A Failed Car Company Gave Rise to a Revolutionary New Battery – “Fisker’s Folly” Or “Henrik’s Home-Run”?


Fisker’s solid-state battery powers electric vehicles–and drones and flying taxis.

Since Alessandro Volta created the first true battery in 1800, improvements have been relatively incremental.

When it comes to phones and especially electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries have resisted a slew of efforts to increase their power and decrease the time it takes to charge them.

Henrik Fisker, known for his high-end sports-car design, says his Los Angeles-based company, Fisker Inc., is on the verge of a breakthrough solid-state battery that will give EVs like his sleek new EMotion an extended range and a relatively short charging period.

Fisker Inc. founder Henrik Fisker and his new EMotion electric vehicle CREDIT: Courtesy Company

“With the size of battery pack we have made room for, we could get as much as a 750-kilometer [466-mile] range,” he says. The same battery could reduce charging time to what it currently takes to fill your car with gas.

Traditional lithium-ion batteries, like all others, use a “wet” chemistry– involving liquid or polymer electrolytes–to generate power.

But they also generate resistance when working hard, such as when they are charging or quickly discharging, which creates heat. When not controlled, that heat can become destructive, which is one reason EVs have to charge slowly.

Solid-state batteries, as the name implies, contain no liquid. Because of this, they have very low resistance, so they don’t overheat, which is one of the keys to fast recharging, says Fisker.

But their limited surface area means they have a low electrode-current density, which limits power. Practically speaking, existing solid-state batteries can’t generate enough juice to push a car. Nor do they work well in low temperatures. And they can’t be manufactured at scale.

CREDIT: Courtesy Company

Fisker’s head battery scientist, Fabio Albano, solved these problems by essentially turning a one-story solid-state battery into a multistory one.

“What our scientists have created is the three-dimensional solid-state battery, which we also call a bolt battery,” says Fisker. “They’re thicker, and have over 25 times the surface that a thin-film battery has.

That has allowed us to create enough power to move a vehicle.” The upside of 3-D is that Fisker’s solid-state battery can produce 2.5 times the energy density that lithium-ion batteries can, at perhaps a third of the cost.

Fisker was originally aiming at 2023 production, but its scientists are making such rapid advances that the company is now targeting 2020.

“We’re actually ahead of where we expected to be,” Fisker says. “We have built batteries with better results quicker than we thought.” The company is setting up a pilot plant near its headquarters.

Solid state, however, isn’t problem free. Lower resistance aids in much faster charging, up to a point. “We can create a one-minute charge up to 80 percent,” Fisker says. “It all depends on what we decide the specific performance and chemistry of the battery should be.”

If a one- or two- or five-minute charge gives a driver 250 miles and handles the daily commute, that can solve the range-anxiety issue that has held back EV sales.

Solid-state-battery technology can go well beyond cars. Think about people having a solid-state battery in their garage that could charge from the grid when demand is low, so they don’t pay for peak energy, and then transfer that energy to their car battery. It could also act as an emergency generator if their power goes down. “This is nonflammable and very light,” says Fisker. “It’s more than twice as light as existing lithium-ion batteries. It goes into drones and electric flying taxis.”

Like many designers, Fisker is a bit of dreamer. But he’s also a guy with a track record of putting dreams into motion.

Joy ride.

Henrik Fisker’s car company crashed in the Great Recession, but one of the industry’s flashiest designers quickly got in gear again. His latest piece of automotive art: the EMotion.

Fisker has never created an automobile that didn’t evoke a response. He’s one of the best-known designers in the industry, with mobile masterpieces such as the Fisker Karma, the Aston Martin DB9, and the BMW Z8. It’s only appropriate his latest vehicle has been christened the EMotion.

The curvy, carbon fiber and aluminum all-wheel-drive EV, with its too-cool butterfly doors and cat’s-eye headlights, debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It will be the first passenger-vehicle offering of the new Fisker Inc.–the previous Fisker Automotive shuttered in 2013, in the aftermath of the Great Recession. (Reborn as Karma Automotive, that company makes the Revero, based on a Fisker design.)

Fisker ran out of funding but not ideas. He quickly got the new company going and has described the EMotion as having “edgy, dramatic, and emotionally charged design/ proportions–complemented with technological innovation that moves us into the future.” The car will come equipped with a Level 4 autonomous driving system, meaning it’s one step away from being completely autonomous.

You might want to drive this one yourself, though. The EMotion sports a 575-kw/780-hp- equivalent power plant that delivers a 160-mph top speed, and goes from 0 to 60 in three seconds. The sticker price is $129,000; the company is currently taking refundable $2,000 deposits.

Though designed to hold the new solid-state battery, the EMotion that will hit the road in mid-2020 has a proprietary battery module from LG Chem that promises a range of 400 miles — Tesla Model S boasts 335. About his comeback car, Fisker says he felt free to be “radically innovative.” For a niche car maker, it might be the only way to remain competitive.

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SolarEdge Technologies offers residential electric vehicle charging station


EV Battery Villans Elfordon-Nevs-700-394-ny-teknik

SolarEdge Technologies is unveiling its residential electric vehicle charging station at Intersolar Europe. Following the recent debut of its EV-charging single-phase inverter, SolarEdge will now also provide a standalone EV charger that offers greater system design flexibility, specifically for sites where the inverter and EV charger cannot be installed at the same location.

The new EV charger will be integrated into SolarEdge’s smart energy suite to support increased energy independence. With the EV charger offering management in SolarEdge’s monitoring platform, EV charging can be easily controlled and programmed. EV-Charging-Station-321x500

“This EV charger reflects our ongoing commitment to develop smart energy solutions to improve the ways we produce and consume energy,” said Lior Handelsman, VP of marketing and product strategy of SolarEdge, and founder. “With the EV and PV markets having significant overlap, SolarEdge believes that combining the two solutions will accelerate the adoption of both technologies and give individuals more control over their energy usage, thus reducing their carbon footprint.”

 

 

                                                 

                                                                                                   

Is Reliable Energy Storage (and Markets) On The Horizon?


Green and renewable energy markets are bringing power to millions with virtually no adverse environmental impacts, but before we can count on renewables for widespread reliability, one critical innovation must arrive: storage.

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PetersenDean Inc. employees install solar panels on the roof of a home in Lafayette, California, U.S., Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

On Tuesday, May 15, 2018. California became the first state in the U.S. to require solar panels on almost all new homes. Most new units built after Jan. 1, 2020, will be required to include solar systems as part of the standards adopted by the California Energy Commission.

While hydroelectric and some other renewable sources can generate power around the clock, solar and wind energy are irregular and not necessarily consistent sources for 24/7 projections.

Storms and darkness disrupt solar farms, while dozens of meteorological phenomena can impact wind farms. Because these sources have natural peaks, they cannot be made to align with consumer power demand without effective storage. Solar and wind may be able to meet demand during the day or a short period, but when energy is high and demand is low, the power generated must either be used or wasted if it cannot be stored in some type of battery.

According to projections from GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association, the energy storage market is expected to grow 17x from 2017 and 2023. This projection accounts for private and commercial deployment of storage capacity, including impacts from government policies like California’s solar panel mandate.

During the same interval, the energy storage market is expected to grow 14x in dollar value.

The exact type of storage deployments in these projections varies. Recent innovations have included advancements in traditional battery technology as well as battery alternatives like liquid air storage.

In New York, one project included a megawatt scaled lithium-ion battery storage system to replace lead acid schemes. The liquid air storage, however, uses excess energy to cool air in pressurized chambers until it is liquid. Rather than storing electrical or chemical energy like a battery, the process stores potential energy.

When demand arises, the liquefied air is allowed to rapidly heat and expand, turning turbines to generate electricity.

Meanwhile, Tesla has added nearly a third of the annual global energy storage deployments since 2015. Leading the charge with low-cost lithium-ion batteries, Telsla and other innovators are bringing global capacity up quickly.

These energy storage devices are versatile, capable of storing energy from any source–fossil fuel or renewable– and in any place–private homes or industrial operations.

With battery costs continuing to decrease and battery alternatives coming into the fore, projections of storage capacity are indeed quite possible. Assuming the electric industry can indeed upgrade its current infrastructure, new grid connections means that energy will be able to be shared more than ever, perhaps even traveling far distances during peak or be stored for non-peak use anywhere on the grid.

When storage costs and capacity align with market incentives, we may just see a renewable energy revolution, one that makes distributed generation mainstream for all consumers.

** Contributed from Forbes Energy

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Form Energy – A formidable (and notable) Startup Company Tackling the Toughest Problem(s) in Energy Storage


Industry veterans from Tesla, Aquion and A123 are trying to create cost-effective energy storage to last for weeks and months.

A crew of battle-tested cleantech veterans raised serious cash to solve the thorniest problem in clean energy.

As wind and solar power supply more and more of the grid’s electricity, seasonal swings in production become a bigger obstacle. A low- or no-carbon electricity system needs a way to dispatch clean energy on demand, even when wind and solar aren’t producing at their peaks.

Four-hour lithium-ion batteries can help on a given day, but energy storage for weeks or months has yet to arrive at scale.

Into the arena steps Form Energy, a new startup whose founders hope for commercialization not in a couple of years, but in the next decade.

More surprising, they’ve secured $9 million in Series A funding from investors who are happy to wait that long. The funders include both a major oil company and an international consortium dedicated to stopping climate change.

“Renewables have already gotten cheap,” said co-founder Ted Wiley, who worked at saltwater battery company Aquion prior to its bankruptcy. “They are cheaper than thermal generation. In order to foster a change, they need to be just as dependable and just as reliable as the alternative. Only long-duration storage can make that happen.”

It’s hard to overstate just how difficult it will be to deliver.

The members of Form will have to make up the playbook as they go along. The founders, though, have a clear-eyed view of the immense risks. They’ve systematically identified materials that they think can work, and they have a strategy for proving them out.

Wiley and Mateo Jaramillo, who built the energy storage business at Tesla, detailed their plans in an exclusive interview with Greentech Media, describing the pathway to weeks- and months-long energy storage and how it would reorient the entirety of the grid.

The team

Form Energy tackles its improbable mission with a team of founders who have already made their mark on the storage industry, and learned from its most notable failures.

There’s Jaramillo, the former theology student who built the world’s most recognizable stationary storage brand at Tesla before stepping away in late 2016. Soon after, he started work on the unsolved long-duration storage problem with a venture he called Verse Energy.

Separately, MIT professor Yet-Ming Chiang set his sights on the same problem with a new venture, Baseload Renewables. His battery patents made their mark on the industry and launched A123 and 24M. More recently, he’d been working with the Department of Energy’s Joint Center on Energy Storage Research on an aqueous sulfur formula for cost-effective long-duration flow batteries.

He brought on Wiley, who had helped found Aquion and served as vice president of product and corporate strategy before he stepped away in 2015. Measured in real deployments, Aquion led the pack of long-duration storage companies until it suddenly went bankrupt in March 2017.

Chiang and Wiley focused on storing electricity for days to weeks; Jaramillo was looking at weeks to months. MIT’s “tough tech” incubator The Engine put in $2 million in seed funding, while Jaramillo had secured a term sheet of his own. In an unusual move, they elected to join forces rather than compete.

Rounding out the team are Marco Ferrara, the lead storage modeler at IHI who holds two Ph.D.s; and Billy Woodford, an MIT-trained battery scientist and former student of Chiang’s.

The product

Form doesn’t think of itself as a battery company.

It wants to build what Jaramillo calls a “bidirectional power plant,” one which produces renewable energy and delivers it precisely when it is needed. This would create a new class of energy resource: “deterministic renewables.”

By making renewable energy dispatchable throughout the year, this resource could replace the mid-range and baseload power plants that currently burn fossil fuels to supply the grid.

Without such a tool, transitioning to high levels of renewables creates problems.

Countries could overbuild their renewable generation to ensure that the lowest production days still meet demand, but that imposes huge costs and redundancies. One famous 100 percent renewables scenario notoriously relied on a 15x increase in U.S. hydropower capacity to balance the grid in the winter.

The founders are remaining coy about the details of the technology itself.

Jaramillo and Wiley confirmed that both products in development use electrochemical energy storage. The one Chiang started developing uses aqueous sulfur, chosen for its abundance and cheap price relative to its storage ability. Jaramillo has not specified what he chose for seasonal storage.

What I did confirm is that they have been studying all the known materials that can store electricity, and crossing off the ones that definitely won’t work for long duration based on factors like abundance and fundamental cost per embodied energy.

“Because we’ve done the work looking at all the options in the electrochemical set, you can positively prove that almost all of them will not work,” Jaramillo said. “We haven’t been able to prove that these won’t work.”

The company has small-scale prototypes in the lab, but needs to prove that they can scale up to a power plant that’s not wildly expensive. It’s one thing to store energy for months, it’s another to do so at a cost that’s radically lower than currently available products.

“We can’t sit here and tell you exactly what the business model is, but we know that we’re engaged with the right folks to figure out what it is, assuming the technical work is successful,” Jaramillo said.

Given the diversity of power markets around the world, there likely won’t be one single business model.

The bidirectional power plant may bid in just like gas plants do today, but the dynamics of charging up on renewable energy could alter the way it engages with traditional power markets. Then again, power markets themselves could look very different by that time.

If the team can characterize a business case for the technology, the next step will be developing a full-scale pilot. If that works, full deployment comes next.

But don’t bank on that happening in a jiffy.

“It’s a decade-long project,” Jaramillo said. “The first half of that is spent on developing things and the second half is hopefully spent deploying things.”

The backer says

The Form founders had to find financial backers who were comfortable chasing a market that doesn’t exist with a product that won’t arrive for up to a decade.

That would have made for a dubious proposition for cleantech VCs a couple of years ago, but the funding landscape has shifted.

The Engine, an offshoot of MIT, started in 2016 to commercialize “tough tech” with long-term capital.

“We’re here for the long shots, the unimaginable, and the unbelievable,” its website proclaims. That group funded Baseload Renewables with $2 million before it merged into Form.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the entity Bill Gates launched to provide “patient, risk-tolerant capital” for clean energy game-changers, joined for the Series A.

San Francisco venture capital firm Prelude Ventures joined as well. It previously bet on next-gen battery companies like the secretive QuantumScape and Natron Energy.

The round also included infrastructure firm Macquarie Capital, which has shown an interest in owning clean energy assets for the long haul.

Saudi Aramco, one of the largest oil and gas supermajors in the world, is another backer.

Saudi Arabia happens to produce more sulfur than most other countries, as a byproduct of its petrochemical industry.

While the kingdom relies on oil revenues currently, the leadership has committed to investing billions of dollars in clean energy as a way to scope out a more sustainable energy economy.

“It’s very much consistent with all of the oil supermajors taking a hard look at what the future is,” Jaramillo said. “That entire sector is starting to look beyond petrochemicals.”

Indeed, oil majors have emerged as a leading source of cleantech investment in recent months.

BP re-entered the solar industry with a $200 million investment in developer Lightsource. Total made the largest battery acquisition in history when it bought Saft in 2016; it also has a controlling stake in SunPower. Shell has ramped up investments in distributed energy, including the underappreciated thermal energy storage subsegment.

The $9 million won’t put much steel in the ground, but it’s enough to fund the preliminary work refining the technology.

“We would like to come out of this round with a clear understanding of the market need and a clear understanding of exactly how our technology meets the market need,” Wiley said.

The many paths to failure

Throughout the conversation, Jaramillo and Wiley avoided the splashy rhetoric one often hears from new startups intent on saving the world.

Instead, they acknowledge that the project could fail for a multitude of reasons. Here are just a few possibilities:

• The technologies don’t achieve radically lower cost.

• They can’t last for the 20- to 25-year lifetime expected of infrastructural assets.

• Power markets don’t allow this type of asset to be compensated.

• Financiers don’t consider the product bankable.

• Societies build a lot more transmission lines.

• Carbon capture technology removes the greenhouse gases from conventional generation.

• Small modular nuclear plants get permitting, providing zero-carbon energy on demand.

• The elusive hydrogen economy materializes.

Those last few scenarios face problems of their own. Transmission lines cost billions of dollars and provoke fierce local opposition.

Carbon capture technology hasn’t worked economically yet, although many are trying.

Small modular reactors face years of scrutiny before they can even get permission to operate in the U.S.

The costliness of hydrogen has thwarted wide-scale adoption.

One thing the Form Energy founders are not worried about is that lithium-ion makes an end run around their technology on price. That tripped up the initial wave of flow batteries, Wiley noted.

“By the time they were technically mature enough to be deployed, lithium-ion had declined in price to be at or below the price that they could deploy at,” he said.

Those early flow batteries, though, weren’t delivering much longer duration than commercially available lithium-ion. When the storage has to last for weeks or months, the cost of lithium-ion components alone makes it prohibitive.

“Our view is, just from a chemical standpoint, [lithium-ion] is not capable of declining another order of magnitude, but there does seem to be a need for storage that is an order of magnitude cheaper and an order of magnitude longer in duration than is currently being deployed,” Wiley explained.

They also plan to avoid a scenario that helped bring down many a storage startup, Aquion and A123 included: investing lots of capital in a factory before the market had arrived.

Form Energy isn’t building small commoditized products; it’s constructing a power plant.

“When we say we’re building infrastructure, we mean that this is intended to be infrastructure,” Wiley said.

So far, at least, there isn’t much competition to speak of in the super-long duration battery market.

That could start to change. Now that brand-name investors have gotten involved, others are sure to take notice. The Department of Energy launched its own long-duration storage funding opportunity in May, targeting the 10- to 100-hour range.

It may be years before Form’s investigations produce results, if they ever do.

But the company has already succeeded in expanding the realm of what’s plausible and fundable in the energy storage industry.

* From Greentech Media J. Spector

“Back to School” – Blue Bird is taking its new all-electric buses on the road to convince schools to go electric


Blue Bird, an important American bus manufacturer better known for its school buses, is taking its new electric buses on the road to school districts and fleet operators around the country to convince them to go electric.

The company unveiled their electric buses at the STN Tradeshow in Reno last year.

They made electric versions of their Type A, Type C, and Type D school buses – Type D pictured above.

Blue Bird says that both buses should be able to achieve about 100 to 120 miles of range, which is generally plenty for most school bus routes.

School buses generally operate on relatively short routes and they are often parked for long periods of time as they are not used as intensively as urban transit buses or coaches, which gives them opportunities to charge.

When unveiling the vehicles last year, Blue Bird said that the range was enabled by a massive 150 kWh battery pack, but now they have updated the powertrain with a new 160 kWh pack. The company said that a smaller 100 kWh option will also be made available for less demanding routes.

They are currently doing “Ride & Drive events” all around the country. They went to California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Ohio.

Phil Horlock, president and CEO of Blue Bird Corporation:

After the outstanding response we saw in California, Blue Bird is excited to showcase our electric school buses to customers and drivers across North America, not as concept vehicles, but as a preview of our production buses later this fall. As both the pioneer and undisputed leader in alternative fuels, we are delighted to expand our “green” product offering by adding electric bus options in both Type C and D body styles. Our electric buses have received an Executive Order from the California Air Resources Board and both HVIP and TVIP listing, which qualify Blue Bird’s electric buses for grants available in California and New York, respectively. That’s great news for our customers and following our Ride & Drives in California, we are already receiving orders from school districts. We are open for business and taking orders!

They are currently in New York and then will head to Florida and later Ontario, Canada. You can follow their other events here.

According to the company, the first buses will be delivered at the end of the summer or early fall and they will deploy a Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) feature – meaning that the buses could be used as energy storage systems – next year.

Electrek’s Take

I think all-electric school buses are a no-brainer since urban transit buses are already starting to be financially viable solutions and school buses don’t need nearly as much energy capacity in most cases.

Even if the upfront cost might be higher, they should be able to compensate it with fuel and maintenance savings.

In the case of Blue Bird, a Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) feature is also a smart addition that could add value to school districts buying fleets since the buses are often parked for long periods of time and could be used as energy storage systems.

Lion, a Quebec-based school bus manufacturer, also offers an electric school bus option – not for Type D buses. Several other companies have now a few electric solutions, like Daimler’s first all-electric school bus, which is expected to enter production next year.

Paper Biomass Could Yield Lithium-Sulfur Batteries


Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A byproduct of the papermaking industry could be the answer to creating long-lasting lithium-sulfur batteries.

A team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has created a method to use sulfonated carbon waste called lignosulfonate to build a rechargeable lithium-sulfur battery.

Lignosulfonate is typically combusted on site, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere after sulfur has been captured for reuse. A battery built with the abundant and cheap material could be used to power big data centers, as well as provide a cheaper energy-storage option for microgrids and the traditional electric grid.

“Our research demonstrates the potential of using industrial paper-mill byproducts to design sustainable, low-cost electrode materials for lithium-sulfur batteries,” Trevor Simmons, a Rensselaer research scientist who developed the technology with his colleagues at the Center for Future Energy Systems (CFES), said in a statement.

Rechargeable batteries have two electrodes—a positive cathode and a negative anode. A liquid electrolyte is placed in between the electrodes to serve as a medium for the chemical reactions that produce electric current. In a lithium-sulfur battery, the cathode is made of a sulfur-carbon matrix and the anode is comprised of a lithium metal oxide.

Sulfur is nonconductive in its elemental form. When combined with carbon at elevated temperatures it becomes highly conductive, but can easily dissolve into a battery’s electrolyte, causing the electrodes on either side to deteriorate after only a few cycles.

Different forms of carbon, like nanotubes and complex carbon foams, have been tried to confine the sulfur in place, but have not been successful.

“Our method provides a simple way to create an optimal sulfur-based cathode from a single raw material,” Simmons said.

The research team developed a dark syrupy substance dubbed “brown liquor,” which they dried and then heated to about 700 degrees Celsius in a quartz tube furnace.

The high heat drives off most of the sulfur gas, while retaining some of the sulfur as polysulfides—chains of sulfur atoms—that are embedded deep within an activated carbon matrix. The heating process is then repeated until the correct amount of sulfur is trapped within the carbon matrix.

The researchers then ground up the material and mix it with an inert polymer binder to create a cathode coating on aluminum foil.

Thus far, the team has created a lithium-sulfur battery prototype the size of a watch battery that can cycle approximately 200 times.

They will now attempt to scale up the prototype to markedly increase the discharge rate and the battery’s cycle life.

“In repurposing this biomass, the researchers working with CFES are making a significant contribution to environmental preservation while building a more efficient battery that could provide a much-needed boost for the energy storage industry,” Martin Byrne, CFES director of business development, said in a statement.

Is This the Battery Boost We’ve Been Waiting For?


electric-car_technology_of-100599537-primary.idgeElectric cars are among the products that stand to benefit from new lithium-ion cells that could store as much as 40% more energy. A BMW i Vision Dynamics concept electric automobile, made by BMW AG, on display in September. PHOTO: SIMON DAWSON/BLOOMBERG

The batteries that power our modern world—from phones to dronesto electric cars—will soon experience something not heard of in years: Their capacity to store electricity will jump by double-digit percentages, according to researchers, developers and manufacturers.

The next wave of batteries, long in the pipeline, is ready for commercialization. This will mean, among other things, phones with 10% to 30% more battery life, or phones with the same battery life but faster and lighter or with brighter screens. We’ll see more cellular-connected wearables. As this technology becomes widespread, makers of electric vehicles and home storage batteries will be able to knock thousands of dollars off their prices over the next five to 10 years. Makers of electric aircraft will be able to explore new designs.

There is a limit to how far lithium-ion batteries can take us; surprisingly, it’s about twice their current capacity. The small, single-digit percentage improvements we see year after year typically are because of improvements in how they are made, such as small tweaks to their chemistry or new techniques for filling battery cells with lithium-rich electrolyte. What’s coming is a more fundamental change to the materials that make up a battery.

Equipment that Sila Nanotechnologies uses to manufacture material for lithium-silicon batteries.
Equipment that Sila Nanotechnologies uses to manufacture material for lithium-silicon batteries. PHOTO: SILA NANOTECHNOLOGIES

 

First, some science: Every lithium-ion battery has an anode and a cathode. Lithium ions traveling between them yield the electrical current that powers our devices. When a battery is fully charged, the anode has sucked up lithium ions like a sponge. And as it discharges, those ions travel through the electrolyte, to the cathode.

Typically, anodes in lithium-ion batteries are made of graphite, which is carbon in a crystalline form. While graphite anodes hold a substantial number of lithium ions, researchers have long known a different material, silicon, can hold 25 times as many.

The trick is, silicon brings with it countless technical challenges. For instance, a pure silicon anode will soak up so many lithium ions that it gets “pulverized” after a single charge, says George Crabtree, director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, established by the U.S. Department of Energy at the University of Chicago Argonne lab to accelerate battery research.

Current battery anodes can have small amounts of silicon, boosting their performance slightly. The amount of silicon in a company’s battery is a closely held trade secret, but Dr. Crabtree estimates that in any battery, silicon is at most 10% of the anode. In 2015, Tesla founder Elon Musk revealed that silicon in the Panasonic-made batteries of the auto maker’s Model S helped boost the car’s range by 6%.

Now, some startups say they are developing production-ready batteries with anodes that are mostly silicon. Sila Nanotechnologies,Angstron Materials , Enovix and Enevate, to name a few, offer materials for so-called lithium-silicon batteries, which are being tested by the world’s largest battery manufacturers, car companies and consumer-electronics companies.

Prototype batteries built at Sila with the startup's silicon-dominant anode technology.
Prototype batteries built at Sila with the startup’s silicon-dominant anode technology. PHOTO: SILA NANOTECHNOLOGIES

For Sila, in Alameda, Calif., the secret is nanoparticles lots of empty space inside. This way, the lithium can be absorbed into the particle without making the anode swell and shatter, says Sila Chief Executive Gene Berdichevsky. Cells made with Sila’s particles could store 20% to 40% more energy, he adds.

Angstron Materials, in Dayton, Ohio, makes similar claims about its nanoparticles for lithium-ion batteries.

Dr. Crabtree says this approach is entirely plausible, though there’s a trade-off: By allowing more room inside the anode for lithium ions, manufacturers must produce a larger anode. This anode takes up more space in the battery, allowing less overall space to increase capacity. This is why the upper bound of increased energy density using this approach is about 40%.

The big challenge, as ever, is getting to market, says Dr. Crabtree.

Sila’s clients include BMW and Amperex Technology , one of the world’s largest makers of batteries for consumer electronics, including both Apple ’s iPhone and Samsung ’s Galaxy S8 phone.

China-based Amperex is also an investor in Sila, but Amperex Chief Operating Officer Joe Kit Chu Lam says his company is securing several suppliers of the nanoparticles necessary to produce lithium-silicon batteries. Having multiple suppliers is essential for securing enough volume, he says.

This nanoparticle of carbon and silicon, made by Global Graphene Group, could help lithium-ion batteries store significantly more energy.
This nanoparticle of carbon and silicon, made by Global Graphene Group, could help lithium-ion batteries store significantly more energy. PHOTO: GLOBAL GRAPHENE GROUP

The first commercial consumer devices to have higher-capacity lithium-silicon batteries will likely be announced in the next two years, says Mr. Lam, who expects a wearable to be first. Other companies claim a similar timetable for consumer rollout.

Enevate produces complete silicon-dominant anodes for car manufacturers. CEO Robert Rango says its technology increases the range of electric vehicles by 30% compared with conventional lithium-ion batteries.

BMW plans to incorporate Sila’s silicon anode technology in a plug-in electric vehicle by 2023, says a company spokesman. BMW expects an increase of 10% to 15% in battery-pack capacity in a single leap. While this is the same technology destined for mobile electronics, the higher volumes and higher safety demands of the auto industry mean slower implementation there. In 2017, BMW said it would invest €200 million ($246 million) in its own battery-research center.

Enovix, whose investors include Intel and Qualcomm, has pioneered a different kind of 3-D structure for its batteries, says CEO Harrold Rust. With much higher energy density and anodes that are almost pure silicon, the company claims its batteries would contain 30% to 50% more energy in the size needed for a mobile phone, and two to three times as much in the size required for a smartwatch.

The downside: producing these will require a significant departure from the current manufacturing process.

Even though it’s a significant advance, to get beyond what’s possible with lithium-silicon batteries will require a change in battery composition—such as lithium-sulfur chemistry or solid-state batteries. Efforts to make these technologies viable are at a much earlier stage, however, and it isn’t clear when they’ll arrive.

Meanwhile, we can look forward to the possibility of a thinner or more capable Apple Watch, wireless headphones we don’t have to charge as often and electric vehicles that are actually affordable. The capacity of lithium-ion batteries has increased threefold since their introduction in 1991, and at every level of improvement, new and unexpected applications, devices and business opportunities pop up.

 

Corrections & Amplifications 

Sila Nanotechnologies produces nanoparticles that contain silicon and other components, but don’t include graphite. A previous version of this column incorrectly described nanoparticles as a graphite-silicon composite. An earlier version also incorrectly identified Angstron Materials as Angstrom Materials. (Angstron error corrected: March 18, 2018. Nanoparticles error corrected: March 19, 2018

 

Appeared in the March 19, 2018, print edition as ‘Battery Life Powers Ahead Toward Sizable Gains.’

Have you seen Tenka Energy’s YouTube Video?  Watch Here:

Why Your EV Battery Will Last Longer than Your Mobile Phone Battery


How Usage and Management Affect Longevity

Car makers are extending the driving range of the electric vehicle to resemble a gasoline-powered car. This requires larger batteries that grow exponentially with the distance driven. Figure 1 illustrates the estimated driving ranges with different battery systems and hydrogen as a function of size.

Doubling battery size does not extend the driving range linearly and the vehicle becomes inefficient with increasing weight. Li-ion performs better than lead acid in energy density, but no battery meets hydrogen with a fuel cell, or fossil fuel feeding the traditional internal combustion engine (not shown). Extending the driving range with a larger tank is almost negligible compared to oversizing a battery.

There is a threshold as to battery size and weight in a vehicle; going beyond a critical point has a negative return. The vehicle becomes environmentally unsustainable.

Figure 1: Battery size as a function of driving range.

Oversizing the battery does not expand the driving range linearly.

Note: 35MPa hydrogen tank refers to 5,000psi.

Source:  International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 34, 6005-6020 (2009)

Batteries have low calorific value compared to fossil fuel and it makes little sense to power a freight train, ocean-going ship or large airplane with batteries. A study reveals that replacing kerosene with batteries could keep an aircraft airborne for less than 10 minutes. Cost is another issue and batteries take long to charge. A fill-up that is quickly and conveniently as topping a tank with liquid or gaseous fuel is impossible with an electrochemical device.

Charging also needs high power. An ultra-fast EV charge draws the equivalent electrical power of five households. Charging a fleet of EVs could dim a city.

Conversely, fossil fuel cannot match the qualities of a battery that is clean, quiet, and has an instant start-up with the flick of a switch. Although fossil fuel is cheap and readily available, frivolous burning of this resource must stop to save our planet. Finding alternatives that are environmentally friendly, economical and durable is a challenge; the battery fills this requirement only in part.

Advancements made in battery technology in the last 20 years are insufficient to replace fossil fuel. Pushing the boundaries of the battery reminds us of its many limitations, which include low energy density; long charging times, high cost and a short life before the packs quits, often without warning. Table 2 illustrates the energy densities of common fuels, including the battery.

Fuel – Energy by mass (Wh/kg)

Hydrogen (350 bar)

39,300

Gasoline, diesel, natural gas (250 bar)

12,000–13,000

Body fat

10,500

Black coal (solid), Methanol

6,000–7,000

Wood (average)

2,300

Lithium-ion battery

100–250

Lead acid battery

40

Compressed air

34

Supercapacitor

5

Table 2: Energy densities of fossil fuel and batteries.

Fossil fuel carries many times the energy per mass compared to batteries, but electrical power can be utilized more efficiently than burning fossil fuel.

Compiled from various sources. Values are approximate

Fossil fuel carries many times the energy per mass compared to batteries, but electrical power can be utilized more efficiently than burning fossil fuel.

Compiled from various sources. Values are approximate.

How to Prolong Battery Life

Driving range is a key consideration when buying an EV. Cost also plays a role but seldom is battery life mentioned. This may not be the concern for a tire-kicker, nor does the salesman want to alarm the buyer of possible service issues later on. What sells is the joy of electric propulsion that is clean, quiet and exhilarating. Taxpayer subsidies also help.

Batteries have a defined life span and this is apparent with the decreasing runtime in our mobile phones. EV advocates may argue that a smartphone battery cannot be compared to an EV battery; these products are totally different.

That is true, but ironically both use lithium-ion systems. This article looks at the battery in an EV and mobile phone in terms of runtime and longevity.

The battery in the mobile phone is consumer grade, optimized for maximum runtime at low cost. the EV battery, on the other hand, is made to industry standards with longevity in mind. The dissimilarities do not stop there and a key difference is how the energy is dispensed.

A mobile phone gets charged at the end of a day and the stored energy can be fully utilized until the battery goes empty. In other words, the user has full access to the stored energy. When the battery is new, the phone provides good runtimes but this decreases with use. In this full cycle mode, Li-ion delivers about 500 cycles.

The user adjusts to the decreasing runtime, and being a consumer product, the end of battery life often corresponds with a broken screen or the introduction of a new model. Built-in obsolescence serves well for device manufacturers and retailers.

The EV battery also ages and the capacity fades, but the EV manufacturer must guarantee the battery for eight years. This is done by oversizing the battery. When the battery is new, only about half of the available energy is utilized. This is done by charging the pack to only 80% instead of a full charge, and discharging to 30% when the available driving range is spent. As the battery fades, more of the battery storage is demanded. The driving range stays constant but unknown to the driver, the battery is gradually charged to a higher level and discharged deeper to compensate for the fade.

Once the battery capacity has dropped to 80%, the oversize protection is consumed and the battery maintenance system (BMS) applies a full charge and discharge. This exposes the EV battery to a similar stress level of a mobile phone and the driver begins noticing reduced driving range. Battery replacement may become necessary but the cost will be steep and higher than a combustion engine.

The EV begins to impersonate a mobile phone in terms of obsolescence when the battery fades. This may be the time when the buyer is flooded with faster and flashier models; something the smartphone user is all too familiar with, but price will be the shocker. It’s still too early to tell how long an EV battery will last. Some say the battery will outlive the car and find secondary application in energy storage systems.

Driving habits and temperature also affects aging, a characteristic that came to light when EV batteries operating in a warm climate faded prematurely. It was learned that keeping a battery at elevated temperature and high state-of-charge causes more stress than aggressive driving. In other words, keeping a fully charged Li-ion at 30°C (86°F) and above hastens the aging process more than driving at a moderate temperature. Many EV batteries include liquid cooling to reduce heat-related battery fade.

Harsh loading also reduces battery life. Because of its large size, the EV battery is only being stressed moderately, even during acceleration. In comparison, the mobile phone draws continuous high current from a small battery when transmitting and crunching data. This puts more stress on a mobile phone battery than driving an EV. A battery is also negatively impacted by the pulsed load of a mobile phone rather than the DC load of an EV. (See BU-501: Basic about Discharging.)

The EV does not disclose the battery capacity to the driver and only reveals state-of-charge (SoC) in the form of driving range. This is done in part for fear of customer complaints should the capacity drop below the mandated level at the end of the warranty period. Less knowledge is often better. The same restriction applies to a mobile phone battery, although access codes for service personnel are often available. A new battery has (should have) a capacity of 100%; 80% is the typical end of battery life.

Dynamic Stress Tests (DST) on Li-ion

All Li-ion batteries fade with time and use, whether in consumer products or enduring industrial use. Figure 3 explores the longevity of Li-ion batteries with different charge and discharge end points.

Figure 3: Capacity loss of Li-ion as a function of charge and discharge cut-off points.

Limiting a full charge and discharge prolongs battery life but lowers utilization.

Source: ResearchGate – Modeling of Lithium-Ion Battery Degradation for Cell Life Assessment.  ResearchGate is a social networking site for scientists and researchers founded in 2008 to share papers, ask and answer questions, and to find collaborators.

The Li-ion batteries in the above table perform well but the largest capacity loss occurs with the pack that is charged to 100% and discharged to 25% (black stars). Cycling between 85% and 25% (green) provides longer service life than charging to 100% and discharging to 50% (dark blue).

The lowest capacity loss occurs when charging Li-ion to 75% and discharging to 65%. This, however, takes oversizing to the extreme and the battery is underutilized. Such practice is applied in satellites to achieve high cycle life and less for terrestrial applications as it increases cost, size and weight beyond a reasonable point of return. The dynamic stress test does not include a battery that is charged to 100% and discharged to zero, as is the case with a mobile phone. A full cycle provides the best battery utilization but reduces longevity.

Batteries tested in a laboratory do not always replicate true life conditions, and the results tend to be better than experienced in field use. In a lab environment, batteries are cycled over a period of a few months, often at controlled temperature and with an ideal charge and discharge regime. Random usage in real life adds the exposure to heat, vibration and harsh charging practices.

Summary

Batteries do not have a fixed life span, nor do they die suddenly but fade gradually. Environmental conditions, and not cycling alone, govern longevity. The user has some control to prolong battery life by avoiding ultra-fast charges, operating at moderate temperature and avoiding full charges. Avoiding harsh loads and full discharges also helps. Heat is the enemy of most batteries and the worst condition is keeping a fully charged Li-ion battery at elevated temperatures. Even with the best of care, a battery only lives for a season and the pack will eventually face retirement when power fades.

About the Author

Isidor Buchmann is the founder and CEO of Cadex Electronics Inc. For three decades, Buchmann has studied the behavior of rechargeable batteries in practical, everyday applications, has written award-winning articles including the best-selling book “Batteries in a Portable World,” now in its fourth edition. Cadex specializes in the design and manufacturing of battery chargers, analyzers and monitoring devices. For more information on batteries, visit www.batteryuniversity.com; product information is on www.cadex.com.

MIT: Making renewable power more viable for the grid


Making renewable power more viable for the grid

“Air-breathing” battery can store electricity for months, for about a fifth the cost of current technologies.

Wind and solar power are increasingly popular sources for renewable energy. But intermittency issues keep them from connecting widely to the U.S. grid: They require energy-storage systems that, at the cheapest, run about $100 per kilowatt hour and function only in certain locations.

Now MIT researchers have developed an “air-breathing” battery that could store electricity for very long durations for about one-fifth the cost of current technologies, with minimal location restraints and zero emissions. The battery could be used to make sporadic renewable power a more reliable source of electricity for the grid.

For its anode, the rechargeable flow battery uses cheap, abundant sulfur dissolved in water. An aerated liquid salt solution in the cathode continuously takes in and releases oxygen that balances charge as ions shuttle between the electrodes. Oxygen flowing into the cathode causes the anode to discharge electrons to an external circuit. Oxygen flowing out sends electrons back to the anode, recharging the battery.

“This battery literally inhales and exhales air, but it doesn’t exhale carbon dioxide, like humans — it exhales oxygen,” says Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT and co-author of a paper describing the battery.

The research appears today in the journal Joule.

The battery’s total chemical cost — the combined price of the cathode, anode, and electrolyte materials — is about 1/30th the cost of competing batteries, such as lithium-ion batteries. Scaled-up systems could be used to store electricity from wind or solar power, for multiple days to entire seasons, for about $20 to $30 per kilowatt hour.

Co-authors with Chiang on the paper are: first author Zheng Li, who was a postdoc at MIT during the research and is now a professor at Virginia Tech; Fikile R. Brushett, the Raymond A. and Helen E. St. Laurent Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering; research scientist Liang Su; graduate students Menghsuan Pan and Kai Xiang; and undergraduate students Andres Badel, Joseph M. Valle, and Stephanie L. Eiler.

Finding the right balance

Development of the battery began in 2012, when Chiang joined the Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, a five-year project that brought together about 180 researchers to collaborate on energy-saving technologies. Chiang, for his part, focused on developing an efficient battery that could reduce the cost of grid-scale energy storage.

A major issue with batteries over the past several decades, Chiang says, has been a focus on synthesizing materials that offer greater energy density but are very expensive. The most widely used materials in lithium-ion batteries for cellphones, for instance, have a cost of about $100 for each kilowatt hour of energy stored.

“This meant maybe we weren’t focusing on the right thing, with an ever-increasing chemical cost in pursuit of high energy-density,” Chiang says. He brought the issue to other MIT researchers. “We said, ‘If we want energy storage at the terawatt scale, we have to use truly abundant materials.’”

The researchers first decided the anode needed to be sulfur, a widely available byproduct of natural gas and petroleum refining that’s very energy dense, having the lowest cost per stored charge next to water and air. The challenge then was finding an inexpensive liquid cathode material that remained stable while producing a meaningful charge.

That seemed improbable — until a serendipitous discovery in the lab.

On a short list of candidates was a compound called potassium permanganate. If used as a cathode material, that compound is “reduced” — a reaction that draws ions from the anode to the cathode, discharging electricity. However, the reduction of the permanganate is normally impossible to reverse, meaning the battery wouldn’t be rechargeable.

Still, Li tried. As expected, the reversal failed. However, the battery was, in fact, recharging, due to an unexpected oxygen reaction in the cathode, which was running entirely on air. “I said, ‘Wait, you figured out a rechargeable chemistry using sulfur that does not require a cathode compound?’ That was the ah-ha moment,” Chiang says.

Using that concept, the team of researchers created a type of flow battery, where electrolytes are continuously pumped through electrodes and travel through a reaction cell to create charge or discharge.

The battery consists of a liquid anode (anolyte) of polysulfide that contains lithium or sodium ions, and a liquid cathode (catholyte) that consists of an oxygenated dissolved salt, separated by a membrane.

Upon discharging, the anolyte releases electrons into an external circuit and the lithium or sodium ions travel to the cathode.

At the same time, to maintain electroneutrality, the catholyte draws in oxygen, creating negatively charged hydroxide ions. When charging, the process is simply reversed. Oxygen is expelled from the catholyte, increasing hydrogen ions, which donate electrons back to the anolyte through the external circuit.

“What this does is create a charge balance by taking oxygen in and out of the system,” Chiang says.

Because the battery uses ultra-low-cost materials, its chemical cost is one of the lowest — if not the lowest — of any rechargeable battery to enable cost-effective long-duration discharge. Its energy density is slightly lower than today’s lithium-ion batteries.

“It’s a creative and interesting new concept that could potentially be an ultra-low-cost solution for grid storage,” says Venkat Viswanathan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who studies energy-storage systems.

Lithium-sulfur and lithium-air batteries — where sulfur or oxygen are used in the cathode — exist today. But the key innovation of the MIT research, Viswanathan says, is combining the two concepts to create a lower-cost battery with comparable efficiency and energy density. The design could inspire new work in the field, he adds: “It’s something that immediately captures your imagination.”

Making renewables more reliable

The prototype is currently about the size of a coffee cup. But flow batteries are highly scalable, Chiang says, and cells can be combined into larger systems.

As the battery can discharge over months, the best use may be for storing electricity from notoriously unpredictable wind and solar power sources. “The intermittency for solar is daily, but for wind it’s longer-scale intermittency and not so predictable.

When it’s not so predictable you need more reserve — the capability to discharge a battery over a longer period of time — because you don’t know when the wind is going to come back next,” Chiang says. Seasonal storage is important too, he adds, especially with increasing distance north of the equator, where the amount of sunlight varies more widely from summer to winter.

Chiang says this could be the first technology to compete, in cost and energy density, with pumped hydroelectric storage systems, which provide most of the energy storage for renewables around the world but are very restricted by location.

“The energy density of a flow battery like this is more than 500 times higher than pumped hydroelectric storage. It’s also so much more compact, so that you can imagine putting it anywhere you have renewable generation,” Chiang says.

The research was supported by the Department of Energy.