File this one under gee whiz, or – if it pans out – file it under in a few years we won’t be needing nearly as much gasoline to power motor vehicles anymore.
Stories of amazing tech possibilities come out all the time, but one reported last week with more than a little hope attached to it is about a lab-based experimental battery invented by MIT students based on a two-part liquid electrolyte called “Cambridge Crude.”
The battery is being developed for EVs and grid storage and reportedly could deliver more energy density than lithium-ion batteries while being more cost effective. Even more intriguing is it could overcome a common objection to present-tech batteries in that it can be “refueled” with the pump-able liquid as petrol cars do in minutes, thus promising to relegate long recharging times to distant memory.
Cambridge Crude. A new kind of black gold?
The project’s supervising professor, Yet-Ming Chiang – one of the founders of A123 Systems – said the team’s mission was no less than “to reinvent the rechargeable battery,” and he expects to have a fully operational prototype suitable for electric cars in the next 18 months.
The new battery, which you can read more about in a technical paper, has been licensed to 24M Technologies which is working on perfecting the recipe, as it were. This Massachusetts-based organization branched from A123 Systems – which itself branched from MIT – and is doing the research with $16 million in venture capital and U.S. Department of Defense funding.
According to MIT News, the battery employs an innovative architecture called a semi-solid flow cell. In it, charged particles float in a liquid carrier between two containers.
The battery’s electrically active components – the positive and negative electrodes, or cathodes and anodes – are composed of particles suspended in the liquid electrolyte.
These two different suspensions are intended to be stored in separate tanks in a vehicle, then slowly pumped through systems separated by a filter, such as a thin porous membrane. When they come in contact, they exchange ions and create electricity.
“[The] new kind of flow battery is fueled by semi-solid suspensions of high-energy-density lithium storage compounds that are electrically ‘wired’ by dilute percolating networks of nanoscale conductor particles,” MIT said in a summary statement.
The battery’s separation feature is in contrast to conventional batteries in which energy storage and discharge take place in the same structure. Chiang said batteries can be designed more efficiently by separating these functions.
To recharge, electricity is input to separate the particles that make up each electrode. A couple potential ways to quickly “refuel,” would be either pumping out the expended liquid slurry, and replacing with fresh, similar to gas or diesel (except the pumping out part). Or, a complete tank swap system could be designed such as Better Place now proposes with solid batteries.
Until now, flow battery technology has been known, but energy density was too low. Cambridge Crude is said to have 10 times more energy density than previous liquid flow battery electrolytes. It is actually a fairly dense gel-like liquid that need not circulate very quickly, and instead “kind of oozes,” Chiang said.
MIT’s “Cambridge Crude” flow battery.
The unique difference of the MIT design is that it utilizes proven lithium-ion chemistry broken into tiny particles merged into the liquid matrix.
The initial promise of Cambridge Crude’s has MIT researchers hoping that they may have invented a completely new family of viable batteries.
MIT News cited Yury Gogotsi, distinguished university professor at Drexel University and director of Drexel’s Nanotechnology Institute who offered validation for the research.
“The demonstration of a semi-solid lithium-ion battery is a major breakthrough that shows that slurry-type active materials can be used for storing electrical energy.” This advance, he says, “has tremendous importance for the future of energy production and storage.”
Gogotsi cautioned research is still required to find better cathode and anode materials and electrolytes, but added, “I don’t see fundamental problems that cannot be addressed – those are primarily engineering issues. Of course, developing working systems that can compete with currently available batteries in terms of cost and performance may take years.”
This time estimate is on the high side from Chiang’s year-and-a-half projection for a working prototype EV battery, so we shall see whether the optimists or pessimists win.
A German company has the attention of the electric vehicle industry and those watching it, having recently documented remarkable claims for its KOLIBRI lithium-metal-polymer battery.
DBM Energy GmbH yesterday told GM-Volt.com that its design could wind up costing less than the types of batteries used in the Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan LEAF, and other EVs while radically exceeding all meaningful performance criteria.
We’re talking potential for reasonably priced electric cars that could travel 300-400 miles on a charge, and be replenished in minutes. If reports we were given prove true, this would mean the future is practically now – not years from now – with safe and durable batteries threatening to relegate petrol cars to merely optional status.
This and following photos show DBM’s battery undergoing German government tests.
Bold claims, you say? We agree, but will tell you what we were told:
According to DBM Energy’s Chief Operating Officer, Markus Röser, a 98.8-kWh version of its battery can be fully recharged inside of six minutes, although he would not divulge how this was accomplished.
“Regarding the kind of charger and the power input, we are not able to give any information yet, due to the fact, that this technology is just in internal use right now,” Röser said.
And if trip-to-the-gas-station recharge times are not enough, consider the battery’s range potential. One version with over seven times the energy capacity of the Volt’s battery, and 4.75 times power of the LEAF’s battery, had enough juice to propel a converted Audi A2 test mule for more than 400 miles at highway speeds on a single charge.
Last October, as some forum posters on GM-Volt have since chronicled, the Audi converted by DBM with help from Lekker Energie, and funding from the German economy ministry, traveled 375 miles from Berlin to Munich with a 98-kWh version of the battery.
Upon arrival in Munich, the battery was reportedly only 80-percent depleted, which would mean range potential of well over 400 miles. The battery weighted just 770 pounds. The battery pack in a Tesla Roadster weighs 29-percent more at 990 pounds, and that car is EU-certified for only 211 miles per charge.
Last October the 98.8-kW-powered Audi arrived in Munich with range left to go after traveling 375 miles from Berlin.
Unfortunately, a warehouse fire in December destroyed a DBM-modified A2, causing suspicious allegations. DBM said this was not even the car that had completed the run, but the company’s credibility nevertheless did suffer, prompting DBM to defensively write on its Web site, “We have done nothing wrong!”
Indeed, DBM told us yesterday that in setting new benchmarks, it has done many things right. Disregarding doubters including the New York Times blog which used the phrase in its title, “too good to be true,” and wrote of “the supposed record run,” DBM Energy said it has proven its amazing assertions.
According to The Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Letter, an English-language, subscription-based publication Röser sent PDF copies of, last month Germany’s federal agency for materials research and testing – BAM – independently certified DBM’s KOLIBRI battery after a series of eight tests. These were reportedly done according to the UN Test Handbook protocol for lithium batteries, and the battery came out with flying colors.
The BAM’s chief investigator, Prof. Volkmar Schroeder, reportedly said the battery cells met “all essential safety tests very well” and were characterized “by a high degree of technical safety.”
After those tests, an Audi A2 powered by the 63-kWh version of the battery being tested was put through four days of driving on a chassis dyno in eastern Germany at the DEKRA test center at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz.
Appropriate license plate, wouldn’t you say? B – EV …
The DEKRA test protocol showed the DBM electric Audi A2 went 284.3 miles (454.82 km). This battery had about 45 percent less energy than the initial “supposed” A2 record-setting car last fall, and now the German government has essentially verified its credibility. Actually, DBM estimated the first A2 could have gone 450 miles (721 km) on a single charge.
And as for durability, DBM said the KOLIBRI battery’s lifespan should be 10 years, or 5,000 charge cycles. Recharge time for a version like the one that went 284.3 miles might be only four minutes or so.
But what would it cost? An estimated price for a (larger) 98.8-kWh version was a paltry $1,100-$1,400 (€800-€1,000).
In our correspondence with Röser yesterday, he confirmed these reports, having sent them himself, along with the skeptical Times article, and several photos we have posted here.
Apologizing for his English, Röser told GM-Volt the battery is already being used in warehouse equipment, and has other applications pending.
“The KOLIBRI technology has run in forklifts for two years – very efficient,” Röser said, “We already delivered 15 batteries for forklifts in 2010/ 2011 and further orders are already placed. The companies we are working with are large logistical companies running warehouses like Papstar, a subsidiary company of Swarowski.”
Röser said DBM’s chemistry is indeed superior to that of EV batteries commonly in use today.
If people want to allege this uber-battery might be a hoax, it sure is getting to be an elaborate one.
“The KOLIBRI technology is based on Lithium Metal Polymer basis, the battery on solid matter basis. Through a special battery packaging we reach more efficiency and higher effectiveness, smaller packaging, lower weight and lower prices,” Röser said, “The Li-Ion battery reach about 60-80 percent effectiveness, the KOLIBRI technology about 97 percent. With a 300 kg battery pack of 98 kWh we reach a distance of 600 kilometers without a stop and without a gas engine or range extender.”
We asked whether DBM had any automotive deals pending, and what the status was.
“We speak more or less with all major auto makers worldwide and also with tier1 suppliers and new players. All kinds of business and partnerships will be discussed at the moment with them and everything is possible – also to start serial production or to prepare more demonstration cars, Röser said, “Furthermore we are speaking with institutional investors to build up our own production site for our technology used as energy storage or in electro cars.”
Next step, he said are more trials with the Audi A2 test mules. But with a clean bill of health, Röser said DBM anticipates making the battery available soon to automakers.
“The battery pack fulfills all international safety regulations as tested from German BAM right now,” Röser said, “Therefore we are able to supply all kinds of available cars with our battery pack within 12 weeks from now.”
If this battery does what DBM Energy says it can, and a car company – or companies – build vehicles with this technology costing, say, anywhere from $30,000-$70,000, more or less, what would it mean for every other EV presently known or in development?
After reading all this, we wrote back: “Are you essentially telling me this KOLIBRI battery all but eliminates range issues and recharge times? What could a car cost that’s made to be the size and specifications of a Chevy Volt or Nissan LEAF with a large KOLIBRI battery installed? Is KOLIBRI cost effective for vehicles now? Are you merely waiting to prove what you already know?”
Röser did not answer additional questions about exact price projections, but said:
“The KOLIBRI technology holds the actual long distance driving world record of electric vehicles with li-based batteries and is, according to the test results of DEKRA and BAM, a benchmark in safety and efficiency in Germany,” he said, “After the first design costs to adapt this technology in different car models, the costs will be the same as conventional drives from our side. In the long run even cheaper through high efficiency. In serial production the KOLIBRI is cost effective for vehicles now. We already proved the technology in forklifts and as energy storage. Regarding electrical cars we are speaking with different OEMs at the moment to find proper cooperation to start serial production.
More proof will follow with the next tests, Röser said.
Incidentally, Audi happens to be working on its e-tron technology for several of its cars. It and other original equipment manufacturers are intent on proving their own designs, but Röser said more independent tests will be conducted to prove DBM’s KOLIBRI design is ready for production.
“The cars going to test regions will be run by energy companies, producing [their] own electrical vehicles,” Röser said.
As soon as possible, we will be eager to learn more, particularly about the for-now-undisclosed cost and equipment required for the KOLIBRI battery’s fast recharging capabilities.
The Chevrolet Volt has been generally well received, and the idea of a range-extending gasoline engine paired with electric power is not a difficult one for many people to comprehend.
It has been said, however, that not all people “get” the car’s full value.
So, in the face of less-than-stellar reviews from the likes of Consumer Reports, Edmunds Inside Line blog, and some local publications around the U.S., Chevrolet recently issued statements sticking to its guns that the Volt delivers unprecedented economy.
And widely variable mileage as well.
Unlike strictly internal-combustion-powered cars that perform within a fairly limited economy range, GM is citing individual owners recording from 62 to 93 to 231 MPG.
With somewhere around $1 billion invested in the Volt, Chevrolet is doing all it can to line up customers for its first-generation Volt.
“I haven’t filled up my Volt since I took delivery,” said Mike DiPisa of Lyndhhurst, N.J.
DiPisa bought his Volt home in December, and at the time of his statement, 1,391 of his 1,485 miles traveled had been achieved by using electricity, thus Chevrolet calculated his economy at 231 MPG.
Similar stories are given for other Volt drivers, and Chevrolet says the Volt is what you make of it.
“Three Volts. Three distinct fuel economy stories,” say Chevrolet’s marketing department.
“The Volt is great for any lifestyle and can handle the driving demands of daily life,” said Volt Marketing Director Cristi Landy, “The majority of Volt customers are finding that by recharging their cars daily they are seeing exceptional real-world fuel economy.”
Despite what Chevrolet’s marketing team is saying, the average figures the EPA put on the Volt are 93 MPG equivalent (MPGe) in the city/highway for the first 35 miles, when the battery is fully charged, and the car is driven in all-electric mode, and 37 MPG for the city/highway estimate (during gas-only driving).
It allows for potentially higher MPGe assuming lower mileage, and a charged battery, but does not go so high as 231 or several hundred miles as some have said they have seen. The EPA bases its comparatively conservative numbers on its simulated driving cycle from last year.
Chevrolet say the Volt can get hundred of miles per gallon. The federal government says the above are the facts. What is the truth?
The Volt’s official EPA figures reflect another unusual turn of events: Estimated MGPe in the spot where the “city” average usually goes (calculated for the Volt in all-electric mode) is 60-percent better than the spot where the “highway” average usually goes. This is because the latter figure accounts for the car using gas only during the driving cycle test the EPA used.
But some people – and professional car reviewers alike – are less generous in sizing up the Volt, and are grappling with what to make of it.
In a recent blog write-up testing its efficiency and costs, Dan Edmunds said he would cater to readers’ desire to see MPG figures such as Chevrolet is touting, but he pooh-poohed the idea other than to say it satisfied a political-social sentiment.
“Some of you expressed an interest in seeing the ‘apparent’ mpg, looking at gasoline used over all miles driven and ignoring electricity,” Edmunds wrote, “It’s a bogus figure from an overall cost and consumption perspective, but it has a use if all you care about is reducing our dependence on gasoline that’s derived from oil.”
Frankly, Edmunds is not the only person who says things like this.
Electricity – and installing stations across the country – all cost money. MPG figures in the hundreds of miles per gallon, critics say, are therefore a false metric.
In discussing the Volt with several other “car people” we’ve heard criticism leveled at GM for pushing to see the highest possible EPA MPG rating on the Monroney sticker.
At GM-Volt, we know the Volt is a revolutionary car. It meets multiple needs, and is an excellent “bridge” technology as we attempt to transfer away from dependence on oil.
To those of who have a Volt, what has been your experience? What are your views on this topic?
We have already noted some citing high MPG ratings. Are ultra-high MPG estimates truly even-handed assessments of the Volt’s operational cost?
If you do think Chevrolet’s media department has it right, do you think it is only a matter of time before more people agree?
Looking toward a proliferation of plug-in cars on the horizon, utility company researchers and General Motors have been collaborating on a broad-based, three-year project begun last year intended to facilitate next-generation smart charging capabilities.
Smart enough that one day soon, it may be possible to sell the power in your electric car back to your local utility company. Or, during an electrical black-out, it may be possible to channel current from your plugged-in car into your home system as though it were a backup generator.
These are a couple of the more Jetson-age applications being researched, but not nearly all of the potential that has already begun to come forth.
Recently rolled-out GM OnStar telemetric applications for smart phones you may have heard about were directly spun off from the ongoing research, as GM is not waiting to act on usable data if it doesn’t have to.
Shown here being recharged by a solar-powered charger, many more innovations are in store for smart charging the Chevrolet Volt. (Photo courtesy of GM.)
Yesterday, we had opportunity to talk to the man in charge of it all, Sunil Chhaya. As a senior project manager for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), he is overseeing the three-year, $6 million project researching ways for “smart grids” to more intelligently interact with the Chevrolet Volt.
About 50-60 researchers are involved in the international collaboration, including about 10-12 from GM, five or six from EPRI, and many more from cooperating subcontractors, Chhaya said.
“EPRI [pronounced: "epree"] created a collaborative of about 50-plus utilities, across the U.S., Canada, some from Europe, as well, to talk about what are the issues that will influence the decisions on the car side,” Chhaya said, “and what are the issues that we need to be aware of on the smart grid side. Now the fortuitous circumstance here is utilities are also in the middle of doing large scale smart grid deployment, which means there are smart meters being deployed in large numbers.”
Smart grid roll out and pilot projects are being conducted in many regions. Chhaya said utility companies across the U.S. are doing things in a variety of ways, coming at technical challenges from many angles.
Generally, smart grids attempt to control electrical energy flow at a more granular level by digitally monitoring usage and distribution from the user side, and the utility side.
The GM/EPRI smart grid project began in January 2010, and will run through December 2012, Chhaya said.
It is collecting data from a pool of Volt test vehicles, and being paid for by matching funds from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in conjunction with money from participating utility company members of EPRI.
As a non-profit research organization, EPRI’s members comprise 90 percent of all U.S. electricity providers, and it has additional participation from 40 countries.
The Volt already has a sophisticated battery management system. GM is working on upping the wow factor in conjunction with smart grid capabilities.
The idea for the GM study first gained momentum in 2007, Chhaya said, when EPRI and automakers were discussing standardization for charging equipment. Those talks led to the Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) J1772 conductive-style 5-pin plug used by the Volt and other plug-in cars.
During those meetings, he said, more brainstorming ensued, and up percolated a recognized need for power companies to get more deeply involved, with cross-flow of data back and forth
“Utilities felt that there was a need for them to communicate with the vehicles in a way that’s never been done before,” Chhaya said, “Your plug doesn’t talk to your toaster you know, or vice versa, you know. You don’t have any need for it … “
Until now, he said, with reference to plug-in cars.
Part of the work with GM, and a similar project begun in 2008 with Ford – which is using plug-in-converted Escape Hybrids – is to incorporate standards for its innovations within the emerging electric auto industry.
“The technology that we are developing is something that is production capable so that it could go into any of the future products,” Chhaya said, “It’s also standards based, so we won’t be creating anything special for any purposes.”
In other words, they are trying to avoid different competing standards, thus the SAE is involved, has developed more standards for data transference and more, and automakers are cooperating.
While many gee-wiz ancillary benefits could be spun off from the discoveries GM and EPRI make, Chhaya said the project’s highest priority is to make sure widespread plug-in car rollout does not crash the grid.
According to Plug In America’s Legislative Director, Jay Friedland, U.S. electric company capacity during overnight hours is enough to power somewhere around 140 million electric vehicles.
During the daytime it is far less.
Acknowledging this statistic, Chhaya said one aspect of the GM/EPRI project is to foresee all possible ramifications from hundreds of thousands, to potentially a million or more plug-in cars that could conceivably plug in day or night.
The Volt’s battery may soon talk to the utility companies. One day, it may be able to give 4-5 hours of back-up power to a house during a power outage, or feed utilities power gained during peak hours at a profit during off-peak hours, if this is deemed a good idea.
One goal, he said, is to enhance interactivity between cars and home energy management systems, as well as to facilitate public connectivity.
An EV charger can take about 3 to 3.3 kilowatts, at a 12-amp load at 240 volts – about the energy requirement of an electric clothes dryer.
It is foreseen that a smart home system would allow communication between the grid, and all appliances – which an electric car would be considered from an energy budget standpoint.
Revised varying rate packages may be devised in the not-too-distant future, and the car may be the one to tell the driver what is what.
Through on-board intelligence, an electric car may inform the driver when is a good time to charge. While charging, it may recognize a sudden surge in the grid, and know to shut off, then know when to turn on later when demand decreases. Or, more likely, it may just be set to charge at certain hours overnight.
Electric car owners may be able to purchase an incentivized package for such intelligent recharging.
Chhaya said the price structure would be set up to encourage more logical energy usage based on a network-monitored grid that knows where available power is, and when.
If users wanted to charge in the daytime, they could, but they would pay accordingly.
“For example, say, you know, you can charge anytime you want but there’s a charge for doing that [during high demand hours], but because it costs us more to produce electricity, we will pass that on to you in some form,” Chhaya said speaking on behalf of a hypothetical utility company, “Or if you charge over night when there’s extra wind, we’ll make it real inexpensive.”
It is not unlike a carrot and stick scenario, but seen as necessary due to limits on local electrical grid systems.
The concepts promise manifold benefits for all involved, but the goal is to make future purchasable energy consumption programs as user-friendly as possible.
“What we are trying to do with GM is to create a direct path with the smart meters; between the smart meters and the car based on the standards,” Chhaya said, “The idea, you know, is in general, is these communications should be in silent mode. They should not be repeatedly requiring constant intervention because people will get bored, forget, do the wrong things, misinterpret. So, you basically set it and forget it. Once you sign up for the program, the car takes care of all your charging needs according to what ever incentive that you signed up for, and it’s all just automatic.”
Yesterday EPRI sent us the link to this video it put together to demonstrate a smart grid.
The system would make the driver the center of the decision process, and manual over-ride would be possible, Chhaya said.
At present, Chhaya said, electric cars are still rather elementary electricity receivers. Their charging systems take energy until their batteries are full, then they monitor the battery.
“We would call that passive or dumb charging. You plug it in. It’s by no means dumb, the car has a lot of logic that decides, that controls this process. But from the utilities’ standpoint it’s fairly passive,” Chhaya said, “It was felt that in the long term that was not a good idea.”
Already, data gathered from congregated EVs have shown weak points in local grids, and utilities are in process of updating local systems.
Several links in at the electrical transference chain exist from the plant including substations and local transformers, Chhaya said.
Transformers can “die a natural death” in maybe 20-30 years anyway, but if several electric cars were plugged in all at once in one neighborhood, they could overheat the local transformer and cause its early demise.
In essence, utility companies are trying not to be caught unaware, and researching to anticipate all eventualities.
One big picture view of all this is that if electric companies can accommodate EV rollouts, they will facilitate the proposed paradigm shift being worked for by alternative energy advocates.
Naturally, utilities also have plenty to gain in selling unused output, and eventually becoming able to handle more consumers both day and night. In the process, they stand to shift the balance of transportation energy profits away from oil companies one car at a time.
For the GM/EPRI smart grid project, individual utilities were offered a buy-in for access to three hierarchical levels of gathered data.
Data and interaction with the three year project was offered at $60,000 for level one, $270,000 for level two, or $390,000 for level three.
Apart from some salaried personnel being involved, GM’s financial input has been virtually nil, except for one detail, Chhaya said.
“What GM is contributing, of course is the Volt. The development of the Volt vehicle itself, you know that is roughly a billion-dollar investment that has gone into making the car,” Chhaya said, “I mean without the car, this would be kind of a moot point. We would just be sitting, staring at a computer screen.”
As an independent, non-profit R&D organization, the U.S.-based EPRI says its members include 90 percent of America’s electricity producers, and in all, participation comes from 40 countries.
To allow the car to travel much farther than present-day EVs, Chevrolet built the Volt with a range-extending gasoline generator. What would it be like in the not-too-distant future if GM were able to build an all-electric Volt that that needed no engine to go just as far?
Kamath, who is actively involved in battery research, was kind enough to answer our questions, and to do so took time away from his attendance at the ongoing 28th International Battery Seminar & Exhibit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
His perspective may be one to consider next time you read a blurb selling the sizzle from a tech company dangling the possibility of several-times multiplied energy density in the next few years.
“I would be careful about putting a time line on that figure,” Kamath said while offering a more conservative estimate, “What we do know is in probably in the next 10 years or so we will probably get at least a two times increase in energy density.”
Among the most significant sectors pushing for improved batteries, he said, are consumer electronics, transportation, and power stations with energy storage needs.
“Transportation gets a very high priority,” Kamath said, “The projections are that the transportation market will eclipse the consumer electric market by 2020; many people believe this is the case.”
Presently, lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries – as found in the Volt and all other modern EVs – have shuffled out to be the technology of choice.
How much more can li-ion batteries be improved, and will they remain the battery of choice?
“In the short term lithium-ion looks like it is going to be the winner,” Kamath said.
How would it be to have much faster charging batteries? Cutting costs, and increasing range are higher priorities, but ways to expand all parameters are being worked on.
To further clarify, he said li-ion derivatives are numerous, and the technology should be thought of more as a “family” of batteries than a “type.”
There are at least 6-8 competitive variations of the li-ion battery, if not more, he said.
At present, there is an ongoing shake-out ramping up to an unprecedented scale.
Manufacturers in all sectors are working on ways to improve them.
Scientists are vying to be the one to put their name on the next great technological leap forward.
At the same time, efficiencies are expected to grow over the next 4-5 years, Kamath said, through a combination of scale, production learning curves, trial and error with designs, and improvements in technology.
This should help drive down cost, improve profitability, or both.
Kamath said some of the most critical factors battery manufacturers are contending with – more or less in order – are: 1) cost, 2) life, 3) range, and, 4) recharging time.
Naturally, the people working on solutions will take their gains anywhere they can, but these are the top priorities.
While attempting to streamline li-ion formulations, every manufacturer is working to improve its proprietary discoveries.
Other chemistries with longer-term development possibilities mentioned were lithium sulfur and lithium air, as well as, zinc air and silicon anode technology.
But again, no new battery technology is ready for prime time, and no one has shown they can accurately predict when one will be ready, or who would be first to make it so.
Presently, EV buyers are called “early adapters.” The goal is to just get them to be called everyday car buyers. Improved batteries are a key part of this vision.
One could guess that it might be a well-known company like LG Chem, or A123 Systems, or it could just as likely be a smaller firm.
If a smaller start-up did invent The Next Big Thing, Kamath said, it would probably seek to license it to several buyers.
“If there were technologies substantially better than the rest,” Kamath said, “they will spread around quite a bit faster than you might expect.”
The industry’s state of competitiveness, and need to keep up with increasing demand is that compelling, he said.
While refusing to name potential companies that might come out ahead in the tech race, Kamath only said it is open to anyone’s speculation, and he would hedge his guesses.
“I would not put all my money in one or two technologies,” he said, but rather the smart players are placing “multiple bets,” and even in-house, companies are running competing projects.
Regarding the transportation sector, in the near term, it has been said that insulated and actively climate-controlled EV batteries could be streamlined as a way to cut costs.
As many are already aware, batteries work best at moderate temperatures.
To this, Kamath added that some chemistries may eventually prove better in varying temperatures, or under different load demands.
In time, he said, some chemistries may be optimized for warmer climates, and others chosen for where conditions are colder.
Although EPRI is funded by utility companies, expenditures from government sources are seen as necessary to help spur development of next-generation technology.
Similarly, some chemistries will be shown to work better for high-performance applications, such as in a sports car, while others will work better for a truck.
The whole development process is a series of multiple trade-offs, he said, and now is a time of rapid learning.
Engineering decisions will in time refine end results, he said, and these will not necessarily be perceived by the customer who only wants to know whether the design works as intended or not.
Since autos potentially must endure all climates, we would take from this that unless a climate-tolerant chemistry could ever be developed, their batteries should remain actively climate controlled, as is the case with the Volt and Ford’s pending all-electric Focus.
Present chemistries are adversely affected by extreme cold and heat, and this naturally will affect ability to accept a charge, available range, and expected life.
At the same time, climate-controlled batteries magnify development and engineering costs, and to an extent, add weight and complexity.
While for now consumer electronics exceed the demands of the transportation sector, they also are seen as a first place to try new battery technologies.
Kamath made sure to say safety concerns are real for electronics, but they are not as severe as they are for vehicles meant to carry people.
Perhaps you have heard of “thermal runaway” cases where laptop batteries caught fire? This is a scenario the transportation industry cannot afford to ever let happen.
But once proven safe and better in smaller, less expensive, shorter-lived products, Kamath said improved batteries may find their way from electronics to cars and trucks – maybe, we will add, one you could drive some day in the not-too-distant future.
Instead of Nissan under-promising and over-delivering on the range capability for its new all-electric LEAF, some are alleging it may have done the opposite.
At least this is the scuttlebutt from stories beginning to stack up in a LEAF discussion forum and news outlets saying LEAF drivers are experiencing “range anxiety” in fewer miles than they were led to believe they would.
And no, it is not because they attempted a coast-to-coast drive in the limited-range car, or something like that.
Stories are adding up of lower than promised range, and erratic drops in range estimates from the Nissan Leaf’s computer. (Photo courtesy of Nissan.)
As the stories are playing out, LEAF drivers are depleting battery power within the estimated allowable traveling distance, and learning the hard way what it is like to be out of juice in a world where electrical recharging stations are few and far between.
For those not familiar, the LEAF’s 24 kWh battery pack holds more charge than the 16 kWh battery in the Chevrolet Volt, but Nissan took the chance of producing its electric car without a back-up power source.
The Volt cannot travel as far in all-electric mode, but, as explained last year, it has a 1.4L gasoline engine (generator) to power the drive motor(s), allow for “extended range,” and recharge the battery.
On a full charge, Nissan has said the LEAF should be good for around 100 miles in the city up to as much as 138 miles if the driver really nurses it.
A growing feeling among some early adopters is the LEAF’s real range may be closer on average to 60-80 miles, more or less.
The U.S. EPA has also pegged the expected range at 73 miles.
But not living up to range is only part of the problem owners are describing.
The LEAF comes with a sophisticated computer to estimate range based on available battery charge, plus past data that tracked how aggressive the driver was in the past. Despite this, tales of the computer’s readout being erratic and inaccurate are also coming forth.
As reported by Jalopnik, anecdotes have included one owner who said the LEAF is good for only 50 highway miles, another who watched a 17-mile range vaporize inside of five, leaving him stranded, and a reporter who ran out of power – and then posted an unflattering but pithy commentary on the Wall Street Journal’s Web site (see video below).
Fortunately, the reporter was able to take advantage of free towing that Nissan offers LEAF owners who run the car out of power.
Nissan released the LEAF this winter and has only reported 154 units sold in January and February combined. Its battery is not climate controlled as is the battery in the Volt.
Regardless of mounting anecdotal evidence, in question is whether problems will be shown to be faults of the car or driver or both.
Even with a computer second guessing driver patterns, range will vary depending in part on how hard and fast the car is driven.
For now the jury is out, but we’d surmise dramatic accounts of being stranded in busy traffic cannot be helpful to sales, as people are often swayed by perception.
Presently Nissan has all the pre-orders it can handle at an estimated 20,000.
In light of our story yesterday centered around a wide-spread lack of knowledge of electric vehicles, it would not be surprising to learn in time whether some of the early enthusiasm for the LEAF, at least by some, was not based on full information.
But thus far Nissan has not said it has withheld any facts.
In response to the range issues, a Nissan spokesperson said “isolated incidents” experienced by some LEAF drivers do not represent a trend.