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Power Transportation

How Argonne National Lab Will Make Electric Cars Cheaper 143

Posted by samzenpus
from the cheap-charge dept.
ashshy writes Argonne National Lab is leading the charge on next-generation battery research. In an interview with The Motley Fool, Argonne spokesman Jeff Chamberlain explains how new lithium ion chemistries will drive down the cost of electric cars over the next few years. "The advent of lithium ion has truly enabled transportation uses," Chamberlain said. "Because if you remember your freshman chemistry, you think of the periodic table -- lithium is in the upper left-hand corner of the periodic table. Only hydrogen and helium are lighter on an atomic basis."
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How Argonne National Lab Will Make Electric Cars Cheaper

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  • Some new game changing battery/supercapacitor breakthrough might be just around the corner. If so, all that investment in the battery megafactory could get wiped out. Ditto with investing in lithium mining.

    So the megafactory might be still happily minting money 25 years from now, or it might be nearly worthless 5 years from now. Presumably this means we'll be paying a risk premium on lithium and lithium batteries. It seems to me that it would be smart for Tesla to be investing in the very technologies that

    • by goruka (1721094)
      Don't worry, the Lithiumpoly mafia will make sure that no alternative energy is economically viable in the next decades, so their business remains intact.
    • Re:Economic risk (Score:5, Informative)

      by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @01:58AM (#47718291)

      Some new game changing battery/supercapacitor breakthrough might be just around the corner. If so, all that investment in the battery megafactory could get wiped out. Ditto with investing in lithium mining.

      It's not much of a risk. Every single battery chemistry has been played with, at one time or another. And by that I mean rigorously and exhaustively scientifically investigated. In consequence, not only has everything been tried, but we now know what works and why it works. That's why it's science, and not merely engineering.

      Lithium will always remain a preferential element because it's the element that is the strongest reducing agent in the periodic table, short of hydrogen, which is too hard to hold on to. The stronger the reducing agent, the higher the voltage a cell can develop and the better a battery can be. At the other end, you want a strong oxidizing agent. Fluorine would be ideal, if it wasn't such a viciously strong oxidizing agent that it eats your whole battery, not just the electrons you want it to. Presumably this situation is what the spokesdroid was referring to, without explaining what the hell he was talking about.

      Lithium is the cathode of choice since it's a metal that can be conveniently nailed down while still possessing a very good electrode potential. As an ion, it's nicely compact, being the lightest of metals, so it migrates through a battery most conveniently. What to pair it with is a little more complicated, and the subject of much research. This is where manganese, cobalt, and carbon come in. Various combinations of those elements and their immediate neighbors on the periodic table are used to make anodes. Some work better than others. Some may work better yet depending on how they're assembled.

      Rest assured, whatever develops in terms of battery assembly, lithium will remain the cathode, and much of the macroscopic assembly will be the same or close enough to the same that the gigafactory will always be busy. The assembly and packaging to be done is fairly common, regardless of chemistry.

      • Nicely written post, but you don't know what you're talking about.

        Hydrogen is not the strongest reducing agent amount the stable elements. If you go by electronegativity it is cesium [thecatalyst.org]. Cesium is rather heavy, though.

        Lithium would make a very good cathode (if we could just control the dendrites), but it's not what lithium-ion batteries use. Transition metal compounds are far from ideal for cathodes, but they have the advantage that we can make them work pretty well.

        Lithium-sulfur is potentially the next ba

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by voights (919055)
          It isn't by electronegativity, though. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org]
          • by Muad'Dave (255648)

            Calcium-ion looks like it has potential. -3.8V E-sub0.

            • by Isca (550291)
              All signs point to the next breakthrough as being some form of magnesium taking the place of Lithium.

              http://www.greencarcongress.com/2014/07/20140725-kyoto.html [greencarcongress.com]
            • by fonske (1224340)
              Please note that the half reaction mentioned is Ca+. Mendelyev table will make mention of only one oxidation state namely Ca++.
              This means the half reaction is very exotic and Ca+ is not stable at all.
              The late Prof. Van Vaeck told me he observed Ca+ (at m/z 20) in dynamic SIMS but since transmission times of secondary ions to the detector are in the order of nanoseconds this might well be possible.
              E0 of Ca2+ + 2e- = Ca is -2.869 V (compared to standard hydrogen cell).
              Pretty decent still but... earth alka
          • The lithium in a modern battery is not aqueous, which is the default in your table. What the result would be in a modern electrolyte, I don't know.

  • by schlachter (862210) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @12:14AM (#47717947)

    I think electric cars are the future. Some will debate me on that, but I'm not interested in that debate.

    Where are we likely to be in 15 yrs? 2x current capacity? 4x current capacity? 10x current capacity? Where are the growing pains?

    How much better/cheaper can lithium ion batteries get? What will they be replaced with? What's the end game?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Lithium-ion chemistry will go on for another 5 to 10 years according to Tesla, CTO. Elon Musk when asked if they could get a costs down to $100 a KwH within 10 years, he responded that he would be very disappointed if Tesla didn't. At $100 a KwH electric cars cost the same as gasoline powered cars. Tesla's current kWh cost is less than $300 currently according to the economist. My very wild guess would be in 10 years batteries will cost $50 a killowatt.

      • by Isca (550291)
        Don't forget that all of the old batteries that are returned to Tesla will probably go into large warehouses in rural areas where they can take those batteries that are only 70% of their effectiveness and use them for another 20 years as grid storage. I honestly think this is Elon's long term goal. Using them in transportation pays for the initial cost of the batteries - long term grid storage is what will make the money. Once the first few large scale grid storage "warehouses" come on line the financiers w
        • I've heard this discussed before, and I can see a use case for it, but it seems like there are more efficient means to storing energy. Mechanical compression of gas, heating of water, kinetic motion like a flywheel, compressing a spring, etc. OTOH, the cars themselves can function as large scale grid storage, once they have sufficient excess range.

    • The BMW i3 BEV uses Samsung Lithium batteries.

      Interesting technology roadmap as summarized:
      2013 / Convention LIB / NCM / 130Wh/kg / EV range 160 km
      2016 / Advanced LIB / New NCM / 130Wh/kg / EV range 240 km
      2019 / Innovative LIB / NCM / 250Wh/kg / EV range 300 km
      2020+ / Post LIB / Li-Air Fuel Cell / GT 300Wh/kg / EV range GT 300 km

      http://www.samsungsdi.com/automotive-battery/battery-cells

      Hence your 2014 BEV with 160km range, when it needs a battery refresh post 2020, will travel 300km for same weight. So expe

  • They'll make electric cars dramatically cheaper just like they brought us fusion reactors!

  • ... when I can buy an all-electric car that is just as sexy and just as performant as the Tesla Model S for under about $45k in today's dollars.
    • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @04:20AM (#47718661)

      ... when I can buy an all-electric car that is just as sexy and just as performant as the Tesla Model S for under about $45k in today's dollars.

      By the time they do that driving a car manually will be illegal and you might not even own a car - just call one for each trip.

    • You do know that the Model S right now, is the cheapest car in it's class right ?
      Or do you think "floor price" is the only price that comes into calculating the price of a car. Nearly all cars have higher maintenance costs over their lifetime than the floor-price, the second-hand price is a huge factor (the more value lost, the worst it works out when you want to upgrade) and of course the fuel cost.
      Factor all those in and the model S is cheaper than any other car in the luxury sedan class - and offers out-

      • by mark-t (151149)

        The main thing that the Tesla model S offers over any other electric vehicle is its range. Over much less expensive electric vehicles, the main things are that it has a respectable size, and that it doesn't look like a piece of shit *cough, prius, leaf*. However, the *ONLY* thing that it would offer me over absolutely any other kind of brand new car that I could go out buy for roughly half that price is that it is electric.

        In other words, although I don't dispute that the Tesla model S is a luxury auto

        • So you want a non-luxury electric car and you think that's unlikely ?
          Except Tesla has already announced plans for one.

          The Model-S just isn't the right one to look at.

          • by mark-t (151149)

            Tesla has already announced plans for one.

            A smaller car, with less range.

          • by holmstar (1388267)
            The model 3 will be marketed against things like the BMW 3-series and Audi A4, so we're still talking about luxury cars.
  • by Wdi (142463) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @06:01AM (#47718899)

    The weight of lithium is pretty irrelevant. There are no currently existing battery technologies where Li is more than 10% of the total weight of the battery, and standard battery types are significantly below that. If the active ion weight were the prime factor, there would be more interest in beryllium batteries (just 30% more weight vs. twice the charge per ion).

    • The weight of lithium is pretty irrelevant. There are no currently existing battery technologies where Li is more than 10% of the total weight of the battery, and standard battery types are significantly below that.

      He was probably referring to the elemental weight, not the weight used.

  • by brambus (3457531) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @06:48AM (#47718999)

    Tesla Motors, Inc. Is Itching for More and Better Batteries by: Anders Bylund

    And then at the very bottom of the article:

    Anders Bylund owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

    God I hate these ad pieces disguised as news.

    • by chihowa (366380) *

      That's just a standard disclaimer. Who doesn't own shares of Tesla Motors? The Motley Fool probably owns some shares of almost every company they'd report on. That doesn't make it an ad.

      • by brambus (3457531)

        Founded in 1993 in Alexandria, Va., by brothers David and Tom Gardner, The Motley Fool is a multimedia financial-services company dedicated to building the world's greatest investment community.

        And these guys put up an article about the bright future of the technology of a company they hold stock in. Don't you see that as a bit of a conflict of interest? Of course they're not terribly motivated to mention the potential downsides and limitations of the technology. From where they're standing, it's all peaches and roses!
        This isn't news for nerds, it's a promotional piece for a product (Tesla stock).

        • If you didn't think Tesla had a bright future, why would you own stock in the company? That wouldn't make sense.

          Motley Fool gets points for being upfront and disclosing their investments, so you can judge for yourself. A lot of news places don't do that.
          • by brambus (3457531)

            Motley Fool gets points for being upfront and disclosing their investments, so you can judge for yourself. A lot of news places don't do that.

            Agree there, I don't like it when journalists take positions without declaring it and trying to put up an objective pretense.

      • by smaddox (928261)

        I sure as hell don't. I'm a fan of Tesla's cars, but their financials are completely upside-down. They're practically a Ponzi scheme that makes cars on the side.

    • They're not advertising pieces. Motley Fool is a financial advice site, and thus all their articles contain the appropriate disclaimers.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @07:33AM (#47719109) Homepage

    The battery pack is not the bulk of the price of an electric car. It's all the other bits.
    So it is not going to drive down the price, not by any reasonable amount.

    What is needed is a single company making the motors and standardization. If the Govt demanded that all cars follow a standard motor design then suddenly costs will drop. Ford,GM,Toyota,Honda are NOT going to standardize unless forced to. And prices will not drop until there is a standard that is interchangeable.

    • by Rhywden (1940872)

      You're wrong there. The VW Up exists as both a pure electric and pure gasoline version. The difference in price? 10,000€

      That's the price for the battery. In the case of the Up it almost doubles the price (from 12,000€ to 22,000€). And "all the other bits" being expensive? Seriously?

      With the switch to pure electric you just god rid of the following: The alternator which provides the energy for all the gizmos in a normal gasoline car. And, more importantly, the transmission, one of the most com

    • The battery pack is not the bulk of the price of an electric car.

      Yes it is.

  • Won't we run into some kind of lithium shortage if the demand for li-ion batteries raises ?
    Or at least a increase in raw material price offsetting the decrease in manufacturing costs.

    • For your first question, unlikely. People like to compare supply/demand for lithium to petroleum. Unlike petroleum, you aren't "consuming" lithium. You're making it into stuff. Stuff which can be recycled. So, if you're seeing articles about "Peak Lithium" (a reference to "Peak Oil"), you can safely bet they're full of it.

      Your second question suggests a basic understanding of supply-demand. Good.

      As the demand for lithium increases, the price WILL go up in the short-term, which will stimulate inves
  • "Hell, Dr. Fred, if we put enough energy into the damn stable thing, just think how big an instantaneous charge we can drain out!"

    where's the Kickstarter link?

Prediction is very difficult, especially of the future. - Niels Bohr

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