A Battery to Challenge Lithium-Ion

❝ Elon Musk isn’t the only visionary betting that the world will soon be reliant on batteries. Bill Joy, the Silicon Valley guru and Sun Microsystems co-founder, also envisions such dependence. He just thinks alkaline is a smarter way to go than lithium-ion.

❝ Joy and Ionic Materials unveiled a solid-state alkaline battery at the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Energy Innovation Summit in Basalt, Colorado, that he says is safer and cheaper than the industry leader, lithium-ion. The appeal of alkaline: it could cost a tiny fraction of existing battery technologies and could be safer in delicate settings, such as aboard airplanes.

“What people didn’t really realize is that alkaline batteries could be made rechargable,” Joy said in a phone interview Thursday. “I think people had given up.”

The Ionic Materials investor envisions three ultimate applications for the polymer technology: consumer electronics, automotive and the power grid. But Joy acknowledged that the technology isn’t quite ready for prime-time. It has yet to be commercialized, and factories are needed to manufacture it. It could be ready for wider use within five years, he said.

❝ Ionic expects to talk to potential partners about licenses. Global lithium-ion battery demand from electric vehicles is projected to grow from 21 gigawatt-hours in 2016 to 1,300 gigawatt-hours in 2030, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“Even if we grew 400 percent every year for a decade, we couldn’t meet the need” alone, Joy said. “We’re starting from a zero base. We don’t have a factory. We have a revolutionary material.”

Lithium is expensive and scarce in the qualities useful for current lithium-ion battery technology. Alkaline batteries will not face the same kind of challenges – once production is at commercial scale. And believe me – please – regardless of what creeps like Trump or Tillerson or any other fossil fuel pimps might say, the demand coming down the pike in the next 10-20 years for battery tech will have no problem getting investors.

Plunging battery costs will bring the greatest change in automotive history

❝ Plunging battery costs will drive the auto industry’s biggest change in more than a century, enabling a boom by 2030 in technologies from self-driving electric cars to ride-sharing applications.

The price of lithium-ion battery packs for electric cars has fallen 65 percent since 2010 and is likely to keep declining, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Co. Consumers may appreciate the biggest impact in the form of cheaper costs for taxis, including substantial reductions for ones run by machines.

Driving the trend are cheaper batteries, which are the biggest cost in electric cars, along with rapidly improving computer technology that will make self-driving cars a reality on roads within the next decade. Changes already are starting to feed through in the form of an investment boom in ride-hailing applications such as Uber Technologies…and the mushrooming of software developers that will link electric cars to utilities and payment systems.

Those trends will reduce the cost of running a taxi driven by a human by 3.1 percent to $2.76 a mile driven by 2025, according to the report. Self-driving taxis may be as cheap as 67 cents a mile to operate. The study counted in the total cost of owning the vehicle, driver’s pay and allowances for overhead and returns for investors…

❝ The changes will reshape the auto industry, tilting the need for investment away from developing engines and toward perfecting software that drives cars and links them to the web for managing payment and navigation, McKinsey said. Power companies could benefit from a 3 percent increase in electricity demand in the next 15 years…

❝ Battery and hybrid vehicles on the world’s roads may displace as many as 13 million barrels of oil a day by 2040, BNEF forecast this year in a separate report. The costs of lithium-ion batteries, which typically make up about 40 percent of an electric car’s value, may fall by 16 percent to 20 percent with each cumulative doubling of the vehicles’ manufacture…

The only cornball advice I have to offer is – it’s better to invest in rapidly growing tech too soon rather than too late. But, I welcome the changes coming in safety and environment with open arms.

Toyota, BMW have joined in a green-car technology partnership


Toyota’s compact Aquion Prius due here in the US in early 2012
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Automakers Toyota and BMW on Thursday struck a partnership to share eco-friendly technologies, including in the joint development of lithium-ion batteries for next-generation electric cars.


BMW X3 Crossover diesel

Under the deal, the German automaker will also provide diesel engines for Toyota as the Japanese auto giant looks to boost sales in Europe, where more than half of passenger cars are diesel powered. Toyota has struggled to boost its European market share with its gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, despite its leading position in the low-emission technology.

Meanwhile, the pair will share development costs for batteries for electric cars as part of plans to roll out battery-powered vehicles…

Their pact comes after Toyota struck a deal in August to develop hybrid-vehicle systems with US-based Ford, while BMW inked a deal with France’s PSA Peugeot Citroen Group to jointly develop hybrid systems for subcompacts.

There is no denying that conversion to radical new energy sources for vehicle propulsion is expensive. Even if you’re an early leader like Toyota in hybrid tech.

Markets are funny things and sometimes consumers can only digest one change at a time.

Lithium-ion battery costs dropping faster than analysts predicted

Electrification of the automobile is well underway, with the first mass produced cars expected to hit the roads later this year.

Predictions hinge on cost to consumers, both for the cars and for gas. Other than for early adopters, plug-in cars must offer better cost of operation than gas-powered cars to win in the marketplace…

Which isn’t true, of course. Otherwise no one would buy half the cars on sale – which are more expensive than the “other” half.

Reports predicting low EV sales volumes often use $1000 per kwh as the price for lithium-ion batteries, but that is unrealisticly high and should no longer be used.

A new report issued by Deutsche Bank indicates prices that are considerably lower. They write “we continue to believe that the market underestimates the potential for growth in this segment” and “we’ve noted evidence of steeper than-expected battery price declines which will likely bolster the consumer value proposition and potentially lead to stronger demand than we originally envisioned.”

The firm notes the average lithium-ion cell price in 2009 has been $650 per kwh, but claims automakers are already seeing bids for $450 per kwh from battery companies for delivery contracts in the 2011/2012 timeframe.

Furthermore, they predict an additional 25% decline in price over the next 5 years and a 50% decline over the next 10 years along with a doubling of performance over the next 7 years…

Fuel costs about 2 cents per mile using electricity, and about 10 cents per mile using gas. At $450 per kwh at today’s gas prices, after 90,000 miles of electric driving fuel savings will cover the added cost of the battery.

Payback is one of those arguments needed to convince spouses and banks. Nothing rational will convince teabaggers or politicians owned lock, stock and barrel by the Oil Patch Boys.

Pilots union wants cargo ban on lithium batteries


This fire resulted from lousy connection of an aftermarket Li-ion battery

The world’s largest pilots union said Tuesday it wants bulk shipments of lithium batteries and products containing the batteries immediately banned from passenger and cargo planes because they can start a fire.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is not prepared to take emergency action on the issue.

In seeking a federal ban, the Air Line Pilots Association pointed to three incidents since June in which lithium battery shipments apparently caused fires aboard U.S. planes…

The union emphasized that it is not seeking a ban on passengers carrying electronic devices containing lithium batteries onto planes, such as laptop computers, cell phones, and cameras. Instead, the union’s concern is with cargo containing multiple batteries, either loose or inside products.

He noted that Douglass told a House panel this spring that the safety administration is working on new regulations for the shipment of lithium batteries. However, he said that if the government doesn’t act quickly, the union will ask Congress to step in.

Depending upon how votes the issue is worth, Congress may complete hearings on the topic in time for the 2012 elections.

George Kerchner, executive director of The Rechargeable Battery Association, said…the shipments cited by the pilots union probably didn’t conform to existing hazardous materials regulations and suggested the Transportation Department step up enforcement of those regulations.

Enforce regulations? Good grief.

Toyota will roll mass-production plug-in hybrid in 2012 models


Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Less than three years: that’s the wait time left for a plug-in hybrid from Toyota at commercial scale, according to reports this weekend from Japan’s Nikkei. The news that Toyota plans to start churning out at least 20,000 to 30,000 plug-in hybrids in 2012 comes just one month after the company first detailed plans to lease plug-in hybrids based on the latest Prius model with lithium-ion batteries.

Toyota’s plans to move forward with mass production of its plug-in hybrid vehicle within the next few years — at a price comparable to Mitsubishi’s planned electric vehicle, according to the Nikkei’s sources — represents another major milestone for a technology that’s widely seen as the future of electric car batteries…

Battery makers also may face a changing competitive landscape as a result of Toyota’s plug-in hybrid ambitions. As we noted last month, the plug-in hybrid lease program announced in June marked the first time that Toyota is using lithium-ion batteries (as opposed to nickel-metal hydride) for propulsion in one of its vehicles. Mass deployment of lithium-ion batteries (developed and manufactured by Toyota’s joint venture with Panasonic, Reuters reports) in the upcoming plug-in model — and in the all-electric Toyota FT-EV subcompact also slated to launch by 2012 — could mean a massive competitor, but potentially also new opportunities.

Those opportunities could result from Toyota’s lithium-ion and plug-in plays increasing pressure on competing automakers to turn to startups. The idea would be to secure a quick fix for technology in an attempt to speed plug-in models to market (something Daimler described as part of the reasoning for its investment in Tesla Motors). On the other hand, with mass-scale production, ramped-up battery production from Toyota’s joint ventures with both Panasonic and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (which now makes the nickel-metal hydride batteries for the regular hybrid Prius and aims to start out capacity for lithium-ion batteries this year) could present tough competition for smaller startups without the same manufacturing capacity or resources.

Interesting, useful news from the widespread perspectives of motorhead – and investor – in my own household. Earth2Tech is a source I check on a daily basis. All the GigaOm sites are productive and interesting to geek investors. If I wasn’t such a cheapskate, I’d sub to GigaOm Pro.

Plug-in hybrids are the concept I’ve championed for years – back to the first Prius conversions. They make the most sense for families like mine where the typical top-out of a day’s driving for work and errands is about 40 miles.

BTW – most of the green geeks are being sucker-punched by this announcement just like Honda was by the 2009 Priuses. If you believe the publicized price and range, electric or otherwise, is cast in stone – go invest your hard-earned dollars in the Chevy Volt. Har!

Nissan to build electric cars, Li-on batteries in the United States


Nissan Micro Electric commuter car – the NuVu prototype
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Nissan Motor Co plans to launch production of electric vehicles and their batteries in the United States to tap low-interest loans for green vehicles, the Nikkei business daily said.

The overall investment is estimated at 50 billion yen ($516.4 million) and may rise to 100 billion yen, it said.

Under the plan, the new electric-car assembly lines are to be built at a plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, where Nissan North America is based, the paper said.

The facility, capable of making 50,000 to 100,000 eco-friendly vehicles a year by 2012, is expected to first produce a small passenger car, it said.

Nissan also intends to construct a production facility for high-capacity lithium ion batteries at the Smyrna site with NEC Corp.

The company has applied for funding from the U.S. government under a low-interest-loan program to support the automobile industry.

Too bad we haven’t enough brains within the Big 3 to figure out how to do any of this. Is there something in the water in Detroit that inhibits business competence?

Lithium-Ion batteries get supercharged


Now, can I have one of these?

A new twist on the familiar lithium ion battery has yielded a type of power-storing material that charges and discharges at lightning speed. The finding could offer a boost for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles and possibly allow cell phone batteries to regain a full charge in seconds rather than hours.

Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are small and light, yet can store copious amounts of energy, making them ideal for use in everyday electronic devices such as iPods and laptops. This valuable property, called energy density, can be scaled up for hybrid cars as well as for the all-electric Roadster built by Tesla Motors that relies on lithium ion batteries…and the similarly powered Chevy Volt plug-in electric, about to hit the market.

One downside: lithium ion batteries do not dispense their charge—carried by lithium ions and electrons, hence the power source’s name—very quickly compared with some other types of storage batteries. Like a huge auditorium that only has a few doors, getting a large volume of patrons (lithium ions) in and out is a drawn-out affair…The slow exchange of ions also means lithium ion batteries recharge slowly—just think of how long you have to charge your tiny cell phone.

In an attempt to pick up the pace, the M.I.T. researchers coated the lithium iron phosphate material with an ion conductor, which in this case was a layer of glasslike lithium phosphate. Sure enough, the charge-carrying ions traveled much faster from their storage medium; a prototype battery the scientists built completely charged in about 10 to 20 seconds…

Two companies have already licensed the technology, according to Byoungwoo Kang. Researchers are not sure how much these batteries will cost when they hit the market, but Kang says they should be reasonably priced, given that it should be relatively cheap to produce them.

I’m ready to get in line. I already have plans for photo-voltaic panels for our home; but, if I can afford to get off the grid altogether I’d love it.