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Power Technology

The Replacement For the Battery? 318

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)
    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.
  • Miracles Required? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EricBoyd ( 532608 ) <> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:22PM (#17731008) Homepage
    I've blogged about this EESTOR stuff twice already: torage_r.html [] pacitor.html []

    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...
  • Color me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Buelldozer ( 713671 ) 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.
  • by ArcherB ( 796902 ) * on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:26PM (#17731052) Journal
    Why are they even trying to do cars?

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

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 bobscealy ( 830639 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:44PM (#17731238)
    This might be some shocking news to you - but your big oil companies didn't end up rich and powerful by being morons. I fail to see the financial gain in Shell (or any other big oil) buying the company and disbanding the project. Wouldn't it be more sensible for them to buy the company, finish development, and then have a strategic advantage over their competitors by being able to roll with the punches as oil demand goes down and demand for high performance energy storage goes up.

    Actually, no, what I have written is crazy. I forgot to take into account that these are the same people that suppressed the 400 mile to the gallon carburettor and had the guy killed that invented the car that only runs on water.
  • by SeePage87 ( 923251 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:48PM (#17731280)
    If the battery works the way they claim it does for as cheap, etc., then they stand to make much more money letting the company flourish then selling it to Shell. Even if they did sell it, Shell would have the wits not to destroy the technology; they would just become a more diverse (and profitable) energy company as a result of the accusation.
  • by mcg1969 ( 237263 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:53PM (#17731326)
    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 saying we shouldn't be concerned about the safety issues---just that I think we can be reasonably confident that the obvious ones will be licked if this comes out to market.
  • 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.
  • by Usquebaugh ( 230216 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:20PM (#17731548)

    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:Better hybrids (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kfg ( 145172 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:38PM (#17731722)
    If they can make a reasonable electric battery for a car that provide power for trips up to 60 km or so without needing a recharge, transportation could change dramatically.

    Yeah, then all we'd need is this shit called "energy."

  • 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.
  • Ugh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by second class skygod ( 242575 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:59PM (#17732530)
    From time to time I've read the idea of swapping batteries in EVs as the solution to long charging times. It doesn't make sense for several reasons:

    1) The most obvious reason is that different makes and models of cars will use differing battery packs. It would be very difficult for a station to stock packs for all cars that might show up.
    2) Even for packs of the same type, there will differences in quality. If you just bought a car with 200 miles of range, would you want to have someone yank out your shiny new battery pack and replace it with one that had deteriorated to 80 miles range?
    3) These schemes assume that it will be really easy and quick to replace the pack. That's far from proven. My estimate is that you're looking at a minimum of 20 minutes. While designing an automated system to swap packs is possible if they are all the same, it seems very unlikely that they will be.
    4) Advances in battery technology are making it increasing less likely that the swap can be done quicker than a recharge. In the case of capacitors, the potential recharge times will so short as to make swapping a laughable proposition.
    5) The propane tank example is a poor one if you want to support the EV battery swap idea. Where I live, the price of a refurbished and filled propane tank is ~$10/gallon which is much more than the value of the propane itself. One of the major factors is the cost of testing/refurbishing/replacing the tanks returned by customers which can be in arbitrarily bad condition.
    6) People seem to miss one of the main advantages of EVs which is that the paradigm of periodically going to a "gas station" to get energy for powering our cars will mostly go away. Most EV charging will be done at home and with perhaps some supplementation at our workplaces. The only "gas station" type charging that needs to be considered is for the 5-10% of driving which is outside of a reasonable EV range. This will go down even further as EV ranges get higher.
    7) The interim step towards full EVs is plugin-hybrids. These will be on the road within a few years and will bridge the gap from today's technology to the availability of long-range full EVs with a network of quick charging stations for those relatively few trips that take one far from home.

    So, simply put, there will never be a large infrastructure for swapping batteries in privately-owned passenger vehicles as a means of extending range.
  • Re:Color me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jonnythan ( 79727 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:03PM (#17732598)
    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!"
  • 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.
  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:00AM (#17733166) Journal
    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 sinij ( 911942 ) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:16AM (#17733318)
    Gasoline engine is about 30% effective, electric is about 90% effective - so its not 17 tons, its about 6. It is feasible to hit gas tank equivalent under 5x weight, anything under 10x is expensive.
  • by lordmatthias215 ( 919632 ) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @02:44AM (#17734610)
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Global Warming accounts not only for warmer temperatures, but wider temperature swings resulting in colder winters (due to the change in the ocean's convection currents. The warming is also melting our ice caps, until it reaches a critical point where the waters flood the area, and then refreeze, creating another ice age. At least that's the theory I've heard- any climatologists out there, feel free to let me know if our knowledge has changed at all.
  • by Hirsto ( 601188 ) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @02:57AM (#17734692)
    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-capacitors in two 1,100 series capacitor banks (Maxwell spreadsheet says I need 18,904 of them).

    I could build a NiMH battery with similar energy storage characteristics using 1042 12A-hr 1.2V NiMH D-cell batteries costing about $9378 weighing 345lbs (no wiring).

    It would be cheaper and less hassle to build a huge battery from 39 Sears #02830126000 car batteries weighing a total of 1170lbs for only $1560. My 1-ton truck doesn't mind the weight much and it costs 1/6 of an NiMH system and 1/3 less than the vapor-ware super battery.

  • by Sj0 ( 472011 ) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @04:34AM (#17735172) Journal
    That would put a dangerous financial burden on someone. Even ultracaps have limitations on the number of charge/discharge cycles, so at some point, someone is going to have to deal with testing these things and taking them out of circulation, or you're going to have situations where a person ends up trapped in the middle of nowhere because his ultracap died prematurely.

    From there, you've got to ask yourself what the environmental impact of building these things is, what the impact of disposing of them is, and whether the change is going to make a means of transportation that is better than or worse than what already exists.
  • by Fordiman ( 689627 ) <fordiman@ g m a i l . com> on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @04:35AM (#17735178) Homepage Journal
    "Well I wouldn't want 120KV lines in my house, kinda dangerous since they arc 5 feet or so. "

    Not lines; a line. Proabably with a nice idiot-proof interconnect (so there's never any bare conductor). You could probably do it with a low-voltage/high-current magnetic coupling (also designed to not be 'on' until coupled).

    "You would also have to have a transformer to upconvert from street voltage to 120KV, those are expensive."

    Never heard of a flyback? If not, I don't suggest disassembling your TV. Anyways, they can be had for tens of dollars, or built for less (if you have LOTS of time on your hands)

    "Just because you increase the voltage to offset the current flow, it will not negate the fact that you are sending 12KW through, you need big wires for that."

    You're not sending 12KW through; you're sending 12 kWh through, over the course of five to eight hours. That means your cable has to be rated for 1500-2400W, 12.5-20A@120V at the transformer input, 0.0125-0.02A@12kV at the output.

    Knowing a little Ohm's Law might help you out. Or at least knowing the difference between a Watt and a Watt-Hour.

    Meanwhile, the voltage step up has nothing to do with 'offsetting' the current. Because of the way ultracaps work, you have to fill them using a very high potential difference (or suffer a greatly reduced operating capacity). You then step the voltage back down in the device using it (one of the reasons I don't see this tech in small applications anytime soon).

    Anyway, a 20A/120V line is about 3/8" in diameter, insulator included (you generally see them as the bright orange extension cables). Hell, your air conditioner has thicker than you'd need (they're usually rated for 30A@120V). Truth is, current determines conductor size, so at 0.02A the conductor need not be very thick - though you'd want to bring it back up to the 3/8" diameter using insulator so as to protect from the voltage; I imagine 12kV would hurt a bit.

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