Saturday, September 26, 2009

Can Lithium batteries solve our oil addiction?

I have thought long and hard and read all I can on whether there will be cheaper lithium batteries in five years that make plug in cars affordable. Alas my friends the lithium plug in hybrid or all electric plug in is another thermodynamic dead end. A company A 123 went public this week and their stock soared. Their hype is that they will make affordable lithium batteries for vehicles. If I was a stock analyst and I am not I would say short this stock. They will short circuit and be a goner in a few years. This is not about Google or a wonder drug company this all about electrochemistry and thermodynamics and the truth is one needs a certain mass of electrolyte, anodes, cathodes, spacers, housing , wiring etc. to get a certain amount of stored energy. My research shows that the raw materials make up 75% to 80% of the total cost of the lithium battery. The materials will actually have inflationary pressure on their prices and if anything 80% of the battery cost will trend upward. The other 20% that is labor, capital, and non raw material inputs may experience a learning rate and economies of scale may lessen this small fraction of the total battery cost, however the raw material costs are just too large a fraction of total cost to allow a learning curve.

Technological novices will argue that alternate cheaper materials will be found and that there will be a way of reducing the quantity of raw materials. I argue that we have found the least expensive materials that actually work electrochemically and that less materials just means less power stored in the battery. Last week A123 put a Google ad on my site. I have no control over who advertises. A 123 has this battery pack as an after market add on for a standard Prius to make it plug in and capable of going 15 miles on the battery. I called the company and got the following information. The battery is a 5 kilowatt hour battery. It costs $11,000 and if I drove 12,000 miles a year with their system I would save approximately 180 gallons a year of gasoline compared with the base Prius. OK I will need to pay the electric company something like $200 per year for the electricity and I save $540 a year in gasoline at $3 per gallon. So my net savings are $340 a year. I need more than 30 years to pay for the batteries. But the story gets worse the batteries are only good for a maximum of 8 years. So every 8 years I pay $11,000 to get back $2,720. I think A123 should change their name to the Made Off Battery Company.

I have been trying for four months to see my congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, the ranking democrat on the house sub-committee on energy technology. I have been blocked and stonewalled by her staffers. Just today I wrote to the Committee Against Government Waste http://www.cagw.org/ as their head had commented on the waste of tax payer dollars money that the Feds just gave to Fisker a plug in hybrid company funded by Alfalfa Gore and his VC group. Here is a copy of my email to CAGW:

I am outraged by the waste of tax payers’ dollars on plug in vehicles. I am a chemical engineer and a pretty well known expert in thermodynamics. I blog at http://www.greenexplored.com/ The Lithium plug in will be as big a waste as Fuel Cells, ethanol and bio-diesel. I am convinced that batteries will cost more not less in ten years. These proofs of concept are just pure ways of giving money away. Lithium Ion batteries are expensive because the raw materials are expensive. Raw materials account for 80% of the cost and the other 20% may have some economies of scale but the inflation in raw material costs will simply overwhelm the decrease in costs from economies of scale. The plug in electric vehicles or hybrids are a betamax technology. Great play things for a few rich folks. We need many diesel vehicles, we need many basic hybrids with small batteries, we need an energy policy based on the laws of thermodynamics not the laws of the Washington pig farm. I think I can help you with the supporting science, engineering, thermodynamics and get our voice out there. For four months I have been asking for an audience with my congresswoman. One Lynn Woolsey who is the ranking democrat on the house sub-committee for energy technology. I have been given the run around. No doubt because she has to follow her party and follow her guru one Alfalfa Gore. please go to http://www.greenexplored.com/ and then let's chat. I have no commercial interest in any technology, business, or organization involved in energy. I only care about the country and the planet. Lindsay Leveen The Green Machine

15 comments:

  1. Lindsay... You're a bit short of a complete analysis on the battery cost... A li-ion battery stores 150 W-h per kg of battery... A li-ion battery for a laptop computer RETAILS for $60 and has 0.4kg of battery... So, in theory, I could string together 82 laptop batteries ($5,000 RETAIL) to get the 33kg of battery needed to get 5kW... From this crude analysis, I think it's safe to conclude the actual marginal cost of the A123 battery is somewhere south of $3,000... With competition in the li-ion market, the cost to end-users will be much closer to the marginal cost... And I'll bet the price of gasoline will easily top $5 per gallon within the next 5 years... So, I agree the current cost for the A123 battery is exorbitant, but the next wave of manufacturers will make the li-ion technology more cost-effective than gasoline within 2 or 3 years... Hook-up the li-ion battery to a solar panel array and watch out... Maybe you read the article in the Chron about Tesla and Rabobank...

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  2. Lindsay, a friend of Larry James' here. Can you explain what you mean by needing many diesel vehicles? I'm buying one this week as a matter of fact. Clearly they are more efficient engines thermodynamically, but how many do we need to make a difference? Also, what are your thoughts on Pickens Plan and the Nat Gas Act trying to get CNG vehicles more widespread? ~Mark B.

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  3. And another thing... Tesla will be coming out with an all-electric Sedan (Model S) in 2010... It will be expensive ($49,900 including $7,500 tax credit) but a bargain compared to the $74,000 Audi A6 TDI diesel which is comparable in aesthetics and performance... A total cost comparison between Audi A6 (35 mpg combo) and Tesla S (12 miles per hour charged at 3.6 kW) - Assumptions: 5 years of operation, 12,0000 miles travelled per year, $5,250 for 3.6kW solar panel array, $0.08 per kW-h (avg. cost over 5 years), $4 per gallon diesel (avg. cost over 5 years), $225 per year in oil changes for A6... Audi A6 $82,000 total costs, Tesla S $44,000 (assumes $750 in annual payments from PG&E for surplus electricity)... One can choose a VW Jetta TDI (35 mpg) for $26,000 purchase price and $34,000 total cost...

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  4. Blair....Jetta TDI milage estimates by EPA are on the low side. Most people are routinely averaging over 40 mpg, some around 50 mpg. This is the car I'm buying this week (used) so I've done a lot of research into it -thought you would want to know.~M

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  5. Brilliant comments. Blair the A123 battery actually holds 80 watt hours per kg and so do all of the real li batteiries out there Therfore need about $10,000 of retail batteries. Note not all the watt hours can be used. Second 3.6 kw of solar panel before the tax credits cost somewhere north of $25,000 and about $16,000 after my tax dollars are given to a few lucky ones. Third Mark is right in his assesment of the Jetta TDI. Fourth the Tesla sedan will flop and will cost at least $30,000 more than the $49,000 target. My half billion dollars of tax dollars will be wated and the half billion given to Fisker will be wasted and the country will be no better off. Let's say the feds said they would give $2,000 per car to a motorist to by a diesel like the Jetta. This sis the added cost of diesel versus gasoline. Let's say that 1 million Jettas are bought and they get 40 mpg versus 20 mpg. This means each owner will save 300 gallons if they travel 12,000 miles ayear. This is 7 barrels per motorist or 7 million barrels for the million motorists. This will save about 0.2% of the oil used in private transportation. Not a big figure but much bigger than the Cash for clunkers crap we just did where only 700,000 vehicles that got and extra 3 mpg were bought for $3 billion. Blair I am glad I got your juices going but don't short circuit. Mark you are on the mark

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  6. Lindsay... Though I play one on TV, I'm not an electrical engineer but I know that a lithium-ion battery that weighs 45g and provides a nominal 3.6V with 2450mAh capacity is much greater than 80kw-h/kg... And this capacity is similar for every application of lithium-ion battery technology... It is true the A123 5kW pack weighs in at 85kg but the actual weight attributed to the 616 core cells is about half that... As far as solar panel cost, I admit I was using wholesale panel cost but for $25,000, I can get a 5kW to 6kW fully-installed system... Look, we're gonna use up all the fossil fuels well before the sun gives out... Who cares about global warming? We can face the music now and begin to change our primary energy source from oil to sun, when it is relatively painless... Or wait until another billion or so folks inhabit the earth and make it extremely difficult to change... That's an energy policy... Everything else is just whistling past the graveyard...

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  7. Mark... The EPA mileage standards are generally very generous not low... Yes, individual drivers can get much better mileage than the ratings but the overwhelming majority of drivers will not exceed those ratings... Doubt that? Drive 55 mph on a CA highway and count the number of cars that zoom by you... I've put 185,000 miles on a VW Passat and love the car... I'm sure you'll enjoy your Jetta...

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  8. Blair 3.6 volt times 2450 mah = 8820 milliwatt houts or only 8 watt hours you are so confused and even used 80 kw h per kg. Gasoline has about 33 kwh per gallon or about 9 kwh per kg. Lithium batteries in acual use between charge and discharge on a car will be 80 watt hours per kg. so the gasoline has 110 times the energy. The charge discharge efficiency for electric vehicles is 85% and the efficiency of a gasoline is 20% so the 110 is reduced to 25 times the distance kg for kg gasoline for battery. I would rather have a small engine, a small car and gasoline anytime until we are down to the last drop of oil then I will walk

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  9. Lindsay, why do you call biodiesel a waste and promote diesel engines a few lines later? What should fuel the diesel engines other than diesel from renewable resources? BTW, wasn't Video2000 considered better than VHS or betamax? It is not always the best technology that wins.

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  10. My lightweight solar vehicle project, that obviously requires less battery capacity could feasably turn opinions. see: www.xlr8sun.com Why this isn't happening in my opinion is not that retooling Detroit would be too expensive; they don't want to put less into their research and production methods, they want to keep selling as much steel as they can recycle, keep their heavier technology partners in the game, and/or buy out or stifle any other technology.

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  11. One thing I haven't heard is the how a batteries performance is effected over a range of temperatures and environments. Is there any data on how these electric cars perform over reliability standards? I would imagine a batteries reliability and life cycle would be impacted by different environmental conditions. How does the overall performance of batteries compare to traditional fossil fuel engines over the life of the vehicle? The cost analysis seems rather unpredictable because we don't know what price of fossil fuels will 5 or 10 years from now, and where the recharging energy will come from. The infrastructure for green energy is not producing the level of power that traditional power plants produce today.

    Then there is the added weight of batteries on cars and the impact on the roads. The cost of repair and maintenance of highway infrastructure I don't think has been fully predicted, where will the revenue come from? Most road maintenance revenues come from gasoline taxes today.

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