the long run (average) energy requirements of the car. Hence you can use a smaller power plant and supplement the higher instantaneous energy demands with the electric motor driven from a storage battery. However when travelling at speed the average power requirement goes up and the IC has to work harder. If you drive conservatively (ie slower and very smooth) you don't overtax the IC and run it in an inefficient mode. If you try to keep up with every other car then that small power plant coupled with heavy batteries become a significant disadvantage.

    By comparison my large Citroen C5 station wagon averages 5.6l/100km on long runs in summer with the a/c running over rolling hills without me being very careful*. My C5 is a much bigger car that is well within the margin of the Prius' efficiency on highway cycle, but worse round the town ~8.2 l/100km around the city for the last 3000km. As you will notice I get a significant increase in efficiency between city and highway driving, as all IC cars do. They are designed to perform well at high speeds and do OK around the city (people like fast powerful cars). This doesn't happen with the Prius, is can actually be the other way around.

    More generally, if you look at other comparable small cars they do significantly better than my car and seriously embarrass the Prius. The Prius may look good in the US when compared to a SUV, but they suck in comparison other small cars and then there is diesel.

    * Remember a single persons experience does not make a data set.

  • by rapidmax (707233) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @03:21AM (#29602723) Homepage

    I think this is the key for battery powerered cars. Switching the batteries using a robot takes no longer than a stop at gas station. You don't own the batteries, you just rent them.

    The hardest part with this is the need for the car manufacturers to commit to a few form factors. I think they are again too stupid and release brand specific batteries.

    (I saw this working with electric bicycle rent service here in Switzerland/Engadin, where you've got a battery service in each village. You just change the batteries if they are empty. So you'll able to drive a whole day).

    ~Andy

  • by coaxial (28297) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @03:30AM (#29602761) Homepage

    That said I have heard stories about corruption in the US over energy. I believe some company in California was producing rolling blackouts to increase the price or some such.[citation needed] But that doesn't have much to do with supply and demand.

    That company was Enron, and the federal government, specifically the FERC, refused to investigate on a party line vote (GOP majority) at the time, because 1) it was making a hell of a lot of money for their corporate friends, and 2) it was damaging the political career of Democrat California governor Gray Davis, so much so it culminated with Davis's recall and election of Schwarnegger. Recall that the White House at the time repeatedly refereed to the blackouts in the most populous state in the union, and the 5th largest world economy as "California's problem.") The most important thing to remember about the California power crisis was that it was caused by the deregulation of the electrical production industry in California. Far from creating a market where power would be cheap, an electrical trading cartel was created where supply was manipulated for private profit, and public harm. (Also recall that in free market, both sides of a transaction benefit.)

    You can read more at:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_electricity_crisis [wikipedia.org]
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/blackout/ [pbs.org]

    Moral of the story: You can't trust deregulation

  • by Sique (173459) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:09AM (#29602905) Homepage

    With some rare exception even long distance trips are generally less than 500 miles one way and probably even both ways.

    I beg to differ. Most long distance trips I do are longer than 500 miles. My mother-in-law lives about 550 miles from my home, my brother about 700 miles from my home, and only my parents are less than 500 miles (400 in fact) away from me. On the other hand: all of them live in Germany, so more than 80 mph cruising speed are not an issue, which easily allows to drive those distances during a day.

    For me a car that takes longer than half an hour to recharge is useless for those distances.

    For commuting I am using the bicycle, except for the time I am oncall, because then I have to lug around my tool boxes. A car that can only be recharged overnight thus has not much appeal to me.

    (My current car interestingly though manages to go about 600 mls on a single refuel.)

  • by baker_tony (621742) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:50AM (#29603109) Homepage
    Man, people on Slashdot are so negative and surprisingly restrictive in their thinking. All this moaning about "will never work, because I don't want to wait for my battery to charge" and hardly any ideas to solve that problem! Why not ALSO have the option to swap the battery at a service station when it goes flat. See: http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/05/better-place/ [wired.com] for that idea.
  • by jrumney (197329) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:00AM (#29603141) Homepage
    Or battery swap stations. Seriously, what is needed more than range is a universal standard for batteries with built in meters, so you can swap them at gas stations, paying for what you used when you swap it out. The "recharge" stops could then be much quicker than gas stops, and it leaves gas station owners happy, as they're still where you come to when you're out of juice, as it is much more convenient than plugging in at home and putting up with the brownouts as the car sucks more current than your household circuits were designed for.
  • by w0mprat (1317953) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:05AM (#29603167)
    Currently batteries are expensive large because of costly/scarce materials, recouping hefty r&d costs, and poor performance (simple need a big battery back for any usable mileage).

    The price/performance is getting better all the time. At some point, I predict, electric cars will be cheaper per horsepower or mile of range. Because well you're cutting out, well gee, a few hundred moving parts, fluids, and reaping added cost savings to the chassis in flexibility of packaging and scalability (ie no need to route exhaust, drive line, cooling).

    We better start building more roads, because in a decade (give or take) there will be a flood of new cars of all shapes and sizes, and they will be cheap.
  • by HBoar (1642149) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:19AM (#29603201)
    Of course there is heat generated, the parent never said otherwise -- but just using rough figures, an electric motor, IIRC, can easily reach in excess of 90% efficiency, whereas a reciprocating gasoline engine would be lucky to get 30% efficiency. That is a significant difference, even before you take into account the losses in the multi stage transmissions that are required with an IC engine that are redundant with an electric motor. I can't remember off the top of my head how much is lost in a typical vehicle gear train, but it is of the order of ~10%. The weight issue is certainly much less clear cut. The motor itself will likely weigh less than the equivalent IC engine, and a heavy power transmission system isn't required with electric motors, but a battery pack will certainly weigh much more than the equivalent amount of petrol/fuel oil for quite a while yet....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:21AM (#29603441)

    put a live wire in the freeway and people can charge up as they go along and only use their batteries when on local streets. Wire up route 66 and a truck could breeze from coast to coast without burning a drop of gas. There are already powerlines alongside most roads.

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:12AM (#29603713) Homepage

    Then you have issues of logistics

    There are hardly any logistics involved, as you don't ship batteries around, you just recharge them for the next user.

    what if someone figures out how to doctor the meter,

    Then they get sued by the company that owns the batteries. The car owner doesn't own the battery, he just leases it and pays for the power he uses. Has the benefits of the electric cars getting much cheaper.

  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:33AM (#29603797) Journal
    I completely agree. Also, people will find it much more efficient to have one electric bike for commuting and an electric Trike pulling a small trailer for shopping. The far flung suburbs will need to be plowed under as farmland - the end of cheap oil is going to have a significant impact on our ability to move fresh food at a low cost. A lot needs to happen, and quickly. This battery system from IBM et al I think it going to be MUCH more useful for trucking companies. Also: keep an eye on Eestor. They're working on an ultracapacitor, which, if it works, will eliminate the slow charging problems of batteries.
  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:13AM (#29604045) Homepage Journal
    Nuclear costs upwards of $8 million/MW for a power plant and then you have to pay for fuel. This is more than four times as much as for thin film solar PV. You might be thinking that the cost of energy rather than capacity is low. Not so. It is also the most expensive on a kWh basis. http://www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/Energy/E09-01_NuclPwrClimFixFolly1i09.pdf [rmi.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:52AM (#29604383)

    You are incorrect. Oil is very much renewable. Natural deposits of oil are SLOWLY renewable. However we can make synthetic oil and synthetic gasoline. It just costs a lot more than drilling for it does. The materials needed to make oil and gas synthetically is quite cheap: turkey guts, offal, old plastic bottles, etc.

  • Re:It's not news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by b0bby (201198) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @10:21AM (#29605335) Homepage

    The only way price would go that high are if we choose to make them so, through taxes. In Europe, taxes raise the price to $8-9/gal, yet there's still plenty of traffic. Despite what Ost99 says in his follow up, that is an incentive to save fuel - European cars are generally more efficient & smaller than American cars.

    I also think it's often hard for Europeans to get their head around how much more Americans drive - not only are there almost twice as many cars here per capita, but each one gets driven twice as far per year. So a European would have to drive 4 times what he or she currently does, in a larger vehicle using more gas per mile, to average what an American does. It's hard to grasp if you're used to the European way. A few years ago I was in Britain, and drove from London to Edinburgh. My attitude was, it's only 8 hours, and with luggage & kids much easier. All my friends who live there would have taken the train or the plane, none would have driven.

  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <[gameboyrmh] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @11:36AM (#29606499) Journal
    I've been doing fine with $5/gal gas for years. $20-$25 per gallon gas would go mostly unnoticed if we all have electric vehicles. Aviation, on the other hand, would become prohibitively expensive as there is no affordable replacement for fossil fuels in sight for large aircraft.

    All the more reason to switch to electric cars and renewable+nuclear and conserve what fossil fuels are left. The planes really need the dinosaur juice.
  • Re:It's not news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rei (128717) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @01:46PM (#29608339) Homepage

    There's not enough lithium carbonate that can be produced at *$5/kg* with *today's non-experiental technology*. Which is, of course, irrelevant to the big picture. With lab tech today, lithium can be produced from seawater (in essentially unlimited quantities) for $22-$32/kg [osti.gov]. And way cheaper than that for other terrestrial sources (such as Western Lithium Corporation's Kings Valley mine in Nevada) -- just not as cheaply as the Argentinian and Bolivian salars.

    So? Well, for example, the Nissan Leaf only contains 4kg of lithium. That's about 20kg worth of lithium carbonate. I.e., about $100 worth. Honestly, who gives a rat's arse if that doubles, triples, quadruples, even quintuples? That's not the impediment to li-ion EV costs. The non-automotive li-ions are limited largely by cobalt costs, while the automotive li-ions are limited by capital costs and labor due to their current low-volume production methods. And contrary to popular belief, the battery packs aren't the only thing that's overpriced right now. The motor, inverter, and charger are, too. They're still largely handmade, very small volumes. The Tesla Roadster's drivetrain is descended from AC Propulsion's AC-150, which will run you about $25k today. However, AC Propulsion expects that if they were made in volumes of hundreds of thousands per year, it'd be more like $3500.

  • by eth1 (94901) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @01:51PM (#29608393)

    You see, they have these nifty things called "car rental agencies." I predict that if small electrics become common, there will be a great opportunity for companies to rent larger trucks & gas-powered cars for people that only need them every few months to haul stuff around or go on a trip.

    Your savings on gas would more than pay for the occasionally necessary rental.

  • Re:It's not news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rei (128717) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:10PM (#29608679) Homepage

    This is a misconception about opportunity charging, and something that a lot of people don't get. If it takes an hour to fully full your pack, if you have an "oh damn, I shouldn't have driven 90mph down the interstate on the way here and now don't have enough charge to get home!" moment, that doesn't mean you have to sit around for an hour. That means you have to sit around for the 10-15 minutes until you get enough charge to get you home. You don't have to grab a full charge every time you plug in.

    The same applies to lower-power charging. If it takes three hours to fill your pack, you only need half an hour or so to make up for a miscalculation or screw-up. And it's not like you have to sit around twiddling your thumbs, either. These are generally found at places like grocery stores and the like; you can get your shopping done.

    Also, as chargers spread, you get more and more chances for "opportunity charging". That is, whenever you go somewhere, you plug in. It just takes a few seconds, easier than connecting a gas pump. You disconnect when you leave. So even if it's just 15 minutes at the bank, 25 minutes at the grocery store, 7 minutes at the dry cleaners, 13 minutes at the hardware store, or whatever your needs are, it really adds up (in that case, that's 1 hour of charging). And a lot of places offer their power for free, as a loss leader.

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