Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Why Lithium-ion Batteries are Like Hippos in Pink Tutus" (AONE; TSLA)

I don't have much interest in electric vehicles and don't think I'll be around long enough to see the breakthoughs that will be needed to make the darn things attractive to more than a small percentage of the driving public.
From AltEnergyStocks:
In recent years lithium-ion batteries have been portrayed as glamorous, sleek, sexy and hot – the stuff of adolescent fantasy and mid-life crisis. Reality is more like a surreal remake of the Dance of the Hours sequence in the Disney classic Fantasia where hippos in pink tutus gossip about overweight dancing elephants. Let's face it folks, there are no cheetahs in the battery ballet. While lithium-ion battery packs are smaller and lighter than their lead-acid counterparts, both types of batteries are ridiculously heavy substitutes for a fuel tank. The sad part is that whispers from hippos have convinced dreamers of all ages that energy is more valuable than power and diverted attention from the harsh truth that no current battery technology is cheap enough or light enough to make electric drive competitive with internal combustion.

Reduced to basics energy is a measure of the amount of electricity a battery can store while power is a measure of how quickly the battery can deliver its stored electricity. While energy applications typically cycle a battery once or twice a day, power applications usually cycle a battery dozens of times a day. Once you accept the idea that each charge-discharge cycle has a determinable value, it's easy to see why the payback from power applications usually exceeds the payback from energy applications by a wide margin.

Hippos in pink tutus want us to believe a new age of electric drive is just around the corner. But at last December's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu offered an entirely different and uncharacteristically blunt assessment:

"And what would it take to be competitive? It will take a battery, first that can last for 15 years of deep discharges. You need about five as a minimum, but really six- or seven-times higher storage capacity and you need to bring the price down by about a factor of three. And then all of a sudden you have a comparably performing car; let's say a mid-sized car which has a comparable acceleration and a comparable range."

In the simplest of terms, electric drive can't be competitive with internal combustion until somebody invents and commercializes an entirely new class of battery. In the meantime, the market will remain profoundly confused by snake oil suggestions that the cleantech revolution will mirror the progress that information and communications technology made over the last four decades. It's just not going to happen!...MORE
See also:

May 2010 
Electric Vehicles: Same Range as 1908, Wheee!
March 2010 
"Ford warns electric cars may be only for the rich" (AONE; TSLA)
Nov 2010 
A123 Update: Wunderlich Sees Slower Ramp of Electric Vehicles in U.S., Europe (AONE)
May 2010 
Electric Cars? Meh: The Fortunes Will Accrue to Those Who Can 'Crack' Liquid Fuels