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« Food fight in Dodge City - Josh 350 | Main | The last chance saloons »
Friday
Oct302015

Battery hype

UK readers might recall the episode of Top Gear, when Jeremy Clarkson drove from London to Edinburgh on a single tank of fuel. Today there are claims floating round that electric cars will soon be able to achieve the same feat.

A breakthrough in electrochemistry at Cambridge university could lead the way to rechargeable super-batteries that pack five times more energy into a given space than today’s best batteries, greatly extending the range of electric vehicles and potentially transforming the economics of electricity storage.

This sounds like great stuff, although if you read further, Clare Grey, the researcher whose breakthrough this is, says that there are a lot of caveats:

We haven’t solved all the problems inherent to this chemistry.

...at least another decade of work is likely to be required to turn it into a commercial battery

She also claims that the battery can be recharged 2000 times, which, if it can also take a car the 400 miles from London to Edinburgh on a single charge, would give it a theoretical lifetime range of 800,000 miles.

I'm not sure I'm going to hold my breath here.

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Reader Comments (127)

Upgraded Tesla roadster can already do 400 miles on a charge.

http://fortune.com/2015/09/01/tesla-roadster-battery-upgrade/

You guys need to try to pay more attention. This isn't the C20.

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered Commentergubulgaria

the battery can be recharged 2000 times, which, if it can also take a car the 400 miles from London to Edinburgh on a single charge, would give it a theoretical lifetime range of 800,000 miles

Very generous. My laptop battery lasted for 5 hours per charge when new. Now it's closer to 1.5 hours

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterTDK

It would be nice to have a non-paywalled reference... here, for instance...

http://www.cityam.com/227688/cambridge-scientists-make-breakthrough-on-super-battery-which-can-power-a-car-from-london-to-edinburgh

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

I confidently predict (97%) that I won't see it in my lifetime.

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:42 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

If this could be achieved then at face value there's little to dislike and lots going for it. (Imagine walking through town with zero car exhaust fumes)

The problem has always been these schemes have been over-promoted before they're viable, which is exactly what we're seeing with renewables in general.

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterCheshireRed

It appears to be a close race as to which will meet the market earlier; a practical battery for automotive transport with the same long term cost as present IC technology, and commercial hot nuclear fusion. The latter is always 50 years away!

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

A breakthrough in electrochemistry at Cambridge university could lead the way to rechargeable super-batteries that pack five times more energy into a given space...


could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could could ....

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:43 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Even assuming she's right (and she deserves credit for including the caveats in the current climate) the elephant in the room is "where is the electricity for all these super-duper cars going to come from?" Unicorn farts is about the best suggestion I've seen mooted so far.
On the assumption that this is all to do with getting rid of fossil fuels, the only reliable source for self-contained electric motive power is nuclear which most eco-luddites hate almost as much as they hate oil companies.
I'm sure that technological advance will bring us kit like this sometime in the future; I'm just not sure that anyone is actually researching how to supply the electricity that will be needed to run it.

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:43 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

An extra problem with driving around Edinburgh is that you also need heat in the car for many months of the year. In proper North American winters even being as hard as a Geordie won't save you.

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

@gulbulgaria
"Upgraded Tesla roadster can already do 400 miles on a charge"
And the car costs under 30k, oh no, wait, it doesn't. And cost? The battery pack is being sold for.... wait for it... $29k. Yup, $29k just for the battery and no indication if this is a subsidised price or not. Oh so very mass market. Not.

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Crook

This looks to be about Lithium-Air batteries. First proposed in 1970 according to ever reliable Wikipeadia. Good piece on the science here

http://sciencewatch.com/articles/lithium-air-batteries-are-great-so-are-their-problems

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterbilbo

every field that occupies newsmedia space with breakthrough this and breakthrough that is only going to be ready for mass production in the far future, most likely the one that never comes

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:56 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Nitpicking, the Top Gear challenge was in fact to drive from London to Edinburgh and back on one tank of fuel, a round trip of 800 miles.

Series 4, episode 4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Gear_%28series_4%29

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil D

Upgraded Tesla roadster can already do 400 miles on a charge.

http://fortune.com/2015/09/01/tesla-roadster-battery-upgrade/

I confidently predict (97%) that I won't see it in my lifetime.
Philip Bratby

The problem has always been these schemes have been over-promoted before they're viable, which is exactly what we're seeing with renewables in general.
CheshireRed

could could could could could could could could ....
Martin A

I'm sure that technological advance will bring us kit like this sometime in the future
Mike Jackson

And you wonder why people call you 'deniers'.

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered Commentergubulgaria

gubulgaria, the Tesla, the car for those whose other car is a Leah Jet. The car that has a battery that is a write off if you run out of juice.

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I did once drive from the south of England to Edinburgh on a single tank of petrol, but forgot to fill up again, before I headed back south. That made for a fairly nervous drive down the A74, looking out for the next petrol station. It didn't help that, when I reached it, Annandale Water services had only diesel.

As it happened, I limped into Lockerbie and never quite conked out, but the problem with battery power, surely, is that blind faith in the technology would leave a lot of people stranded on the A74, or wherever. Beyond the optimistic predictions of the manufacturers, what would justify drivers in believing that their electric cars would genuinely complete the stated 400 (or whatever) miles? I've never known a battery indicator in which I'd want to place much faith. I used to have a laptop which never displayed more than a 97% battery charge. At that level, it claimed to be able to last five hours. Once the stated battery level fell to 92%, the claimed life expectancy of the charge was only two and a half hours.

I should not be in a big hurry to drive four hundred miles, with only an optimistic researcher's assurance that I had any chance of arriving.

Incidentally, when I was recently driving to Scotland, I noticed that the Westmorland services had a charging-point for electric cars. Just one charging-point, mind, so I suppose the trick is to get there first.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

Roadster owners willing to plunk down $29,000 can upgrade the sports car’s battery.

Tesla Motors’ first car, the Roadster, has taken a backseat of sorts to its newer siblings, the Model S and the much-anticipated Model X sport-utility vehicle. But now owners of the luxury automaker’s first all-electric car have something to get excited about as well.

For $29,000, Roadster owners can buy a new, improved battery that stores roughly 40% more energy than the original. While there’s a slight increase in the battery weight, the total range increases over 35% from the original Roadster, Tesla says.

Tesla TSLA -0.92% started taking reservations for the Roadster 3.0 battery upgrade this week, a spokesperson confirmed. Interested buyers must put down a $5,000 deposit.

The Roadster 3.0 package was announced in December 2014 but is just now becoming available. Tesla targeted three areas in its upgrade: batteries, aerodynamics, and rolling resistance. Together they can achieve a predicted 40% to 50% improvement on range between the original Roadster and Roadster 3.0, the company said in its December blog post. Under a certain set of speeds and driving conditions the Roadster 3.0 can be driven 400 miles on a single charge, the company says.

http://fortune.com/2015/09/01/tesla-roadster-battery-upgrade/

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:18 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

@gubulgaria

And you wonder why people call you 'deniers'....

Quite correct. They ought to call us 'Cassandras' - the prophets who always get everything right, but are never believed....

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

People are right to be sceptical and not overly enthusiastic, but dont reject this entirely.

Batteries are characterised by capacity, weight, volume, charge rate, discharge rate. lifetime, cost...and the holy grail is to be fantastic in all these. The reality is that the real bugbear is energy density - capacity per unit weight (or volume sometimes) which is simply not good enough for long range cars or aircraft use. That, and cost. The rest is somewhat variable bit 'good enough'

Lithium oxygen (air) is a technology - the ONLY technology. that promises decent energy density, yes, enough to fly an airliner. And the power and energy density are good, the recharge time should be decent enough. So that part of the hype is true.

What we have however is a problem akin to fusion power. We know the reaction will do what we want but building a practical unit that works at all, let alone one that can be mass produced and deployed at sane costs and safely - there are a lot of issues with lithium air, because it uses actual lithium, not a stable salt thereof - is another matter. That's why the caveats are there.

I've spent years looking into 'green' technology and this one is one of the few* that actually passes theoretical calculations to be a possibility.

That may be because I dont have the ability to do the detailed calculations on costs and safety, but anyway, dont reject this one out of hand.

*heatpumps are another one. They work and are nearly cost effective.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

Where exactly are people going to plug their vehicles in?

It's easy if you have off street parking but most people don’t have this. If you walk down any residential street in any city you will see it lined with cars. The people in these houses can't guarantee that they will be able to park outside their own house. Even if they could, are they supposed to run a cable across the pavement to their car?

No matter what the cost of an electric car or how far you can go on a charge it isn't feasible for most people in the UK.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

PhilD: Yes, the trip was two-way. Well remembered. And for our resident womble, Clarkson also had to do it all with no air/con, heating and no other fuel-gobbling items like radio. I don't remember his average speed but driving a Jaguar (or a Tesla), designed for 'grace and pace' on an open road at 50 mph must be purgatory.
Of course, when he'd done the trip and got back to London, all he had to do was spend 10 minutes in a filling station before the car was ready to do the whole thing all over again.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

A key but often overlooked parameter is the time it takes to recharge a flat battery, which consumers will compare with the 30-60 seconds it takes to fill a tank with petrol/diesel.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

MartinA wrote:

"A breakthrough in electrochemistry at Cambridge university could"

As an engineer this really pisses me off, come back when some poor sod's spent the years of hard work needed to produce something useful.

Is this 'very early announcement of initial research' we keep seeing a result of the constant need for academics to attract funding these days?

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterNial

What I found odd abut this announcement was the admission that another ten years' development was required to perfect the battery - yet she already knew that it was capable of 2,000 cycles.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

@gubulgaria

The moment faith in ones ability generates real technology that actually works, you and I will go and find a church to pray in, and develop infinite sources of free energy, and make a ruddy fortune.

Unfortunately wishes aren't horses, so beggars don't ride, and what it takes to make stuff work is infinitely harder than you can imagine, unless you have been in the way of attempting it.

99.999% of all ideas are utterly impractical at best and totally impossible at worst. The ability to dream of a solution that would be massively popular does not make it possible, as I discovered working for Clive Sinclair on his pocket television (theoretically impossible with the technology if the day, and we told him so, but he understood that what the world wanted was I phones..)

This idea IS theoretically possible, just not with the technology of today, and the costs are unknown as well, and there are safety issues.

Those are big mountains to climb before it gets much further than a laboratory, and I hope they climb them, because this would be a game changer.

But then so would fusion power be, and that is still in very large and expensive laboratories...

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

"A breakthrough in electrochemistry at Cambridge university could lead the way to rechargeable super-batteries that pack five times more energy into a given space than today’s best batteries," Martin A, you beat me to it. Could also just as equally is could not!

I know, why don't we try drilling into the rock formations in the hope of discovering some new energy source, perhaps something that's was layed down squillions of years ago from the remains of dead animals & vegetation, if that is indeed what it is made from, or maybe sequestered in certain types of rock formations, in some liquid or gaseous form? Perhaps we could sort of, you know, refine it somehow using some form of industrious process? You never know, maybe we could use it to heat our homes, power our economies by generating this new discovery, "electricity", hey, we may even be able to invent some kind of "horseless" carriage, whereby we could transport individuals & groups, & families & friends, around the country? Does anyone think it might catch on? Must go, my children are complaining about being tired of jogging on the treadmill that's powers our home! ;-) If memory serves, "they" have be bemoaning the short capacity of battery life for 50 years +! Still haven't solved it, yet!

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

According to Tesla's own site their 85D version with the 90kWh upgrade battery will achieve 350 miles on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC). This is the highest range Tesla quote. The NEDC is considered to deliver economy figures which are unachievable in reality, including by Which?. Furthermore current (hah!) batteries capabilities reduce considerably over time.

Non technical people have a view of a battery as a magic box that produces electricity, not the chemical pile it really is. They do not consider either the chemistry or the high currents at low voltages involved; or indeed the reduction in performance over time. The opposite of sceptical is gullible. When the technology is really right, puff pieces will not be necessary. In the meantime I am rather wary of sitting on a deteriorating low voltage high current chemical pile.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterBudgie

gubulgaria: Realists, based on long experience.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:49 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

@gubulgaria

"...And you wonder why people call you 'deniers'...."

Not really, it's usually because, absent a cogent argument they feel the need to resort to flinging ad hominems around the room.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteveW

10 yrs doesn't seem long to wait...it'll fly by.

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn

One little-considered problem with high-density energy storage form renewables is that the amount of energy needed to be stored soon approaches that in a nuclear weapon. For practical operation on a national grid the energy storage requirements comfortably exceed a large number of nuclear weapons.

There will be an issue of making an installation safe if it contains the energy equivalent of several thousand Hiroshima bombs in readily extractable form....

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

gubulgaria....what's to deny? Everyone has made completely valid observations.

'Where's the electricity coming from'?
'Not commercially viable'.
'Sometime in the future....'
'It needs a new type of battery...'
'Been promised for years'.

All correct points. What's yours?

Oct 30, 2015 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterCheshireRed

@CheshireRed

The problem has always been these schemes have been over-promoted before they're viable, which is exactly what we're seeing with renewables in general.

No, its worse than that,.

The algorithm works this way

Rent_seeking()
{
ourproblem=inventOrIdentifyCrucialProblem,();
solution=CreatePlausibleForFundGiversSolution(ourproblem); // cf Belling the cat
solution=ModifyToPlaceCostElsewhere(solution);
Profit=GetSubsidyOrFundingFor(solution);
return(Profit);
}

In short its is not relevant for the purpose of making a profit whether or not a given technology is viable or not, or ever will be: All that counts is that its convincing enough to attract grants or subsides by a government that can plausibly deny it knew it was never going to work, in advance, which is why all the flummery of peer review, disclaimers, and generalised green clique propaganda is employed: To allow anyone to say 10 years away 'but everyone else believed it would be that way, its not our fault it wasn't'...

Its fraud on a grand scale really. You have to admire the chutzpah.

But this particular technology might actually work. Looks like they made a step forward and are now 30% of the way to where they want to be, not 10%.

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

It'll need some Vauxhall Zaphira blower motor resistors to keep warm or flamed. Which they don't seem to have stocked?

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Here is some REAL hard information..

http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/new-design-points-a-path-to-the-ultimate-battery

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

She wrote of a "breakthrough." ??

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterjferguson

I'd certainly rather finance potential technologies than ones we know don't work now. I can even think of a way that current electric cars could be become more practical but there's no drive for it yet.

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

forget the "??"

http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/new-design-points-a-path-to-the-ultimate-batterysut

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:23 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

Leo...I agree, but isn't that effectively what I said?!

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterCheshireRed

I remember it as a 1000 mile trip from Switzerland to Blackpool and all 3 managed it, Clarkson in a Jag. which was the noteworthy part. But 400 miles is easy and I do it all the time. All thanks to modern diesel engines which our shipping industry and probably our entire modern lifestyle depends on - as a recent documentary claimed. This was driven by the need to cut costs though and that is where green and black can easily reach an understanding should they choose.

They have to overstate their claims in order to get funding. If they expressed all their caveats then nobody would be interested. It behoves the rest of us to be sceptical but it's certainly possible with an aluminium-air battery to go a heck of a lot further than that; alas not rechargeable.

However, in reality all you need is a plain diesel range extender for the few occasions when 100 miles range isn't enough. Or you could just hire a car for the annual hols.

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

"An extra problem with driving around Edinburgh is that you also need heat in the car for many months of the year."

Oh what rubbish: anyone properly dressed for the Edinburgh outdoors doesn't need heating in the car.

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

"she deserves credit for including the caveats in the current climate": indeed she does.

"Is this 'very early announcement of initial research' we keep seeing a result of the constant need for academics to attract funding these days?" Yes.

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

A key but often overlooked parameter is the time it takes to recharge a flat battery, which consumers will compare with the 30-60 seconds it takes to fill a tank with petrol/diesel.
Oct 30, 2015 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

Also the power required and where it would come from.

A year or two back there was some discussion here on BH about the magnitude of electric power that would be needed by a motorway charging station. I can't remember the figure but it was BIG.

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:53 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

The new fag packet Nicorette box sized batteries will replace standard lead acid car batteries and will be in Halfords stores nationwide for Christmas (souce : Energydesk blog) ....

Given that working with graphene is like trying to tow a car with a ribbon of wet toilet paper and that that sort of energy density might have some rather dynamic characteristics if mishandled leads me to think that there's some way to go.... Lithium chemistry is only one step down the periodic table from Sodium and Potassium - look what happens when they get wet....

Doesn't stop the green fantasists getting all moist at the prospect of salvation - if it gets engineered to work fair enough I'd have one for the right price.

On another note I just discovered that activists are promoting employee pledges in engineering and services companies to have an "ethical" "I will not work on fossil fuels" clause put in their contracts of employment - profoundly shocked to discover that 25% of employees in one Swedish consultancy company have signed up.... anybody else heard of this?

Oct 30, 2015 at 1:08 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Budgie

I am rather wary of sitting on a deteriorating low voltage high current chemical pile.
Isn't there an ointment you can get for that?


I'll get my coat ....

Oct 30, 2015 at 1:10 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

The founder of Tesla has made a fortune, but still can't make a product that is commercially viable without government subsidies.

This is the perfect Green business model. Dale Vince of Ecotricity is Green with envy about US Government Gullibility, and wishes all governments could be the same.

Oct 30, 2015 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I can foresee some new excuses for non-arrival at work by electric car owners, especially once there are enough of them to cripple the grid:

There was a power cut
There was no wind last night
There was no sun yesterday
My smart meter discharged my car batteries
I forgot to plug it in
I've just been sued for trailing the lead across the pavement...

Oct 30, 2015 at 1:20 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

tomo

"I will not work on fossil fuels"

How do they imagine they are able to work at the moment..?

Oct 30, 2015 at 1:22 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

"An extra problem with driving around Edinburgh is that you also need heat in the car for many months of the year."

Oh what rubbish: anyone properly dressed for the Edinburgh outdoors doesn't need heating in the car.

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme."


Well, I guess you are harder than me. I also like to be able to de-mist the windows as well as the luxuries of light, heat, and music.

Oct 30, 2015 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

gubulgaria all car manufactures makes claims for range that does not reflect reality , you may have see a little news item on VW recently. That Tesla sells charismatic BS does not stop it being BS . The idea they getting 400 miles regular is far from reality , the claim is 'in theory ' the fist time they attempt this it failed totally .

Oct 30, 2015 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

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