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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 scoot80 ( 1017822 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:25PM (#17731036) Journal
    Geez.. ultracapacitors.. we had supercapacitors till now.. whats next.. ubercapacitors? ubersuperultracapacitors.. anyhow..

    So far, the supercaps i know of are quite expensive, and their performance degrades - i.e. with each charge cycle, the capacity gets smaller and smaller. I am not sure what the lifespan of a supercapacitor is, but it surely isn't terrbily long. I guess for the current applications (flash in cameras for example) its not all that critical - how many times is flash used over the lifetime of the camera.. If the lifespan is really improved, then they may be onto something.
  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:34PM (#17731116)
    There was some battery technology that used liquids. When the battery ran flat, you'd just pump out the old and pump in fresh and you'd be recharged and going again. The proposed technology would be supported by "gas station"-like refill services where you'd dump the old stuff and pick up recharged new stuff. The proposed usage madel was very much like a regular gas car. Unfortunately the technology never got commercialised.

    Perhaps the same could be used here. Pull into a "gas station". Dump & replace the whole battery pack (or the old powders or whatever) and pick up fresh. That would make a lot of sense from various angles. You won't have to fit a 10kA feed into every house. Just one hefty feed into the recharge station.

    Of course, for any such technology to work, there is going to have to be some sort of regulatory standard for batteries (just like there are for fuels and oils) to ensure interoperability.

  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:44PM (#17731232) Homepage
    The trick is to modify the composition of the barium-titanate powders to allow for a thousandfold increase in ultracapacitor voltage--in the range of 1,200 to 3,500 volts, and possibly much higher.

    Oh man.. as if tossing a charged capacitor to an unsuspecting victim wasn't funny enough already.
  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:54PM (#17731338) Homepage Journal
    The Not For Hire ran on a batacitor charged on the grail stones. According to Phillip Jose Farmer these things were supposed to have been developed in the early 80s. 5th paragraph [].
  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:02PM (#17731422) Homepage Journal
    Well, if you don't mind the expense of having two of them, you could keep one charged at home, make a quick pit stop, and off you go. If they can make the amps, they can take the amps.

    Stop, stop, I can't help flogging this:
    If you have solar power you can take your transportation off of fossil fuels too. The range issue looks as though it may be fixed with this technology. Once you get an electric vehicle just add a few solar panels to your locked in rate solar system and your fuel costs are fixed to. How is the FED going to keep inflation at 3% if prices refuse to rise?

    I've started keeping a list of users who can help you get a solar power system: -selling-solar.html []
  • Re:Seems unlikely (Score:3, Interesting)

    by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:06PM (#17731444) Journal
    For example, the company's system claims a specific energy of about 280 watt hours per kilogram, compared with around 120 watt hours per kilogram for lithium-ion and 32 watt hours per kilogram for lead-acid gel batteries

      so they're claiming more like 2 1/3 an Li-ion battery. On the other hand even if the thing is too fragile and doesn't have enough temperature range for over-the-road use as some anticipate, I can think of some useful thing to do with it in a stationary mode such as peak buffering solar-voltaic or wind generation stations.
  • Re:Sounds great! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fordiman ( 689627 ) <fordiman AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:13PM (#17731498) Homepage Journal
    Feh. I want to know two things:
    Watts per kilogram (330) and Watts per cubic centimeter (not derivable from speculations).

    Then I'll be impressed.

    (a 25g AA battery at 1.2v output would store 6875 mAh, assuming a similar density to NiMH. Half of that would impress me.)
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:26PM (#17731604) Homepage

    First off, this was reported in Business Week back in 2005 [], with some of the same quotes.

    What's striking is that Kleiner Perkins, one of Silicon Valley's top venture capital firms, is funding this. If they're funding it, it's not totally bogus; they will have done a due diligence and had some competent people look over the technology. There may turn out to be some reason it's not feasible, but if it was physically impossible, they wouldn't have obtained money from that group.

  • by heroine ( 1220 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:25PM (#17732186) Homepage
    Isn't this the 3rd year these startups have been pitching supercapacitors? The first one was in San Diego. In exchange for a super sized check, they gave you a 5F capacitor that supported up to 1V and recharged 100 times before it died. Still nothing new to report here.

    The "electric car revolution" is a funny thing. As soon as you cross the Sunol grade, all the hybrids, vegetable oil, methane, ethanol, corn starch, soybean powered cars disappear and you're back in giant SUV land.

  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:44PM (#17732396) Homepage Journal

    This temperature "issue" is a red herring.

    As the thing requires being kept above -20 to work, put it in a well-insulated box with an electric heater and see to it that the heater comes on if the temperature goes near -20. A heater working at those temperatures, and only looking for a rise of a few degrees in a very small volume, wouldn't consume much energy at all, and it can tap the ultracap for energy, or simply be plugged in. Or keep your car in a garage. Or both. Hell, around here, we have to plug in our cars now when it gets around -20, because gas engines don't work very well when they get that cold, either. My car has both battery and engine-block heaters.

    Where I live (Montana) we see -40 once or twice a year in a cold year. Not yet this year, though we've been down to -20 once. I would *love* to have this kind of clean, high rate, long-lifetime energy storage available, and not just for cars. The cold, we know how to beat. Energy storage -- that's the issue.

    I'm a lot more concerned about materials availability and manufacturing practicality than I am any of these supposed limits; if they can just make them so they work under limited circumstances, I'm pretty sure we can adjust the circumstances if we cannot adjust the ultracaps themselves. Electricity is particularly friendly to voltage and current conversions. The available power's the same, or at least, barring the efficiency losses of conversion, which aren't horrible. And anyone who is saying that the environment is a problem is ignoring our demonstrated ability to create just about any environment we want, wherever we want to.

  • by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:02PM (#17732574)
    Kleiner Perkins has funded dozens of not hundreds of completely bogus businesses that failed miserably. I've been to conferences consisting entirely of K-P startups pitching their bullshit business plans to each other.
  • by arielCo ( 995647 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:03PM (#17732590)

    Your car battery, if it were made large enough to hold the same amount of energy as your 50-liter tank, would weigh about 17 tons ( []):

    50 l * 0.74 kg/l (gas) * 46.9 MJ/kg (gas) / 0.1 MJ/kg (Pb batt) = 17353 kg

    For your laptop's battery, that figure improves by a factor somewhere around 6.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:25PM (#17732860) Journal
    Isn't there other capicitors in an earlier story..

    Nano fibers used to increase a capacitors surface area i believe was the concept.

    There was also a similar development with lithium cells, also using nano-fiber graphite forests for electrodes, producing hysterical energy densities and recharge rates (like 80% in a minute or so), high efficiency (since they'd slag down at that rate otherwise), and both long lives and a large numbers of cycles (since the graphite nanotubes don't tend to degrade anywhere but at the tips, and very slowly there.)

    Somebody also did something similar with lead-acids, of all things. Built the plates' base structure by plating the lead onto a graphite (non-nano) fiber base, rather than starting from a lead skeleton. Greatly increased charge/discharge rate and efficiency (since the graphite conducts better than lead) significantly reduced weight (like well under half of a regular battery if I recall it right) and enormous increase in number of charge/discharge cycles before failure (since the graphite skeleton holds its shape rather than participating in the chemical reaction, which is what's behind some of a lead-acid's failure mechanisms - thus letting the plates "heal".)

    And then there's vanadium redox...

    Lots of good alternatives in the pipe. A conglomerate of oil companies would be hard pressed to buy them ALL up and bury 'em. B-)
  • by adrianmonk ( 890071 ) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:38PM (#17732974)
    And even if they did, we don't have the 10,000amp service at my house necessary to actually charge them at speed.

    Having a special hookup from the electric company is not the only possible way to charge one of these quickly at home. This electrical engineering problem can be solved with a technique that software guys have been using for quite some time: double buffering. Simply buy another bank of ultracapacitors with a slightly higher capacity (to account for losses), and slowly charge that up overnight, or all day, or whatever. Then, when you want to charge your car, grab some really damn thick cables, hook your car's ultracapacitor up to the one you've been charging at home all night, and FWOOOM 1.2 megawatts of power flows from ultracapacitor A to ultracapacitor B for a few minutes.

    Alternatively, if the things are small enough, just physically swap out one for the other.

  • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <> on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @01:14AM (#17733924)
    Typing too fast.... before someone else points out the idiocy in my original post I'll fix a few of em myself.

    > Get the losses down where those Maxwell caps are and you lose 15 miles per day to losses.

    Since the power loss is not constant, which was the whole point, obviously this part has to be taken in the context of the next (fairly mangled) sentence and assume nightly recharging to 100% to enable the 500 mile advertised range. Which would be the logical course, so an unexpected trip could be undertaken without worrying about charging.

    > Large losses mean splitting it into banks and only charging what you plan on needing plus a reserve.

    Doh. The obvious method is of course to leave it one big bank and only recharge it to give tomorrow's driving plus a fudge factor if self discharge is a problem. (Explanation left as exercise)

    But running the numbers a little more gets some disturbing trends. Assume the loss is only equal to 15 miles of driving per day as I did in the best case above. That means every single car would be wasting enough power to drive a NYC to LA round trip annually. But keep the caps around 25% charge most days would cut the waste in half. Assuming that the real world loss curve looks close to a perfect capacitor discharge.
  • by PietjeJantje ( 917584 ) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @05:57AM (#17735552)
    Why charge batteries for cars on the spot and wait for it? Once, I like to drive up to what was once my petrol station, and quickly swap the battery for another one, fully charged. Now if Shell etc. is to produce or charge batteries, that would leave the logistics chain to the "petrol" station intact, hence leading to a higher probability of success.

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan