What *IS* This Nonsense? (Electric Cars)
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2011-05-16 11:33 by Karl Denninger
in Energy , 4 references Ignore this thread
What *IS* This Nonsense? (Electric Cars) *


Batteries are now "part of the clean-tech boom, with all the dewy and righteous credibility of thin-film solar and offshore windmills," Seth Fletcher asserts in "Bottled Lightning." Righteous? Surely. Credible? Maybe.

Uh, credible, no.

Some commentators worry that we're going to replace our dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on foreign batteriesand foreign lithium. "Bottled Lightning" alleviates at least one worry: By taking us to the salt flats of the "Lithium Triangle" in Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, Mr. Fletcher shows us the abundance of the metal and puts to rest any fears of "peak lithium."

Mr. Fletcher is in love with the Volt. After a test drive, he gushes: "The car, in short, is fantastic." And it is technically sweet. But at $41,000 per copy, will it interest American drivers?

Hypesterism is not scientific evidence or supportable.

Look, I'd love to find a solution that works in the "battery" realm.  But Seth (and everyone else!) has two problems he has to deal with (and hasn't):

  • Charge acceptance.  That is, how fast can you stuff energy into the battery.  This is largely a function of the battery's effective series resistance while being charged; the more of it the more energy gets dissipated as heat in the battery rather than being stored chemically.  Lithium batteries can be charged at higher rates than other chemistries, but the practical maximum is "2C", or double the amp-hour rating.  Going beyond that tends to do a lot of damage to the cell in a big hurry, reducing capacity dramatically, and this assumes you can dissipate the heat (if you can't you get a fire, which of course is very bad!)  As a practical matter this means that while a 30 minute charge is possible assuming you can find a plug that can deliver the amps necessary to do so, the expected "5 minute fillup" is NOT.  Note that the Chevy Volt has a 16 kWh battery pack in it but can only realistically draw down the pack to 30% before protective actions limit further discharge (cell damage occurs below this level.)  That is, we have about 11kWh usable in the pack, so to recharge it in 30 minutes (assuming "2C" can be done) we'd have to source 22 kW before losses.  That's about 100 amps @ 240V.  That's bad news but it in fact gets significantly worse because as batteries go over about 80% charge their acceptance goes down materially, and as a consequence trying to get the last 20% into them on a "rapid charge" is going to both decrease efficiency significantly and increase the heat dissipation problem.  As a result with losses we probably need around 125 amps @ 240V and we can only realistically charge for 25 minutes, leaving us 15-20% short of "full."

    Note that if you have a larger battery, allowing a longer range, in order to be able to charge it in 25 minutes or so your power requirement is going to go up a lot.  Let's assume that we want not 40 miles of range but two hundred miles, and we will accept a 30 minute charge after that (that is, we'll travel for three hours @ 70mph and will accept a 30 minute layover after those three hours.)  Note that this is quite conservative - the average modern car can travel about 400 miles before refueling, so a 200 mile range is actually quite a decrease.  But now we need five times the electrical delivery rate, or over six hundred amps of 240V power.  That's three times the total electrical capacity of a modern home's power feed - per vehicle that is charging at one time.  Exactly how many cars did you say that "filling station" was going to be able to support?

  • Energy density.  Batteries are chemical devices; they perform a chemical reaction called a "redox" reaction, or reduction + oxidation.  But unlike combustion (e.g. a gasoline engine) a battery has to carry its oxygen inside the case where a hydrocarbon fueled engine gets the oxygen from the air.  In the case of burning natural gas, for example, you have CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2O.   The total mass of the reactants for this chemical reaction is 12 + 4 + 64 or 80 amu of which 64, or 80% of them, come from the atmosphere rather than being carried in the vehicle. 

    In the case of the battery all of the reactants are in the case and the cell has to contain the products and have the other half-reaction (reduction) present so the discharge of the battery can be reversed.  This produces a huge disadvantage for the battery in terms of the amount of energy per unit of mass (and usually volume) for the battery that cannot be reasonably overcome.

These are the realities of chemical reactions folks.  I know there are a lot of people who would love to find a way to "replace" liquid hydrocarbons, but the fact remains that we don't use them due to some conspiracy.  We use them because they pack a lot of energy into a small space and the majority of their reactant mass comes from the atmosphere.

There's no getting around these facts.  Better technology will, over time, improve charge acceptance, but it is going to be hard-pressed to do much for density problem which comes about from carrying the necessary reactants in the battery's case.

Hype must give way to physical and chemical reality.

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Comments on What *IS* This Nonsense? (Electric Cars)
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Obseedian 16k posts, incept 2007-07-26

You've gotta admire the sheer effort that's going into blowing the Green Energy Bubble.

Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything. - Joseph Stalin
Jpg 888 posts, incept 2009-03-23

... we'd have to source 22 kW before losses.
My entire house, including air-conditioner, electric dryer, electric water-heater, electric oven and all all four stove heating elements "On", barely pulls 22kW.

(point being "22kW" is a LOT of power on a per-residence basis)

Reason: Clarification.
Joshua_d 165 posts, incept 2010-08-26

Nothing says clean and green to me like nickel-metal-hydride or lithium-ion ... ;)
Rebbepete 33 posts, incept 2009-03-03

The only solution I've heard to the on-the-road charging problem is to "rent" the battery packs instead of owning them, and change out the whole pack at the "recharge station." It's cumbersome, since these things are heavy! You'd either need a crane to replace them from the top, or some kind of lift device to replace them from the bottom. The recharge station then could have a bank of batteries charging and already charged.

Of course, there are problems with this, too. At the recharging station, if you're recharging, for example, 10 batteries at 2C, you'd need 20C charging current, quite respectible. For a 200 Amp-hour pack at 120 Volts (not too far out of range, I believe), that's 4,000 amps, or 480 kW. Better have a substation next door!

That's just part of the question of where the electricity to power all these electric vehicles is going to come from. The energy has to be generated somewhere, either in the car itself through petroleum products, or at the power station and then distributed over the grid. smiley

Although the way up leads through the valley,
It is only through the trials in the valley
That we appreciate the heights
Starvingartist 3k posts, incept 2011-01-03

Green = $. Truth doesn't matter.

"The only solution that is mathematically sound is politically impossible.
All the should's in the world ain't gonna change that."
Jbreedlove 139 posts, incept 2010-08-11

Some interesting research that sounds like a good approach to solving the charging issue

Tmmort 96 posts, incept 2008-07-28

Everything always comes back to that pesky math.
Tickerguy 198k posts, incept 2007-06-26

Rebb: Swapping packs eh? You're going to allow a ~$3-5,000 piece of your car to be swapped in when you have no idea what sort of condition it's in, right after you bought the car with a NEW pack in it?

I think not.

"Anyone wearing a mask will be presumed to be intending armed robbery and immediately shot in the face. Govern yourself accordingly."
Tickerguy 198k posts, incept 2007-06-26

Jbreed: That solves PART OF the acceptance problem but makes the other part (watts available at the charging stations) worse.

"Anyone wearing a mask will be presumed to be intending armed robbery and immediately shot in the face. Govern yourself accordingly."
Checkthisout 331 posts, incept 2010-10-01

Charge acceptance is a non-issue. Batteries will eventually become swappable, kinda like how you go get your blue rhino tank at the grocery store. You 'own' one battery and you swap it out for a standard battery at the station. The station performs maintenance and charges the dead batteries. Yes, all the batteries will have to be standardized, maybe down to 2-3 styles. The 'recharge' stations will do all the charging ahead of time (think overnight) and keep a large stock of batteries on hand, all trickle charging at optimal charge.

I know, the batteries will be HEAVY. You won't be able to do it yourself. Hydraulics will be employed, or something like this:

Remember, gasoline is a very HIGHLY FLAMMABLE liquid. And even still, we don't have very many fires at gas stations do we? It's all a matter of familiarity and acceptance.

I'm not sure how to solve the energy density issue, but I can't wait until industry standardizes their battery packs and stations start popping up everywhere. I might even open a few.

There are no gun free zones where free men tread.
Asimov 146k posts, incept 2007-08-26

While I don't see a way around the issue of "where does the energy come from", the obvious answer to the battery swapping is to rent the battery, not own it.

Would probably need to be owned by the company that does the battery swaps to recharge, though it would be a HELL of an initial investment.

It's justifiably immoral to deal morally with an immoral entity.

Festina lente.
Mpilar 7k posts, incept 2009-01-05

The only solution I've heard to the on-the-road charging problem is to "rent" the battery packs instead of owning them, and change out the whole pack at the "recharge station."

Would you take an 'unknown' battery pack into your car and drive out into the desert with it? Imagine a battery pack that has a 'problem' and somebody gets hurt because it died suddenly, or worse, caught fire...who's responsible? The station? The previous battery pack user? The manufacturer? Renting battery packs will never catch on...it's just not viable.

If man asks for many laws it is only because he is sure that his neighbor needs them; privately he is an unphilosophical anarchist, and thinks laws in his own case superfluous.
Will Durant
Tickerguy 198k posts, incept 2007-06-26

Uh huh, and the first time you get a bad pack, who's going to eat that?

"Anyone wearing a mask will be presumed to be intending armed robbery and immediately shot in the face. Govern yourself accordingly."
Ee4fire 1k posts, incept 2011-03-24

While we have come a long way in battery technology for small low power devices (thank you space program), we have a long way to go for large high power devices. Electric motors when starting need a large amount of current to start the motor, then as the motor gets up to speed requires less. Starting and stopping for an electric car as expereinced in city traffic requires a large amount of power. This why the hybrid technology is required to keep the battery charged and prevent loss of power.

When battery technology can meet the large demand an electric vehicle requires for 200 to 300 miles and combuned with the ability to quick charge, then a total electric vehicle will be a reality. Research for this has been going on for years and has years to go.

The laws of physics can be a bear, just like the laws of fiscal policy.

"Only by creating wealth can you relieve poverty.
It's what you do with your wealth that counts."
― Margaret Thatcher
Marshhawk 2 posts, incept 2010-09-22

One thing that most people don't consider is that the energy required to charge the batteries must come from somewhere. Be it hydro, fossil fuel, solar, wind or nuclear. In many instances, the advantage of clean energy and air is simply transferred somewhere else when fossil fuels are involved. Out of sight out of mind I guess.
Donethat 945 posts, incept 2009-04-22

The only bright side in this whole solar/battery scam is the methanol powered fuel cells used for emergency backup at all those wireless cell towers. I understand the economics are no brainers for replacing diesel or gasoline generators on site. Of course I wonder how long the fuel is going to last.

I understand no small part of the S in PIIGS is Spains solar subsidies.
Mezcal 1k posts, incept 2007-08-04

...six hundred amps of 240V power.

Just incidentally, that is not something you "plug in."
The wire required to carry it would be rather unwieldy as well.

You could alleviate some of that by stepping up to 480V but how many residences are wired for that?

"God knows who is a counter-party to whom in the mammoth international clusterfuck of accounting fraud that passes for a commerce in capital."
Kunstler, 13 June 2011

Tickerguy 198k posts, incept 2007-06-26

Such a system will REQUIRE much higher voltages to keep wire size reasonable.

There's a good reason we don't do that however in residential and light industrial applications - there's a trade-off of insulation requirements and RISK associated with voltage.

"Anyone wearing a mask will be presumed to be intending armed robbery and immediately shot in the face. Govern yourself accordingly."
Blackswan 6k posts, incept 2007-11-06

$41K! GM can shove that Volt up their bailed out ass.

Its easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled. -Mark Twain
Bill1102inf 92 posts, incept 2009-03-28


Didn't mit solve this problem back in 2009? Reduction in charging a cell from six min to ten to twenty seconds.... or less and little degradation after 60,000 charges.
The future is here, its just not widely distributed, yet.

Tickerguy 198k posts, incept 2007-06-26

Not really Bill. The charge problem isn't JUST charge RATE - it's also the watts you have to be able to deliver. It's a non-trivial problem and doesn't do anything about the density issue.

"Anyone wearing a mask will be presumed to be intending armed robbery and immediately shot in the face. Govern yourself accordingly."
Rdytmire 1k posts, incept 2008-07-07

I've always thought that mechanical storage systems as opposed to chemical would be better.

Half joking: Wouldn't simply winding up a very large series of "springs" be simpler than all this battery nonsense? I mean, geez, we could wind them back up pretty easily and I'm thinking someone could make this work. The springs could turn a small generator or something.

"Awesome: I'm a pig and a bigot." - Bezzle
"I don't want a government that's able to effectively know whenever a circumcision happens." - Mrbill
Lowbeyond 18k posts, incept 2008-02-11

people will rarely lend a stranger 10 bucks, but sure take my new 5k battery and give me that one over there is a viable solution


Maybe it was a birdy bread-bomber from the future?!
Tickerguy 198k posts, incept 2007-06-26

Incidentally it is my considered position that "small" hybrids (electric assist off diesel) are possibly workable. The problem is cost; for the cost of the controls plus batteries plus motor I suspect you could buy the differential in diesel fuel over the life of the car and be ahead.

"Anyone wearing a mask will be presumed to be intending armed robbery and immediately shot in the face. Govern yourself accordingly."
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