Vehicle Electrification, EV Batteries—A New Hope (Followup)

By Rud Istvan,

EV Batteries—and A New Hope

This is the second of two loosely related guest posts that ctm and I recently discussed, drawing on my subject matter expertise (SME) in energy storage materials and related matters. My SME status was hard won over several intense research years in support of my now globally issued energy storage materials patents for supercapacitors. This post is written for laymen (in the spirit of expert Andy May concerning his recent superb petroleum shale geophysics posts). It omits non-essential technical details (of which there are many) and focuses on electric vehicles (EV), because that is most relevant to global warming concerns and WUWT skeptics. It intentionally contains a lot of ‘terminology’ that enables those interested to follow up with independent internet based research. There are also some related ‘obiter dicta’ making separate points leading to an important ancillary WUWT conclusion. It is written in two parts: Current lithium ion improvements, and A New Hope (an intentional nod to Star Wars Episode IV, because that is what it is).

Current LiIon improvements

All true batteries store electric charge in some form of an electrochemical reaction, either primary or secondary (aka reversible/rechargeable). All are descended from Alessandro Volta’s 1800 invention of his primary ‘pile’ using copper, zinc, paper separators, and brine as electrolyte. (You can make a Volta pile in your kitchen by taking a US penny (outer surface is now plated copper), a sanded US penny (interior is now zinc) and sticking both about ¾ the way into close together but not touching (~2mm separation) slits into a lemon (lemon juice is the electrolyte, lemon pulp is the separator). Good enough for lighting a small Christmas tree bulb for a while (until the undefaced penny’s copper plating is consumed) for your child’s middle school science fair project. Just touch the two bulb wires to the protruding penny edges. Either way works, since this is a DC pile and little Xmas bulbs only care about amp*volt since they heat by resistance ohms. (For the historically inclined, Alessandro’s invention of the battery pile got the volt (electrical ‘force’)–one of three fundamental DC electricity parameters–named after him. [The other two are the ohm (resistance, named after Georg Ohm for his 1827 paper, and the amp named after Andre Ampère for his 1823 current [{charge ‘volume”} speculation—although that was not established rigorously in physics until Maxwell in 1861 in his famous four tensor equation system fully describing all of electromagnetism]. But I digress.) So history suggests Volta’s frog leg twitching battery pile discovery was important. And our modern life, with or without global warming, but definitely with electrics and electronics, confirms history’s judgment.

In the most familiar reversible (rechargeable) commercial battery type, vehicular lead acid (PbA) invented in 1859, the electrochemical reaction is simply lead to lead sulfate and back, using sulfuric acid in water as electrolyte providing sulfate ions plus the disassociated hydrogen ions as electrical charge carriers.

Lithium ion batteries (LIB) are the most energy dense rechargeable electrochemistry presently known, essentially because lithium ions transfer twice the electrical charge of aqueous hydrogen ions (PbA, NiMH). (Since lithium, like sodium, really doesn’t like water, the LIB electrolyte solvent must be a water free organic [aprotic] solvent, hence their infamous flammability.) LIBs were initially developed in the 1980s. The conventional rechargeable LIB used in portable electronics and EVs is an electrochemical ‘rocking chair’ subtype, where on charging the lithium ions resident in the metallic cathode intercalate into the carbon (graphite) anode via an aprotic (organic, usually propylene carbonate [PC] or acetyl nitrile [AN] electrolyte) containing a dissolved lithium salt such as LiPF6. This intercalation process electrochemically reverses on discharge, just like like PbA.

There are several metallic LIB cathode materials, the two most common being Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePF4) and Lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2, ‘LCO’)—often with other added metals like nickel and manganese (LiNiMnCoO2, ‘NMC’). The cobalt cathode types have the best energy density so are the most common—hence legitimate media concerns about future cobalt supply. The alternative “Peak lithium” concern is mostly fake news, as lithium is the 20th most abundant element on earth. The peak lithium question is cost not abundance, as the inexpensive present supplies come from lithium rich brines or spodumene rich pegmatites. Most cobalt is a minor byproduct of copper ore production, a vastly greater mining proposition already much more depleted in global ore grade.

The individual LIB cells packaged into the battery come in two common form factors:

Cylindrical has the anode/separator/cathode assembly spiral wound and stuffed in a tube (like an AA battery). Tesla uses this form factor, as do Apple’s new iAirPods.

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Pouch has the assembly stacked flat like pancakes and sealed with electrolyte in an impermeable ‘bag’. Chevy Volt uses this form factor, as do iPhones and iPads.

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These permutations lead to many tradeoffs among cost, energy density (both volumetric and gravimetric), power density, and cycle life as a function of heat dissipation and solid electrolyte interface (SEI) buildup on the carbon anode. Virtually all LIB improvement initiatives focus on reducing cost, enhancing energy/power density, or extending cycle life. Despite much press hype (usually as part of some fund raising scheme), none of these labs/startups are anywhere near volume commercialization, and none solve the fundamental energy density related range anxiety issues for EV’s.

The inescapable LIB range anxiety problem is basic electrochemistry. Although the figures vary some with precise cathode composition, the theoretical limit for LIB LCO or NMC is ~280Wh/kg. The Tesla cell is already 254Wh/kg in 2018! Elon Musk cannot overcome approaching that theoretical limit with his Tesla GigaFactories. Nor can any LIB startup, no matter how innovative they claim to be.

Tesla says its Supercharger stations are an alternative range anxiety solution (20 minutes to 50% charge, 40 minutes to 80%—versus 5 minutes to gas up). BUT what they don’t say is that such rapid charging kills battery life due to rapid charging heat buildup thanks to the inescapable Nernst electrochemistry equation, which is derivable in two separate ways (fundamental thermodynamics and Boltzmann statistical mechanics) insuring Nernst is ‘real’–like the Pythagorean theorem.

Two fascinating related sidebars:

(1) The Pythagorean theorem (in a right triangle, a2+b2=c2 where c is the hypotenuse) has been derived thousands of ways both geometric and algebraic. It is thought the original Greek ‘proof’ was geometric despite Diophantus, since algebra was ‘invented’ much later by the Arab al-Kwarizmi.

(2) Walther Nernst derived his famous equation in 1887, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1920. Tesla hype is NOT ignoring some minor annoying detail.

A New Hope

The other basic form of direct electrical charge storage is capacitance where no chemical reaction is involved, only basic Maxwell physics. The most familiar is the simple ceramic ‘chipcap’ where charge is stored electrostatically on metallized plates separated by a ceramic dielectric. These capacitors are the modern descendants of the Leyden jar invented in 1745, and are ubiquitous—trillions of tiny chipcaps worth $billions per year, used in all electrical and electronic devices. In the following image all those little variously sized, both ends white tipped, brownish things are chipcaps.

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Passive filtering components for the A11 on an iPhone 8 Plus PCB

The most energy dense capacitor is a supercapacitor (aka ultracapacitor aka ELDC), where the charge storage mechanism is the interface between two phases of matter and the storage is in the Helmholtz’ ‘electrolytic’ double layer capacitance (DLC), first explained by him in 1888. This is the electrostatic physics mechanism that produces lightning in thunderstorms. (As an aside, the motto of my NanoCarbons LLC company holding my materials patents is “Lightning in a Bottle”, for good reason.) Most supercaps use special expensive high purity activated carbons for both the anode and cathode, and a standard aprotic solvent with a lithium salt (or cheaper salt equivalents such as TEMA or TEA) as the electrolyte. Supercaps have between 10 and 100 times the power density of the best power dense LIB, but only about 1/10th the energy density. Their main advantage is where power density and cycle life are paramount. Supercaps have tested cycle lives >106 compared to LIB with at best low single digit 103 when babied. A $billion plus market today, and about a $250 million plus carbon materials market (which suffices for NanoCarbons LLC).

It turns out that it is possible to create a hybrid cell that is half LIB and half DLC. The details are complicated, but the basics are simple. Lithiate the carbon anode rather than the (also carbon) cathode of what would otherwise be a supercap, with LiPF6 as the electrolyte salt. This hybrid is called a Lithium Ion Capacitor (LIC).

In 2007 and 2008, Subaru head of R&D Dr. Hatozaki presented prototype data (at the 17th-18th annual International Seminars on DLC and Hybrid Energy Storage Devices) for LIC cells with very attractive measured properties.

Subaru was looking for a replacement to standard automotive lead acid batteries (PbA) that would have a significantly enhanced cycle life with more energy/power density in a PbA size without excessive cost. Subaru’s motivation was an under hood battery replacement for mild hybridization like the Valeo system, that did not kill cycle life via the Nernst equation. They used a standard activated carbon for the cathode, lithiated graphite for the anode (with a very clever first charge lithiation scheme using a wrapped lithium metal foil mesh), and standard LIB LiPF6 as the electrolyte salt in PC solvent. The result was a 3.8 volt device (better than ~3.6V LIB and much better than supercaps at 2.7V for basic electrochemical potential breakdown reasons beyond the scope of this post) with a demonstrated 20,000 cycles (95%SoC to 45%SoC [Δ2.2V] at a 40C rate at 80°C (Holy Nernst equation!!) for simple under the engine hood replacement where an ordinary PbA otherwise sits but even beefed up fails early and often in mild hybrid applications.

But, Subaru decided LIC enabled mild hybridization did not make commercial sense (see companion post ‘Electrification Common Sense). So they licensed their LIC technology to JM Energy. It is sold as the Ultimo and used in specialty applications like industrial UPS (backup/reactive power/peak support). A Subaru commercial near miss, despite Dr. Hatozaki’s brilliant R&D success.

The supercapacitor energy density limitation that LIC seeks to overcome is directly related to the effective (carbon) surface (per gram or cc) upon which the Helmholtz double layer can form, and to the voltage at which it can operate for adequate cycle life. Activated carbons have high total surface areas, but surprisingly low effective surfaces. (Full disclosure: My NanoCarbons inventions cost effectively increase effective surface about 50% using patented tricks, lowering cell costs by 20-30%.)

Growth of vertically aligned closely spaced multiwall carbon nanotubes on a metal current collector via a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) process provides very high effective surface (an MIT Ph.D thesis). But CVD is difficult to scale and quite expensive.

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The 2009 MIT spinout company that attempted to commercialize this technology for EV’s has received tens of $millions in DARPA and DOE grants, but has struggled to get beyond very high priced very small niche specialty markets. It survived, barely, mostly on continued government R&D support rather than product sales.

When Geims got the 2010 Nobel Prize for discovering graphene, it was surmised by many that graphene based structures could solve the effective surface problem more easily and cheaply than vertically aligned carbon nanotubes. Graphenes are essentially single atom sheets of carbon (like an ‘unrolled’ single wall nanotube, only with greater XY area). They are extremely strong, highly conductive, and fairly easy to make. Graphene Energy (spun out of Ruoff’s nanotech materials group at U. Texas Austin) investigated this energy storage possibility. Ruoff converted graphite oxide (GO) to graphene in an aqueous solution using acid. Their problem was that the resulting graphenes clump thanks to Van der Waals forces, and the effective clump surface was no better than NanoCarbons LLC but much more expensive. Graphene Energy failed and folded.

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What this failed company’s research suggested was that some inexpensive way to make a robust unclumped graphene structure might be a path forward.

Given that background, imagine my SME shock reading in 2016 that Henrick Fisker has just founded a new electric vehicle company plus a new ‘battery’ subsidiary, Fisker Nanotech, claiming >400 mile battery range plus very rapid charge time in a lithium/graphene device. The HOLY GRAIL according to MSM PR! For those who do not know about him, Henrick Fisker is a famous Danish supercar designer (Aston Martin DB8 of James Bond movie fame, amongst others). He started a US electric supercar company before Musk’s Tesla. Alas, the sourced batteries exploded over 100 times in his Karma cars (really bad karma). Then his LIB supplier A123 Systems (a nanotech spun out of MIT) imploded into bankruptcy losing $250 million of US subsidies and grants plus $100 million for investors, after being sold to China for ~$200 million. Fisker Automotive quickly followed, whose investors promptly lost an additional $1.4 billion.

Can there be any credence to Fisker’s 2016 announced phoenix like rise from his EV Karma ashes? He has funding, so somebody believes. But then, many somebodies also believe Elon Musk and his LIB GigaFactory. The credibility question requires untangling a fascinating technology development web that leads to a new LIC technology. The patent applications for Fisker’s PR’d New Hope have now published. The most important of several are US20170149107 (Hybrid electrochemical cell) and US20170369323 (Production on a large scale). Interested readers can go examine the technical invention details for free using the simple application number search function at the USPTO website.

In what follows we explain simply what Fisker is up to, and how the New Hope invention came about. There are several subparts, producing a combined plausible commercial breakthrough. Each is yet another self-contained energy storage R&D mini-saga teaching lesson.

Thread one is the invention of laser scribed graphene (LSG) in 2012. Then UCLA Ph.D student El-Kady in Prof. Kaner’s nanotech lab made the LSG breakthrough. He took ordinary graphite oxide, coated it onto an ordinary DVD disk using water, then ran the dried DVD disk through an ordinary commercial HP DVD Lightscribe. (Lightscribe used a 780nm [infrared] 5 mW LED laser to inscribe a DVD label/illustration onto a DVD surface coated with heat sensitive dye, each scribe track about 20 microns wide, total full disk pass for a ‘label’ about 20 minutes.)

HP has since stopped selling LightScribe technology because it is monochromatic and not durable. Another commercial near miss.

The LSG lab process produced about 8μ thick 3D graphene structures in DVD sized sheets via simple laser heat reduction of graphite oxide to graphene. These graphene films are extremely mechanically robust because of 3D edge interlinking.

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He further showed that six passes of the Lightscribe laser (each ~20 minutes per dvd) improved conductivity many fold. He made a high effective surface, mechanically robust, highly conductive graphene structure for supercaps. Ph.D granted along with a major Nature paper. This was reported and intensively discussed at the ISDLC conference in 2012. We global ‘experts’ discounted it, because the Nature paper showed the electrode thickness was only ~8 microns and the reported supercap energy density was nothing exceptional in aqueous phosphoric acid electrolyte at maximum 1 V, practically useless since energy stored is a function of voltage squared and supercaps were at that time already at 2.7V. We were probably right about the Nature paper, but (mea culpa) probably wrong on its subsequent New Hope implications.

Thread two is the subsequent 2015 El Kady and Kaner development of an asymmetric hybrid device based on LSG. Their new hybrid combined LSG graphene carbon supercapacitance with (subsequently electrodeposited nanoparticle) MnO2 pseudocapacitance. Total voltage was now 2 V, up from 1 V. Still not a lot of stored energy, but perhaps interesting for specialized niche applications like transdermal drug delivery via electroporation according to hyped UCLA PR. Yawn.

Thread three is from recent LIB research. Lithium titanate has been an object of intense study for several years as a safer, energy denser alternative to traditional intercalating graphite for LIB anodes. There is a big problem. The material’s conductivity is very poor, so its power density is grossly inadequate, and its charging time excessive even for cell phones and laptops. Graphene is extremely conductive. So this nanotech research focused on somehow incorporating conductive graphene into the bulk of lithium titanate at a nano-level in order to improve anode conductivity.

There have been two ‘recent’ seminal lab research ‘breakthroughs’. Both use nanotechnology and the idea of graphite oxide plus chemical precursors to lithium titanate, with the final material mix formed in a single heat treatment synthesis. One paper used an aerosol process. The other paper used a sol gel process. [Guo et. al., Electrochemica Acta 109: 33-38 (2013), available outside paywall via google as an MIT.edu posting.] These newish papers present two different lithium titanate precursor chemistries together with graphite oxide deposited using two different methods for a subsequent single nanocomposite heat synthesis.

Fisker Nanotech did not said anything specific in their massive 2016 fundraising PR about their ‘battery’ other than it uses graphene and lithium (their patent applications published more than a year AFTER their big PR funding push). My SME supposition in 2016 was that they had a new manufacturing method LIC. A mechanically robust LSG graphene cathode plus a mechanically robust hybrid graphene/lithium titanate anode, anodes synthesized in one step from triple precursors using an LSG analog rather than the literature’s sol gel or aerosol. Much easier and cheaper than Subaru’s 2008 anode lithiation. And likely still ~20000 LIC cycle life at a 40C charge rate for much faster EV charging while still meeting 20000 cycle vehicle device life (20000/365 is 27 years at two charges per day). The now published applications show that my initial SME 2016 suppositions were correct.

Fisker also said they had a patent pending machine to make 1000 Kg (/day?) of graphene electrode at $0.10/Kg. That may be a bit hyped, but was not implausible even in 2016 by simply ‘thought experiment’ reengineering of LSG in light of the two LIB lithium titanate anode papers already cited above, before reading now published US20170369323. Following is the written (posted 2016 on Judith Curry’s Climate Etc), thought experiment at the time.

The commercial Lightscribe 780nm 5mW laser has a track width of 20 microns. It took 6 20 minute DVD spins to reach optimal LSG conductivity. Fine for simple lab proof of principle for a Ph.D thesis. Not fine for volume production. But there are cheap commercial solid-state diode 780nm lasers with up to 2 watts (2000 mW) power each. Rather than a lens concentrating the laser power as in the Lightscribe, it could be a lens dispersing 2000mW over a larger area with enough power for 1 pass heat treatment as in the sol gel and aerosol papers. Lightscribe hit 20 microns track width with 5mW 6 times for perhaps a millisecond each for an optimal graphene electrode; that is a total of ~30mW on 20 microns for ~6 milliseconds. A 2000mW 780nm laser could hit a 1.3 millimeter stripe with the same total power at the same scan speed. Or an even wider track with a slower scan rate (more likely for a bulk production machine).

Imagine a paper machine like system. The anode furnish box equivalent is continuously spreading a water based graphite oxide (GO) plus 2 lithium titanate chemical precursors slurry onto a rapidly moving continuous support substrate equivalent to the Lightscribe DVD. First step beyond the furnish box, evaporate the furnish water with radiant heat and fans. Second step, IR heat nanosynthesize using powerful 2W spread focus 780nm lasers, converting GO to graphene and the lithium titanate precursors to interspersed lithium titanate nanocrystals. This finished anode material is still supported by the rapidly moving continuous support belt. Third step, peel off and spool up a finished continuous electrode sheet as wide and long as wished as the support belt turns under at the end of the machine for its return trip.

Imagine a second identical machine making the complementary 3D graphene only cathode by simply leaving out the lithium titanate precursors from the furnish box mix. Big rolls, made very fast and cheap. Spooling up very thin but very strong electrodes, made continuously in bulk very cheaply. No expensive aerosol or sol gel or CVD small batches as in the previous lab papers and commercial attempts.

Imagine assembly of Chevy Volt like prismatic pouch ‘battery’ cells. Cut the electrode materials to size before or after stacking as many layers (with separators) as wanted from the spooled rolls; they are very conductive so simple contact likely suffices. No backing metal current collector is needed like for LIB anodes and supercap anodes and cathodes (a cost and weight saving). Attach a current collector to one end (the hybrid MnO2 patent application describes simple silver soldering at the external case connection point of the stacked layers). Encapsulate in pouch, fill with electrolyte, seal—just like Chevy Volt cells.

Form a battery pack similar to Chevy Volt/Bolt, with fewer interleaved thin aluminum heat extraction plates needed. Done except for the control electronics.

The basic cell and battery production steps have already been developed by GM. Continuous sheet nanoelectrode production is analogous to conventional papermaking, substituting purpose build evaporation/ LSG for the draining mesh belt/heat calendaring of paper machines. Every other needed technology element has been shown in the lab. Thanks to optics and LED infrared lasers, scale up appears to be a matter of straightforward engineering rather than invention.

Concluding comments

First, the various asides in this guest post were intended to make a fundamental science/technology point indirectly. Battery electrochemistry is NOT a ‘new’ invention like semiconductors in 1949. Nor does it follow Moore’s law as warmunists might wish. (This is also true for PV, but proving that is way beyond the technical scope of this post. See guest post Grid Solar Parity at Judith Curry’s Climate Etc for a factual take on that subject.) Battery technology is now a very tough slow slog, nothing like what global warming activists fantasize.

Second, in 2017 Fisker announced his coming EV supercar will NOT initially use the Fiskers Nanotech revolutionary LIC that he (fundraising) PR’d in 2016 as discussed in this post. Fisker will instead use conventional LIB pouch cells from Korea’s LG Chem, the supplier to the Chevy Volt (to newly be discontinued in 2019 by GM for apparent reasons predicted in loosely companion post Vehicle Electrification Common Sense). The path from lab to commercial scale production is long, fraught, and uncertain. Fisker just proved that truism again.

Nanotechnology enabled LIC is the only plausible EV option on the present technical horizon. It is truly the only New Hope. But like the rest of the Star Wars saga, it presently exists in another galaxy far far away.

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145 thoughts on “Vehicle Electrification, EV Batteries—A New Hope (Followup)

  1. Al-Kwarizmi wrote in Arabic, but was not an Arab. He was Persian, born, as his name indicates, in the Central Asian oasis region of Khwarazm, south of the Aral Sea.

    • Both algorithm and algebra then stem from the Aral sea. To think the europeans’ ad-hominem, “jabbering”, was hurled at the new ideas!

      • Bonbon,

        They stem originally from India, whence Kwarizmi got his ideas. Same as Arabic numerals were borrowed from India.

        • Of course the Silk Road passes right through there. During Cheng He’s (see the book 1421) time Beijing literate were only the Islamic, a fact of the entire route to Spain (Moors).
          Isabella threw them out. 6 months later Columbus set sail.
          Not sure the British founded Wahab variant ever even heard of an algorithm or Columbus though.

          Time to join up with the New Silk Road, the BRI Belt and Road Initiative. China again is leading and likely in fusion. Yet again europeans are trying to thow it out, So Trump’s atated intention to work with China is under heavy flak.

          • Bonbon,

            I’m having trouble undertanding what you’ve written. Are you trying to say that the only literate people in 15th century Beijing were Muslims? If so, that’s ludicrous. The Ming Dynasty was one of the pinnacles for Chinese art, literature, science and philosophy.

            While Castille and Aragon didn’t defeat the Emirate of Granada, protected by the Sierra Nevada range, until 1492, the rest of the Iberian Peninsula had long been reconquered by Christian kingdoms. Isabella and Ferdinand did indeed take a risk on financing a small expedition trying to reach the East by sailing West, as the Portuguese were already far ahead of (what would become) Spain in rounding Africa to reach the East by sailing South. But the big impetus for Iberian venturing into the Ocean Sea (Atlantic) was the Ottoman Turks having taken control of Mediterranean and land routes to the East, especially after the fall of Constantiople in 1453.

  2. the theoretical limit for LIB LCO or NMC is ~280Wh/kg

    This neatly illustrates the problem. The energy density wiki has some nice numbers for the relative energy content of various energy storage options.

    Gasoline contains about 12900 Wh/kg, which is 46 times that of LCO and related lithium systems.

    My car has a 50 L tank, so the fuel weighs about 40 kg when full. Assuming similar efficiency it would require nearly 2 tons of LiCoO2 battery to provide the same amount of stored energy. Even if batteries and FeNdB motors can give higher efficiency the greater weight that has to be moved more than offsets it.

    Energy density is the critical parameter. That is why if the climatistas were serious they’d opt for something like nuclear methanol instead. That way you can use conventional ICE technology, but with zero net emissions.

    • I used to think that some of the energy (or power) density difference between batteries and gas or diesel fuel could be offset by lighter engine (motor), power train, transmission, etx in EVs. I was surprised to discover that these systems in a Tesla weigh about as much as in a comparably sized ICE car.

      Hard to beat a hydrocarbon fuel which gets its oxygen from the air. Even theoretical Li- or safer Si-air batteries with solid state electrolytes still don’t cut it. Yet.

      • Not only not yet, not ever. Calculate the maximum theoretical power density for an ideal 100,0 % efficient Li-air battery with weightless battery structure and weightless connections. It doesn’t come close to a tank of gas.

    • I am “OK” with the range of the Lithium battery automobile offerings apart from two factors. Yes, the current generation of EVs are range limited, but nothing like the earlier generation of lead-acid powered EVs.

      One concern I still have is that that even a gas engine car has diminished range if operated in cold weather and against strong headwinds, but you can also refill the tank at locations spaced about every 10 miles along all the routes I travel. It appears that the range reduction in an EV will be much greater and that it will be a long time until there are that many roadside charging stations.

      The second is durability of the battery — how many charge cycles, the penalty in life for rapid charging at roadside locations (Tesla “Superchargers”) when travelling between cities along with the “shelf life” effect of the battery going bad over time. My gripe with the EV is not as much the range anymore but uncertainty in how well the battery and the car will hold up over time.

      • . . . you can also refill the tank at locations spaced about every 10 miles . . .

        Mostly agree with you, but I still worry about range as I still go to mountain destinations.
        Hikers and other recreation types often end up at a place 50 miles from anything like a gas station (or an electrical outlet). Further, the station nearest the trailhead often gets 25% more per unit volume than the one close to home, another 50 miles.
        The Subaru Crosstrek that I drive will go well over 400 miles before wanting a refill. With easy driving, the distance is near 500.

        • Remote area driving also often makes it sensible to carry additional cans of extra fuel. (And anyone who ever ran out of fuel has faced the chore of going to get some. With an EV the imagery of getting standed doesn’t seem as prosaic; picture hitch-hiking with a battery. )

          • A pickup with two tanks is an option. Also, if you’re driving a pickup, you can put a tank in the bed. Our first pickup carried 50 gallons in a tank in the bed, plus had two tanks. Admittedly, the mileage suffered, but not having to walk out of a remote area made it well worth the cost.

      • I think my main concern is the obvious Fire Risk and also possible electrocution when these vehicles are involved in accidents.
        Their are workarounds for range if you really want to own one (I don’t) but safety issues are something else.

    • I find it supremely annoying that just as we have the internal combustion engine finally optimized (more or less), eco-warriors want to do away with it.

    • Sadly, the full 12900 Wh/kg of gasoline can only be exploited for heating. The useful Wh/kg of gasoline drops precipitously, if the energy has to be converted from heat to motive or electrical power.

      While having a much lower efficiency than electric fuel cells that combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, there is a way to use electric fuel cells to have your cake and eat it, too. In 1965(?), DARPA published a research paper on decane fuel cells that converted C10H22 and oxygen to water, CO2, heat and electricity. The electrical conversion efficiency of only 35% was greatly offset by the energy density of decane versus hydrogen. As decane is diesel oil, the decane fuel cell is competitive with diesel fueled road ICEs, but produce none of the products of high pressure combustion.

    • Bruce of N

      “Gasoline contains about 12900 Wh/kg, which is 46 times that of LCO and related lithium systems.”

      You really should multiply that 46 by the efficiency of the engine and drive train then divide by the efficiency of the electric motor and regenerative braking system. Let’s say the relationship is approximately 2:1 in favour of electric. That reduces the mass to 1 ton which many would find acceptable for that kind of range.

      The problem is the charge time. I see a big future for ceramic supercaps, not any form of chemical storage. There is a mention of supercaps made from ceramic materials in the article but nothing about recent developments (Queens Univ, Ontario). They have about 25 times the energy holding capacity of LIC per kg.

  3. The claim is that “Supercharging” (rapid charging of Tesla automobiles at special Tesla roadside stations) does not wear down the battery more rapidly on account of tapering the charge, proper heating the battery in cold weather, cooling the battery in warm weather or once it is being rapidly charged, Tesla’s proprietary software for “babying” the battery along with their claimed manufacturing prowess in “balancing” cells in a battery pack? Is this hype?

    Also, a lithium battery is reported to have a “shelf life” of no more than 10 years? That is, even if your EV does not see many miles of use and total recharge cycles, just sitting there in your garage, even connected to electric power to “manage” its charge state, that it has a limited calendar life? Yes, you could at considerable expense replace the battery pack just as you could replace the engine in a high-mileage car, but most of us scrap an old car facing this kind of cost. Owing to improvements in body rust proofing and in engine and transmission durability, the old standard of 10-year/100,000 mile lifetime is now 20-years/200,000 miles — that the average age of a car in the US is 12 years speaks to that. If you have to scrap an EV after 10 years, this is a step back?

    I have seen durability claims of 3000 cycles along with cost claims of around $100/kWHr — this puts the cost per stored (and retrieved) kWHr at around 3 cents. This appears to be “game changing” with respect to storing the electricity generated by wind and solar and at least shifting its availability within the day or night. Are these durability and cost claims “real” or are they “wishful thinking”?

    • Supercharging is a response to the poor recharge parameters of EVs compared to gasoline fill time (50L in 3 minutes is a power flow of about 2MW of useful ‘at the wheels’ energy assuming 20% IC engine/drivetrain efficiency). However this largely ignores the electricity infrastructure upgrades required to make it a reality. The ideal solution would be ranges around 500 miles of ‘average’ driving with an overnight recharge capability. That would fit much better with an economic electricity infrastructure. So a 40C charge rate may be attractive for the ‘coffee stop at the motorway services’ quick boost but that still has serious impacts on electricity infrastructure – high power demand during the daytime peaks. A 20k charge cycle lifetime is very attractive though.

  4. What I get from the article is that the batteries in Teslas are already performing at about 90% of possible, and no actual batteries in production are much better. And that building batteries is fairly complex, and therefore expensive, and that a fair amount of venture capital has gone into dead ends.

    • The best battery I am aware of is aluminum-air. It’s way better than lithium except for a couple of pesky details.

      I have also wondered if nickel iron batteries would benefit from modern production techniques. link If the capacity could be improved without sacrificing longevity, they would solve the battery replacement problem.

  5. If greenhouse gas was not a factor in the melting of Glacier Bay then why do warming activists believe CO2 reduction will hold off a warming climate now?

  6. I find discussions of EVs and their endless possibilities of storage solutions rather tedious and entirely beside the point. At least the point the Climate Change believers say is the point.

    Until the world gets serious once again about nuclear power (fission) to double or triple the supply (generating capacity) of electricity to the grid to put bulk of transportation energy needs as an EV plug-in, anything else is simply shifting (supposedly) harmful CO2 emissions from the tailpipe to the smokestack.

    It’s like the people on the Titanic (after all the life boats have left), arguing whether they will die in 60 seconds or 4 minutes. It really just is a pointless discussion.

    • Excellent point! I think the article is very good and beautifully written. As an electronics engineer 55 years out of university I even understood most of it. But unless nuclear (or an as-yet undiscovered technology) attains widespread use, it doesn’t matter how good the batteries are. But that’s true only if you believe CO2 is harmful, which I don’t.

      • Exactly. The entire article failed to mention how the electricity for the batteries was being generated in the first place. It begins with “…focuses on electric vehicles (EV), because that is most relevant to global warming concerns and WUWT skeptics.” and then doesn’t even address the issue of pounds or kilos of CO2/pasenger mile.

        Currently, we are three years away from a general consensus that atmospheric CO2 is a resource, not a problem. Russ George’s ocean iron fertilization to save the oceans and feed hundreds of millions is doubling in mid-share every 6 months.

    • With sufficient energy, which fission may someday provide, gaseous or liquid hydrocarbon fuel could be made from carbon and hydrogen extracted from air and water. Electric cars might not be the best option then.

    • I’ll agree Joel, I do find aspects of EV discussion uninteresting (I wouldn’t own one even if money wasn’t an issue), although as an engineer the technical details can be interesting.

      OTOH, a steam-powered Stirling-Cycle car would be cool….

      • Correction — forgot what I was remembering. It was a rotary steam-engine automobile (steam pistons in a circular arrangement), not Sterling-Cycle which uses helium, air, etc.

  7. This reads like every super capacitor or super battery “game changer” to date. Not that we should stop trying. Until we find the holy grail of electricity storage we’ll keep inching along, which isn’t a bad thing, but needs to be recognized as the path.

    • The rule is that, if people have been working on something for a long time, you can forget big improvements. The low hanging fruit has been picked. You will get incremental improvements not breakthroughs.

  8. Capacitor, right ? The thing that stores energy in electric field as 1/2 C * V2 ?
    Super-capacitor, where electric fields are easily in the 6-7 figures ? And any small increase of charge can trigger catastrophic dielectric failure ? Quality factor that seriously impairs the self discharge loses and resistive component that limits the maximum source/drain current before electrode thermal catastrophic failure?

    Supercaps dreams are another example of why energy should become a permitted domain with required proficiency certification in electrical engineering.

    • “…catastrophic dielectric failure…” — Flight Level

      Aye, there’s the rub. Well done. I was waiting for someone to bring that up. There’s nothing like having a standard capacitor fail with you next to it to give you a healthy fear of the much greater energy densities necessary for automotive use.

      Daedalus solved the wing problem; Icarus discovered that was not the only problem.

      • It’s even scarier. A capacitor small enough to fit in a passenger car holding the equivalent of a 100 kWh battery undergoes catastrophic dielectric failure.

        Let’s assume the whole process lasts as long as one millisecond. That’s quite optimistically slow.

        In other words, 360 megajoules released in 0.001 seconds.

        A blast of a whopping 360000 megawatts. Expect a trailer truck size hole on the road.

        Reality is even worse as the capacitor would have to hold much more than the exploitable energy. Reason, during the discharge process, the voltage drops and becomes unsuitable for serious power extraction.

        Let’s be serious. Storing energy in electric field is the worse of all volumetric density.

        So dear Jorge, let them dream while we run away fir shelter.

        • I’d forgotten about that.
          The voltage output of a capacitor is a factor of the charge in the capacitor.
          The electronics for charging and discharging batteries is fairly simple since the battery voltage stays relatively constant until it’s almost out of power.
          A capacitor on the other hand will range from thousands of volts down to a couple.
          The electronics will both be more complex but will have to be designed to withstand thousands of volts.

          That ain’t cheap.

          • MarkW

            See (online) the presentation at the Domestic Use of Energy conference in Cape Town this year on the management of a discharging capacitor for constant or controlled output. It required some innovating thinking but not much in the way of added complexity.

            Sorry I don’t have the name of the presenter. In theory and based on the demonstration, the problem has been solved. It uses a standard buck-booster with one added trick. I have used a $1 buck-booster to produce USB power with a stable voltage out at 5.1 with inputs in the 0.6-1.1 v range. A lot of TEG technology has such low output voltages.

            As for the HV side, that is not such a big deal either. There is a company in Cambridge Ontario that works with (makes) foot-square semiconductors with massive power ratings, in the single digit MW range at 600 V. Truly impressive. I have much more confidence that ceramic supercaps can be made safe than anything based on carbon. Ceramics and glasses don’t burn, for one thing, and once made tend to stay made.

        • Almost exactly a hundred years ago, my uncle returned to his vehicle and found it replaced by a hole in the road “big enough to put a house in.” Vehicular capacitor failure might look very similar, except for the absence of a rude German Flieger disappearing over the horizon.

      • True. A supercapacitor-powered truck would be a credible alternative to a tactical nuclear weapon. Now wouldn’t it be really nice having a few millions of those running around everywhere?

        • Quite so tty, but it gets even better.

          The energy is stored as electric charges that ask no better than to establish a current flow each and every possible way.

          In case of catastrophic failure, this would imply a rapid surge of uncontrollably huge intensities. An extremely quick and fierce magnetic pulse and its electric compagnon would ensue.

          Depends on where you are you might not be even able to call for help or take a picture to show around. Fried smartphones are deemed unserviceable for the purpose.

          A tactical weapon at a fraction of the cost and with less noxious aftermaths ?

          Sounds like a plan 😉

        • Reminds me of the steam locomotive boiler explosion hazard. Only a small portion of the stored energy in a locomotive boiler is stored in the pressurized steam — most of it is in the pressurized hot water, a sizable fraction that can “flash” into steam once the boiler is breached. A similar kind of BLEV (boiling liquid expanding vapor) accident can happen with pressurized tanks holding liquid propane, especially if an accident exposes them to fire.

          The steam locomotive, for a variety of technical reasons, uses the fire-tube boiler containing a large amount of pressurized water. Yes, this type of boiler could burst from a failed safety valve or a structural defect, but the most common failure is when the water level is allowed to boil down, exposing a section of the firebox to combustion heat without the cooling effect of water to boil off. A large section of the boiler bursts open with the resulting BLEV explosion.

          The steam locomotive requires the crew monitoring the water level, and there are all kinds of ways the crew can become preoccupied to not attend to it or for the gauge glass to give a false reading. Catastrophic steam locomotive boiler explosions that killed or badly injured the crew occurred to the end of widespread use of steam power in railroading, continuing to the present day in “tourist” operations. Although many such units may have automatic monitoring and control over the water level, such explosions continue to these days with stationary fire-tube (locomotive-style) boilers used in district heating, raising steam for industrial processes and the like. Many of these units are liquid or gas fueled, but some may be solid fueled such as in large-scale garbage incinerators.

          • Stored energy in any form can be dangerous. Despite popular film depictions of explosions, gasoline is one of the safest forms.

          • The cure for this was invented by Trevithick back in 1803 at the same time that he invented high-pressure steam boilers: a fusible plug placed just below the lowest permissible water level. When water level becomes too low the plug melts.
            Has this simple precaution been forgotten?

          • I am told that for the size and evaporation levels of many boilers, the fusible plug is but a mere warning device in that it doesn’t spray enough steam into the combustion space to douse the fire quickly enough.

          • Fusible plug is to melt out and vent the steam so the steam pressure doesn’t continue to increase and blow out the boiler and its pipes – killing people, destroying buildings and the people above the boiler. Unlike a safety relief valve, the fusible plug cannot reseat.

            Yes, the vented steam “might” put out the fire, but that is not its purpose. They’d rather it vent outside (altering nearby people to a severe problem, rather than inside where the blowing off steam might not be heard.

          • Reminds me of the steam locomotive boiler explosion hazard.

            Any steam-cycle power plant/engine has that risk. That’s why boiler safety codes/standards that have been in place a very long time. With proper design, those risks have been greatly reduced.

          • My father told me of an accident where the crew deliberately ran with inadequate water. It takes a lot of time to get an engine up to steam. If you don’t use a full load of water, you can get up to steam much more quickly.

            The train started out on level terrain. It encountered a grade and the water ran off the fire box which then became red hot. The grade changed again, the water ran back onto the red hot fire box and immediately flashed to steam. The boiler exploded.

    • Basic rule of physics: energy in large amounts can be dangerous. There is no such thing as a 100% safe energy storage system.

      But you are right about capacitor failure. And the very things that allow capacitors to store larger amounts of energy (higher voltages, thinner dielectric, etc.) make them more prone to failure.

      • It’s not just capacitors that have this issue. Even if you stick with batteries, you are faced with the problem that they can discharge (catastrophically) far more quickly than they can be safely charged. When a fully-charged large battery fails, you may not have an explosion, but you are still faced with the likelihood of a fire that is 1) more intense than what would occur with burning hydrocarbon fuel, 2) which CANNOT be extinguished until the stored energy is depleted, and 3) which will continue to burn it’s electrode (assuming it’s something like lithium) after the stored energy is depleted. The electrode fire may not be as severe as the “stored energy” fire, but it will still be very difficult to extinguish (can’t use water or water-based agents, for example).

        Big batteries are pretty scary things when you start thinking about the associated safety issues. SuperCaps are just much worse in this regard.

    • The ambient temperature dependency of Lithium Ion and NiMH batteries for charging and discharge capacity is little appreciated outside of very technical circles.

      The point is, no one in North Dakota, the interior of Canada, or Alaska can even drive a Tesla or a Prius Plug with any kind of battery usefulness in the winter.

      Even in a cold Boston winter day, my standard Prius was no better than a regular gas powered car.

      • Riiight, the day they figure how to make super-capacitors out of lithium and attempt to store in them quantities of energy compatible with the long haul operation of a truck.

        Main failure mode difference between a battery and a capacitor: -The difference of energy storing medium.

        In case of batteries, this is a chemical reaction.

        Capacitors use extremely dense electric fields for the purpose. The propagation speed of energy flow in case of a capacitor with failed dielectric is a process comparable with the speed of electromagnetic wave propagation in that medium. Which is way higher than any chemistry could achieve. Think speed of radio wave indeed., light is one of them.

        Other EM phenomena complicate the process and render it totally uncontrollable.

        So, for massive energy storage, a failing capacitor is immensely more dangerous and fast than a battery fire. Furthermore roughly half of the dissipated energy would have a radio spectrum compatible with propagation.

        To give you an example, the thunder, be it cloud to cloud or cloud to ground is exactly that.

        A charged capacitor with catastrophically failing dielectric.

        Charges increase, potential differences ensue and at a certain moment the air dielectric gives up.

        The rest you know.

        No imagine this concentrated in whatever can fit in a car trunk. Run away fast before it happens.

  9. Two problems with the battery no matter what.

    1. The electric grid is designed to move small quantities of energy continuously. I have a 400 amp panel with typical 3 phase 240 Volt service. In theory it can move 96KW. In fact there are resistances and inefficiencies and something in the 80s is a more likely real maximum. But, if everybody in my neighborhood tried that at the same time, the system would crash. In fact the system can get unstable in a heat wave where everyone is running their A/C which might ony mean that each house is pulling something in the low 20s.

    Given that, home charging is going to be limited to 1 30Amp240V line per house. That means even if you allocate 16 hours a day for charging. You get 115 KWh. Now if you and your wife need to charge, you will each get 58 KWh. Better hope there is no bad traffic between you and work.

    Oh yes, and when the kids were still at home, they had a car or two as well.

    And, how are you going to keep “supercharging” stations fed without grid instability.

    2. Safety. There is already a problem with batteries bursting into flame. even old fashined lead acid batteries could produce small explosions. But, the more energy you jam into a given space, the more of a problem you are going to have if there is a catastrophic release. What happens when you have 200 or 400 KWh in a car and it crashes?

    There are also safety issues with high current charging devices, but I leave that.

    • “And, how are you going to keep “supercharging” stations fed without grid instability. ”

      Diesel generators?

    • On point 2: yes. Any mechanical, thermal or electrical stress on those batteries will have them burst into very hot flames and no way the fire dept. is going to put that out in time.

    • Walter Sobchak

      40% of people in the UK don’t have off road parking facilities. Virtually no domestic house has 3 phase, we all have single phase 240V.

      In order to reassure people the governments mandate for all cars being EV’s by 2040, they have dropped suggestions they would use lamp posts as charging stations, which I believe are also 240V single phase. In our street there are probably 20 cars and two lamp posts. It’ll be amusing to see how that works.

      • I believe it is actually 2 phase. Three wires, two hot and the neutral. The hot wires are 180 degrees out of phase with each other. The hots are 120V compared to neutral and 240V when compared to each other.

        • 2-phase is the norm in North America and some South American countries, but Europe and most other parts of the world use single-phase 240V. Getting electric shocks is a lot more fatal. They also tend to use 50 Hz AC which (I have been told) is more dangerous to the human body than 60 Hz.

          • In Belgium, we had 3-phase power. Older systems had 240V between the line wires, and you could get 128V or so between line and neutral. Newer systems have 240 from line to neutral, but between the line wires you get something like 380V.

            I am pretty sure that most of Western Europe uses this system.

            When they have residential electrical fires they tend to be spectacular.

          • DaveK,

            If you had 3-phase 240V (line to line) you would get 138V line to neutral, not 128V.

            Also, for 3-phase 240V line to neutral gives 416V line to line, not 380V

            Remember the square root of 3 relationship (VLL = /3 * VLN) exists btw line to neutral and line to line.

            (The other common relationship is 120V line to neutral gives 208V line to line)

      • As I recall from living in the UK (back in 60s and 70s) high power devices such washer/dryers were three phase so I am surprised to learn that this is now not the case.

        • I’ve never seen a house wired for three phase.
          The standard 240V plug, which has 3 contacts in a ‘Y’ pattern is 2 phase as I described above.

    • “if everybody in my neighborhood tried that at the same time, the system would crash”

      Humans are predictable.
      They’re going to get home from work at 5pm and plug their cars in.
      All at the same time.
      Then they will put the washing on and cook dinner…

      • In the future, you will schedule your recharge, paying more for “right now” and less for “middle of the night when the power company finds it economical”. You will say, “Need it by 6 am” and let the system schedule all the recharges in the neighborhood. (I work for Shell. We are working on this right now.)

    • Walter => Great comment. Now how about the idea of stuffing 300 kWh into a battery (or SuperCap) in 10 minutes or half an hour? You’d need to tap into a grid substation with 0000 cables – 2000 V at 300 A – not going to happen.

  10. “Lightning in a Bottle”

    The phrase “sunshine in a bottle” has long been used to describe wine. I should have started reading this post with a large glass.

    Thanks Rud.

  11. BEV enthusiasts should also remember that the ICE people have not been standing still. As previously discussed incorporating “hybrid” technologies into drive trains has led to an increase in efficiencies. But, there is other work going on:

    “Toyota … with its new Dynamic Force four-cylinder engine. Set to make its market debut in the new 2019 Corolla, this engine is chock-full of innovations to help it achieve 40-percent thermal efficiency, a number unheard of in production car engines.

    “How does this 2.0-liter four-cylinder achieve such major efficiency? As Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained tells us, a lot of it comes down to simple engine design and tuning tricks. Toyota put a ton of attention into refining the airflow characteristics of the port- and direct-injected engine, optimizing the tumbling flow of the intake charge for efficient burning. The 13:1 compression ratio helps get even more power out of each revolution.”

    https://www.roadandtrack.com/new-cars/car-technology/a19592640/toyotas-new-engine-is-hyper-efficient-thanks-to-simple-tuning-tricks/

    “Mercedes-AMG says that in Dyno testing at its Brixworth, UK engine factory this power unit can achieve over 50-percent thermal efficiency. In other words, this V6 can create more power than waste energy, which as Motorsport points out, makes it one of the most efficient internal-combustion engines on the planet. Motorsport also says that this engine can actually operate at similar levels of thermal efficiency as diesel engines used in large ships.

    “To better put that figure into context, AMG notes that F1’s much-beloved old V10 engines only operated with about 30-percent thermal efficiency. When the V6 turbo era began in 2014, AMG’s engine converted 44-percent of its fuel into power. With the increase in thermal efficiency between 2014 and now, AMG’s power unit effectively makes 109 more horsepower using the same amount of fuel.”

    https://www.roadandtrack.com/motorsports/a12443313/mercedes-amgs-f1-engine-is-amazingly-efficient/

      • Since the output of one of those pups is 468 kW. There is at least 400 KW available for cabin heat and to fry the turkey.

      • Actually small diesel cars already are a bit short on waste heat. I used to drive Golf Diesels until they became too heavily taxed to be economical, and one of the few drawbacks was that heating was marginal in the deep of a Swedish winter.

    • The Toyota engine sounds like what we used to call a DISC (Direct Injection Stratified Charge) engine. The anti-knock potential of these engines gave the potential for higher compression ratios and hence higher efficiency. The DoE had a joint program with GE working on such engines, in the early days of carburretors and mechanical engine control made practical DISC engines difficult to design, but the advent of digital control made such engines much more practical. The Combustion research Facility at Sandia National Labs has been involved in the program for over 30 years.

  12. A battery with >200Wh/kg, cycle life to 80% DoD >10,000 and cost < USD100/kWh would have a ready market.

    The alternative is hydrogen with an energy density near 40,000Wh/kg and the most abundant element in the universe. A small, low cost, compact electrolyser and storage system would be very attractive for both short term and long term energy storage. In the summer my off-grid batteries are fully charged by 10am on a clear day. The rest of the time the solar panels just sit on the roof ageing in bright sunlight.

    • The rest of the time the solar panels just sit on the roof ageing in bright sunlight.

      They to not stop functioning, or do they?

      • The panels are still functional but there is no where for the energy they could collect to be stored – batteries are full.

        This is the fundamental problem any intermittent ambient energy production in combination with storage. It requires massive overbuild to cater for the ups and down. The unconstrained capacity factor where I live is around 15% of rating but to cater for the worst string of days in the middle of winter I actually achieve a capacity factor of around 4%.

    • “A small, low cost, compact electrolyser and storage system would be very attractive for both short term and long term energy storage. ”

      Indeed. But why not go for a perpetuum mobile instead? It would only be marginally more difficult to develop.

  13. In a way, the ICE was such a powerful liberator of the human race that it has bottked up our imagination. We don’t think outside a “fuel” replacement for the family car. With all the trillions that will be tied up in this we might consider completely different configurations.

    We built massive electric grids so we can perk our coffee, toast bread, and run appliances, etc and we ran the wires right up to every door a century ago. Surely its not beyond the stars to electrify a nation’s highways, streets, and have a smaller, manageable battery to get us ten miles of the grid. Maybe the pickup could be a non contacting electromagnetic coil or something fancier. Maybe dedicated nuclear power plants at nodes for serving areas of the transportation grid. Cars and trucks could be much lighter and have good motors for purpose. Lets make the vehicles out of graphene/titanium/fibreglas???/. Lets have circuitry that won’t permit collisions. Just sayin.

    • “Maybe the pickup could be a non contacting electromagnetic coil or something fancier.”

      Probably not at all simple or it would already have been done on the railways. The current mechanical pickup systems are maintenance-intensive and failure-prone. One of the most common reasons for traffic interruptions on electrical railways is that the graphite layer on a pickup has worn out prematurely whereupon the train rips down the wire. Particularly common in winter (surprise!) when frost causes arcing and rapid erosion.

      Imagine this applying to several millon cars rather than a few hundred locomotives….

    • Of course it can be done, but it is the cost.
      We already have a complete distribution network for Fossil Fuels.

    • California can’t even have surface street withouts carter sized potholes, and major highways that aren’t 2 (TWO!) lane highways of death pre WWII relics – but this is California, I can see the idiot Brown/Newsom/whoever spending a billion on a pilot one mile of something like what you are speculating about

    • Electromagnetic coils with the kind of air gaps that are needed to keep your car from bottoming out are VERY inefficient.

      Direct contact will both wear out quickly, both the cars and the roadway, as well as dangerous as heck.

    • Overhead lines is the only feasible alternative. Ground level pickups as used by subways are very dangerous and impractical in snow/ice conditions (it has been tried in the UK for ordinary railway lines, but found to be very problematic in snowy conditions).

  14. copy/paste (Biosolar website) Sounds like a better plan than a big capacitor…
    BioSolar is developing a breakthrough technology to increase the storage capacity, lower the cost and extend the life of lithium-ion batteries. A battery contains two major parts, a cathode and an anode, that function together as the positive and negative sides. BioSolar is currently investigating high capacity anode materials recognizing the fact that the overall battery capacity is determined by combination of both cathode and anode. By integrating BioSolar’s high capacity anode, battery manufacturers will be able to create a super lithium-ion battery that can double the range of a Tesla, power an iPhone for two days straight, or store daytime solar energy for nighttime use.

    • That battery would have to operate at about 180% of theoretical maximum capacity. Pretty neat.

      You wouldn’t be interested in buying a bridge in New York by any chance?

  15. A min point.Galvani was the man who disected frogs. He hung them on iron hooks and noticed that when a flash of lightnine occurred the legs twitched. He is today honoured by the use of the word “To Galvanise”” meaning a sudden movement.

    The connection of the lightnine to the twitch also showed that the legs were a crude detector of the electro magnetic energy from the lightnine , but we had to wait for both Clerrk Maxwell and Hertz to explain that.

    MJE

    • To galvanize is also to add a layer of one metal on another using electric deposition from a solution of dissolved metal salt, the piece to be coated acting as the cathode. Usually it applies to the coating of sheet iron with zinc, although nowadays the sheet iron is simply dipped in molten zinc.

  16. GM just announced laying off 15,000 workers, closing 4 factories, apparently in part to reorganize for EV and driverless development and production. Lord help us all.

  17. MODERATES: Please send out a call to RG Brown at Duke for a high-level commentary on Rud’s article!

  18. It seems to me that there is a “one technology fits all” concept with batteries that should be abandoned.

    Lithium batteries make sense for mobile applications because they have a high storage for their weight and volume, but other applications would probably be better served by other technologies.

    Polysulfide bromide batteries are potentially best for stabilising the grid, however, they need a lot of development.

    • That is also true of hydrogen fusion. In view of the greater utility I suggest we put the development effort into that instead.

      • How about we put development effort into extracting fossil fuels? There’s enough down there to last another 1000 years and no “potential” technology (and $billions wasted poking down rabbit holes) required.

  19. How long do the batteries last ? I see claims of a million miles for Tesla. Is this true ? Are there any studies on it ? This is crucial information when doing a cost analysis of buying an EV.

    • A million miles? No way. Not even if they are only ever trickle charged. And if they are quick charged, the life expectancy is a fraction of best-case.

  20. The major emphasis of this article is pure BS. Current LI batteries can fast charge much faster than the stated 40 minutes to 80% figure claimed. The Tesla Supercharger operates at a max 120KW, while CCS chargers are already available that can charge at 350KW , which can be taken advantage of by the coming Porsche Taycan and Audi e tron GT. They can charge in less than 15 minutes. But anyone that owns an electric car with the ability to recharge at home (virtually all EV owners to date), only uses DC fast chargers on trips, which renders any worries about battery deterioration idiotic. The batteries in the Tesla I believe were designed to last over 12 years in normal use. By the time they fail, batteries will be a relatively minor cost item/. EVs also have enormous advantages in terms of fuel costs (about 3 to 4 cents per mile using electricity produced at the national average of 12 cents per KWhr), repairs and maintenance. An electric motor in an EV can last a million miles without requiring any maintenance and EVs do not usually have a transmission, another major expense for gas powered xars. Nor is the weight of current EV batteries of any concern, given their steller fuel economy. The driving ranges are approaching 300 miles for most newly introduced EVs and with public fast chargers and the rapid buildout of charging stations and fast recharging, range anxiety is becoming a thing of the past. Only on trips is there any concern whatsoever, and those concerns will disappear within a year or so, even for the nervous types. THE major problem with current LI batteries is that they are still relatively expensive. If batteries cost nothing. EVs would be a lot cheaper to build than a gas powered vehicle, with its thousands of drivetrain parts, not to mention its transmission, etc I might add that Tesla will warranty the electric motors in its upcoming semi truck for a million miles. Find me a gas powered engine and transmission that can do that. While it would be nice to have a better battery, unless those better batteries are as cost effective as what we now have, they will not make much of an impact.

    • The modern IC engine is remarkably reliable. Over the past few cars I’ve owned I’ve had to fix an oil leak on the camshaft. I think that’s all. Of course you do need some routine maintenance like changing oil and belts, but that is not a major cost.

      Electric cars do have a transmission. It’s single speed, but there is still a gearbox and diff. The input shaft rpm is also much higher than with IC engine practice, which may affect durability. They also have extremely complex power inverters, which are built for compactness rather then ease of servicing. If the inverter fails due to a ten-cent component you are likely looking at replacing the whole unit at massive cost.

      The majority of the maintenance overhead in cars I’ve owned has been on tires, suspension, steering and braking components. Not to mention annoying electronic glitches. With all the computer gimmickry in Teslas and the like I can foresee the ‘annoying and untraceable glitch’ category of fault becoming a really major issue as they get older. Face it, computers are sometimes useful but not very reliable, and when a vehicle is full of computers you don’t actually want or need, it becomes a maintenance nightmare.

    • The fuel cost advantage will disappear once the government figures out how to start charging road taxes to EV’s.

      While the electric motor MIGHT last 1 million miles, the rest of the drive train won’t.

      The idea that there is going to be a huge drop in battery costs is just wishful thinking.

      ICE can last well over 100K, which is a lot longer than your battery will last, and replacing it is cheaper as well.

    • 350KW charging rate, requiring less than 15 minutes…

      Since every battery I know of can be discharged (in failure mode) much, much faster than it can be safely charged, that sounds like a spectacular accident waiting to happen.

      15 minute charging times are still far slower than you can fill the tank of even a large truck with hydrocarbon fuel. Who is going to want to wait an hour or more in line to recharge their EV at a public recharge station?

  21. (Lightscribe used a 780nm [infrared] 5 mW LED laser to inscribe a DVD .. total full disk pass for a ‘label’ about 20 MINUTES.) [and the result was not durable]

    Which I think illustrates the way in which even major tech firms release stupid inventions without realizing just how useless they are in practice. Or maybe they do understand, but rely on the fact that consumers will only find out how useless they are after they’ve bought them?

    A factor which applies to ‘green energy’ products, in spades.

    As for battery cars, putting in a higher capacity battery only exacerbates the charging current demand problems, which are the hardest and most expensive aspect to solve if everyone buys one. You can’t get away from the fact that liquid fuel is easier to transport, and since it doesn’t have to contain its own oxidizer it is theoretically around half the mass of an ‘ideal’ battery. There are such things as metal-air batteries but they are generally not rechargeable.

  22. One currently available technology that would allow many suburban families to reduce or eliminate one car is the electric bicycle or e-bike. Their smaller batteries can be charged in just a few hours and have ranges of 20 to 50 miles per charge. With the addition of a couple of solar panels on the roof, this transportation system can go completely off-grid. Since the LI batteries are relatively cheap, you can charge multiple batteries for use during cloudy days or at night. One area I see this being very useful is for running kids to school and back. If you’ve ever seen a modern elementary or middle school with the long lines of huge SUVs idling out front, you can easily imagine the fuel and emissions reductions, while improving the fitness of the driver. E-bikes are exploding in form and function (bikes, trikes, quads) and present a current day solution for a number of transportation needs. To see some of the current formats, check out https://electricbikereview.com/

  23. “All true batteries store electric charge in some form of an electrochemical reaction, either primary or secondary (aka reversible/rechargeable). All are descended from Alessandro Volta’s 1800 invention of his primary ‘pile’ using copper, zinc, paper separators, and brine as electrolyte.”

    Not really.

    Volta’s batteries and nearly all other batteries use a reduction/oxidation pair of reactions (AKA redox) for charging and discharging. There are two main problems with this type of battery: 1) They have low energy efficiency, typically on the order of 70% or less, and 2) The plating and stripping changes the location of the molecules on the plates which causes a change in the battery characteristics over time.

    Today’s Li-ion batteries are fundamentally different: There is NO redox reaction which occurs within Li-ion batteries. Instead, they use what is known as an intercalation reaction. Basically, Li ions (Li+) are crammed into tiny slots in the cathode during the charging reaction and they move to the (usually graphite) anode during discharge. This results in the flow of electrons through an external circuit.

    This has two main benefits over traditional redox batteries: 1) Very high efficiency: Li-ion batteries in modern BEV have a round-trip energy efficiency over 97%, and 2) There is no distortion of the plates due to repeated stripping and plating of the anode and cathode. This gives Li-ion batteries a very high cycle life.

    So what causes the degradation in today’s Li-ion batteries? Unwanted reactions. A big part of the work today is to eliminate the corrosion that the electrolyte causes to both the anode and the cathode in a Li-ion battery. It is a difficult problem, but steady progress IS being made.

    Finally, it seems that you have overlooked one of the most significant papers on Li-ion battery technology in the recent past authored, in part, by none other than John Goodenough, one of the original inventors of Li-ion batteries: Braga, et al. 2018: Nontraditional, Safe, High Voltage Rechargeable Cells of Long Cycle Life

    https://pubs.acs.org/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1021/jacs.8b02322

    The paper describes a new Li-based battery with a solid electrolyte. This new battery began testing with a high capacity (by today’s standards) and then its capacity INCREASED by about 5X during testing! It seems the initial capacity was due to the Li-ion battery while the additional capacity was due to the formation of a double-layer capacitor within the structure. This unexpected resulting capacitance was previously not possible in Li-ion batteries which used non-solid electrolytes.

    This new battery, unlike the Li-ion batteries we use today, uses a redox reaction like that used in Volta’s battery. (It plates elemental lithium onto the anode.) This lowers it’s initial energy efficiency to about 60%. However, once the capacitor forms, efficiency increased to about 90%. Not as good as today’s Li-ion batteries, but much better than traditional types and with the ability to store much more energy.

    This new battery also has the impressive ability to be fully cycled for tens of thousands of times.

    The reality is that, in contrast to the tone of your article, modern Li-based batteries are a HUGE improvement over traditional types and are advancing at a very rapid pace. To imagine that such technology will NOT change the face of transportation is rather short-sighted, IMO.

  24. “Lithium ion batteries (LIB) are the most energy dense rechargeable electrochemistry presently known, essentially because lithium ions transfer twice the electrical charge of aqueous hydrogen ions (PbA, NiMH).”

    Not sure about the assertion that the lithium ion transfers twice as much charge as a proton. Both ions have a charge of +1.

    • Yes, it is far more complex than that because of the energy changes associated with the hydration (solvation) of the charge on any ion.

      In proper graduate Chemisty classes you will get your wrist smacked with metal ruler for thinking there is ever ever any such thing as an unsolvated H+ ion. But it is just so much more convenient to draw and write it as such.

      • Heh. Back when I earned mine, some 40 years ago; that the proton is never “free’ was well known to us at the freshman level. What generated loud conversations was how many water molecules were associated to each proton. Was it 6? More? Whole bulk? 🙂

        People seem so nonchalant about hydrogen. That may be because they’ve never worked with the stuff. I have worked with a lot of nasty chemicals; yet hydrogen scares me the most, when present in amounts more than a gram or two. (2g of pure hydrogen is about 6.023 x 10^23 molecules)

  25. Rud, do you have a graph of where your materials come on energy density vs mass (& volume) and power density vs mass (& volume). The usual graphs, I’m sure know what I’m referring to.
    I haven’t seen them on either of these posts, but haven’t read them all in depth or clicked on all links. WUWT unfortunately seems to be less friendly towards posting images after recent changes/hiccups.

    • Sure. There are several in my various ISDLC conference papers. You are referring to a standard Nyquist plot (usually energy density on the y, power density on the x, both axis logarithmic). Google will bring up any number of them , maybe even some of mine.
      Take a standard supercap (say Maxwell 3000 Farad). My materials (standard low cost from 12dtex rayon, notbthe more expensive finer fibers, provide 1.4x the energy density and ~2x the power density, while reducing cell cost 20-30% depending on cell capacitance (higher=>more).
      So appreciably up and to the right (both good) on any Nyquist plot.

      And you are quite correct that Nyquist plots for volumetric and gravimetric e/p density look different. And there are even more tricks to the trade. For example, to maximize power density you thin electrodes, resulting in more seperator and current collector, so poorer volumetric and gravimetric energy density. That is how the power dense LIB for the experimental F1 ‘hybrids’ for race year 2010 were created. Did not end well, as that year’s Mercedes F1 caught fire due to overheated LIB battery at the last practice run for the first F1 race in Singapore. One of my faborite Nyquist plot illustrations is the driver jumping out as the LIB located under his seat exploded. No wonder F1 is an exciting sport.

      • Thanks. I’ll take a further look. I’ve often wondered about the F1 energy storage materials, with some thoughts of my own. Living in Northamptonshire, the Mercedes Team is actually a ‘local business’. Not many things where Northamptonshire gets to claim the title of World Champions. Not since the death of the shoe industry of the British Empire!

  26. Interesting. The discussion of the HP Lightscribe was interesting. I still have one of them (it was functioning as a paperweight until the DVD slot in my Mac decided to spit out all DVDs I tried to insert…..now I use the thing to read DVDs but can’t write to it). I was somewhat disappointed with the device as the labels were not all that striking. However, putting paper labels on DVDs was a no-no and I needed a more professional label than just writing on the disk. This was what was available at the time.

  27. I bought a Think City EV in 2012 when the company was going bankrupt. Think was Ford’s EV division, and spun out in the early ’00s. The company didn’t have a sugar daddy, corporate or financial, so I was able to snag one for a 70% discount just as the doors were closing. It was entirely a curiosity purchase, as I had been interested in EVs for a long time.

    I have kept close track of the performance and fuel economy, and generally used my ownership as the focal point for my ongoing personal study of EVs, electricity generation, and renewables in general. My car resembles the offspring of a drunken three-way among a Chunk candy bar, a Mercedes Smart car, and an escaped rodeo bull. I outfitted it with a set of steer horns and named it “Thumper the Baby Bull,” but the horns tragically blew off on the Interstate last spring as I drove at 70 mph into a 35 mph headwind.

    Thumper has 13,400 miles on the odometer. He’s got a 24 kW battery, with average summer range of 75 miles and an average winter range of 50 miles on 80% of the battery. We live in the countryside above the Columbia Gorge, a 12-mile round trip from town. Thumper is a fun little grocery-getter, and at 2-1/2 to 3 cents/mile for fuel (vs 24 cents a mile in the other vehicle here, a Ram 3500 diesel pickup truck), the price is right for the jaunts into town.

    I have seen three reasons for EVs.

    1. Fuel efficiency
    2. Performance
    3. Ecology

    I can dispense with the third argument right away. Even if we were to care about CO2 (which I don’t), replacing every sedan in America with a fully electric vehicle would reduce CO2 output by 3%. I’ve compiled that number from a detailed study of the actual statistics, mapped to the average U.S. generation sources. We are seeing an ongoing shift from coal to natural gas, and an increase in wind and solar, but the effects on that 3% number will be mild. In a few decades, maybe it would expand to 4%? Trivial at best.

    The second argument is a pretty good one, and would be much better if driving ranges were longer and recharging was a lot quicker. EVs, by the nature of electric motors vs internal combustion engines, are much simpler and therefore much cheaper to maintain. Driving dynamics are superior given the torque characteristics of electric motors.

    The first argument is potentially the strongest. At the U.S. generation mix, the thermal efficiency of an EV is in the low 40% range. A standard gas car’s efficiency is about 19%, incorporating the losses of making gasoline. But new engines from Toyota and Mazda (“SkyActiv’) show great promise in radically increasing the thermal efficiency of gasoline-powered cars to EV levels.

    I have personally wavered on the subsidy issue. I have long supported the U.S. subsidies on the grounds of energy efficiency, but have questioned my view in light of the new SkyActiv high-compression technology. The best long-term argument for ongoing subsidy would be geopolitical; much of our oil is sourced from politically dicey places, while the fuel for generating electricity is present in abundant quantities much closer to home.

  28. People really get worked up about EVs — both positive and negative.

    My take:

    EVs have evolved to the point where they are a practical choice for some people. Battery technology is just the first of several major barriers to wider adoption. I looked at EVs several years back and concluded that for me, even with all the tax credits and other subsidies there was not one that met my needs at a price I could justify.

    If you concentrate on just the practicality and Total Cost of Ownership (TCOE) of EVs (i.e., ignore any consideration of saving the planet), there are some clear benefits:

    * Lifetime maintenance expenses per mile should be significantly less with an EV. No transmission, no exhaust system, no cooling system, no fuel or air filters, no ignition system. In general a whole lot fewer moving parts that wear and require lubrication, which account for most of the scheduled maintenance cost. Less wear on brake pads and rotors saves on another standard maintenance item. All of this should more than make up for the eventual cost of battery replacement or refurbishing.

    * Unless you live somewhere that has gone howl-at-the-moon crazy with renewable energy mandates, you will spend less on electricity than you would for fuel to go the same distance in an ICV (Internal Combustion Vehicle). Making this work for all your neighbors too will likely require electrical distribution upgrades, which will eventually raise your electric bill, but you will still save.

    But some things which appear to be benefits are either temporary or somewhat deceptive:

    * Tax credits will expire eventually and they only apply to new vehicles, so you trade a savings up front for an instant depreciation by the same amount.

    * Lack of fuel taxes will also go away at some point. Georgia already has a way to tax EVs for road use; every other state will get there sooner or later.

    EVs also have significant shortcomings:

    * They are not suitable for extremely cold conditions — battery output and life both suffer and range is sharply reduced.
    * They are marginal for extremely hot conditions — continuous AC use also reduces range.
    * You simply cannot drive an EV as many miles per year as an ICV — charging waits will kill you. I knew people in sales who routinely put 100K miles/year on their cars. Refueling plus bathroom break takes 10 minutes at most. With an EV you will spend 5-10 times longer waiting to get back on the road.
    * Even with the subsidies, an EV with a reliable 300-mile range is going to cost more than a comparable ICV. The breakeven point is most likely well beyond the term of the new car loan you take out to buy one.
    * Depreciation on Nissan Leaf models is much higher than their ICV cars, even taking into account the tax-credit discounted price. If your situation changes and the EV no longer works for you, you will likely take more of a loss in selling it than you managed to save driving it. There isn’t enough resale data on Tesla to compare.

    When I looked into them in my situation the only way I could possibly justify an EV would be if I could completely replace one of our existing ICVs. We are a two car family with a two car garage and two reasonably economical and fully paid for vehicles already. At the time there was no charging station at my place of employment and the range of the Nissan Leaf was already marginal for my regular commute; let alone any side trips. Even with all the tax breaks and other subsidies available at the time the economics of buying a Leaf simply didn’t work, especially if it would have to be a third car. A Tesla with much better range was completely out of the question.

    The situation today is different: there is a charging station at work and used 2013 Leafs with 30K miles and under are available in this market for less than $10,000. I could probably live with a used Leaf knowing my wife’s SUV was available for long trips and any other needs the Leaf couldn’t handle. From my garage back wall to the main electrical panel is ~20 feet through a raised ceiling, so the electrical work to put in a 240V charger is about as cheap as it could be. I still can’t possibly justify a Tesla.

    Commenter Greg above clearly has the right idea: buy a heavily depreciated EV and use it where the much more expensive to operate Suburban is not needed.

    You also have to consider that you are not just betting on the technology, but on the company as well. The TCOE savings only work if the company will be around for the next 10 years to take care of you. As a company, Toyota is an extremely safe bet; Tesla is a risky one. Tesla has very much a DeLorean reboot vibe — a lot of hype and dazzle, but so far lacking demonstrated performance for staying power. I wouldn’t make a $60K bet on the Tesla company at this point. GM is much more likely survive but the Volt is discontinued.

    So last year I turned in my old 2005 Toyota Corolla with 191K miles on it and bought a 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid. I haven’t bought a new car since 1990; my general rule of thumb is buy a car when it’s 50% depreciated but still has 75% of its reliable service left, and pay cash for it. With modern quality cars this works out to be roughly 36-48 months old and 36-48K miles. The low fuel price at the time depressed resale values on hybrids; I figure I paid about a $1,000 premium for the hybrid over the V6 Avalon with the same options. So far I’ve put 17K miles on it and have a cumulative 38.6 MPG, with an average fuel price of $2.43 / gal. Almost all that fuel was E10. If I consider just the tanks of no-ethanol I’ve used in that time, I’m right at the EPA 40 MPG estimate. And with a 17-gallon tank, I’m good for 620+ miles before any risk of running out. In practice, it has worked out to a refill every 10-12 days, and only then because the instrument panel really starts to bug me about needing fuel. I’ve never put in more than 14 gallons, so the dire warnings are probably based on IPCC models.

    There are compromises: I give up cargo space and at least in theory I’ve got all the same maintenance liabilities as a straight ICV plus the added risks of the hybrid battery. Was it a smart choice? I don’t know yet; ask me in 10 years. In the meantime I’m happy: I have an extremely nice ride, better economy and much better range than the car I traded in, and the regular winner of CU’s most reliable used car, large sedan category. My brother recently bought a Tesla — he claims he will save TCOE over the next 20 years; we’ll see.

    I’d like to thank Rud Istvan; reading his original article at Judith Curry’s site made me realize I had dismissed hybrids unfairly, which definitely had an impact on my Avalon purchase.

    • Most of wouldn’t care in the slightest regarding EV’s if it weren’t for the fact that we are being forced to help pay for them.

      • EVs have a differential and CV joints of course, but they don’t have the planetary reduction gears, clutches, torque converter or the control systems to manage gear shifting that ICVs require.

        I believe the battery cooling is only required if you use a super charger.

        • ‘I believe the battery cooling is only required if you use a super charger.’

          No you need to understand how the battery modules are made up to make a car battery pack and Tesla are at the cutting edge of some sophisticated technology-
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=TdUqQZC2dcE
          Those cylindrical cells are efficient building block storages but then you have to string them all together with lots more considerations and hence the price.

  29. I wish my car still had an electric heater that use to be a common option.
    Summertime mileage with my 1.4 liter engine is 34-35 mpg. Currently at about 18F its 26-27 and will be about 24 in January-February. It just barely hits normally operating temperature on my nine mile commute with the transmission lagging the engine in reaching an optimum temperature. About 1 kw-hr of electricity each day would likely boost my winter time mileage by about 2-3 mpg. Twice that if it could be plugged in at work.

  30. What an informative and well written article that was. Thanks, my knowledge of batteries has been greatly enhanced.

  31. Notwithstanding all that was credibly (and in some cases, incredibly) written above, there does lie outside the ‘normal’ box that 99.99999% of ppl find themselves confined to (by choice, by failure to look outside said ‘box’ and observe for game-changing tech on the horizon) OTHER solutions to motive (as well as stationary) ‘power’ or energy production/generation.

    Progress continues on the development of one particular “energy source” with the immediate goal being a field-deployable (meaning, beyond the simple laboratory-curiosity and “tech-demo” stage) unit designed to showcase both the underlying technology and demonstrate an actual, practical application.

    But, don’t take my word for it, nor anyone else’s word for it as expressed by Huub Bakker in this informative, whirl-wind tour of this tech:

    Note: lecture begins at timestamp 04:30
    http://webcast.massey.ac.nz/Mediasite/Play/8ef7e03e26fc458b8eb7f351738f26811d

  32. Why not instead of recharging batteries just replace each time empty battery with a charged one. It lowwers the “charging” time to minimum if properly constructed.

    It would just require to have more backup batteries or a system of battery replacement maybe with battery being a borrowed or leased part.

    Then you can stop worrying with the time of charching and prolong batteries life massively while cost substantially (also building additional market demand).

    • Leaving a stack of batteries costing 5,000.00 to 7500.00 each piled up in the recharge racks awaiting re-charging, so the technicians can forklift them over to the parking lot and exchange them underneath car one at a time? People do not even now wait 15 minutes-20 minutes for a lube oil change every 3000 miles!

      The battery stores will be able to keep that stack of batteries for how many nights before they are stolen?
      Before the one bad battery in that rack of a 100 batteries overheats and burns up while recharging each night?
      The electric car batteries require replacement, not recharging? They need a replacement every other day, would they not?

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