riskinit.org logo
Technology is the term we use for things that don't quite work yet.
A123 Battery
A123 Battery

So, I recently ran into this article called “New Report Card Grades for the 12 Leading Lithium-ion Battery and Ultracapacitor Development Companies in the World”. Yes, I know, ridiculously long title… anyway this particular article was doing something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time which is consolidate all the battery technology advances I’ve been keeping track of in one easy to read blog post. Well, maybe not so easy to read but at least consolidated in one place. This particular article was written purely from a investment standpoint, which isn’t exactly what I had in mind. There are certainly benefits of looking at these companies from a financial perspective but I’m more interested in the technology.

Standard lithium chemistry batteries have some obvious issues. In the past battery technology (lead acid, nickel metal hydride, nickel cadmium, etc.) was too heavy and/or too bulky to be appropriate for modern vehicles. These days the current lithium chemistry that is used in a variety of consumer products is well within the range of powering a wide variety of vehicles. The problem is there are a few drawbacks with the current chemistry:

  • Limited charge speed
  • Limited current capacity
  • Safety
  • Cost

The good news is that these problems are being handled by advanced new lithium chemistries.

Section 1: Advanced Lithium Chemistries

Valence technologies
http://www.valence.com/
Technology: Lithium Phosphate
Claims: “Safe, rugged and reliable technology with a cycle life 3-4 times that of lithium cobalt” they claim after 1400 cycles at 115f (its maximum operating temperature) it will retain 80% (90% at 73F) of its capacity. They also claim a full charge in roughly 2 hours. This sounds like a solid technology for the average commuter car. Safe, long lasting, and reasonable recharge rate.

7/10

Boston power
http://www.boston-power.com
Technology: Lithium Manganese and softshell aluminum cases
claims: ”

  • Longer life – up to three years of everyday charging
  • Faster charging – up to 40% capacity in just 10 minutes, 80% in 30 minutes
  • Safer to use – multiple, redundant safety features mean better protection for the user
  • Better for the planet – awarded Nordic Ecolabel for environmental sustainability”

Unfortunately, there are no obvious data sheets on their products on the webpage. So, there is really no way to make a real comparison against the other products are. Again though, they seem to be squarely targeting EV’s. while these potentially have much better recharge time, the lack of real product information makes them lose a point.

6/10

A123 Systems
http://www.a123systems.com/
Technology: Lithium Nanophosphate
Claims: “At A123Systems we have developed breakthrough, patented Nanophosphate(TM) lithium ion battery technology that provides engineers and application developers significantly higher power, an inherently safer chemistry, and an order of magnitude longer life.”

From their data sheets, they claim 80% capacity at 800 cycles at 140f and 95% at 77F! The great news about these guys if they are shipping actual real products today! Both Black & Decker and DeWalt have lines of power tools that use A123 batteries. The world’s fastest” EV powered motorcycle the “kilacycle” is powered by their batteries. The current major downside is cost and lack of large cell availability. They advertise a small kit with 6 26650 cells for $110 each, but this is hardly a scalable solution. On a side note, its apparently cheaper to harvest them from power tool battery backs 3rd parties sell to the public.

7/10

Altair NanoTechnology
: “Nanosafe batteries”
http://www.altairnano.com/”
Technology: Nano-structured lithium titanate spinel oxide (LTO)

Claims:

  • No operational safety issues
  • Three times the power of existing batteries
  • A one-minute recharge
  • High cycle life–10,000 to 15,000 charges vs. 750 for existing batteries
  • The capability to operate in extreme temperatures: -22* to 480*F
  • Low life-cycle costs

While Altair batteries have a specific energy (~95wh/kg) higher than NiMH and similar to that of LiFePO4 batteries (in other words better than NiCad or lead acid but not as good as state of the art lithium-ion), they’ve made significant breakthroughs in specific power (available current). They make some bold claims that if they can deliver on would be fairly disruptive, including 10-100x watts/kg, the fastest recharge time, the most cycle life, the widest range of temperatures, and with total safety. They are closer to ultra capacitors in specifications in any other battery in this group. Pricing? Unclear…

8/10

Toshiba
“Supercharge SCiB”
Toshiba Press Release
Technology: unknown
Claims:

  • Excellent safety
  • Current performance equivalent to an electric double layer capacitor
  • 5 minute recharge (to 90%)
  • 3,000 to 5,000 cycles
  • Low temperature use -30*C

Sounds very familiar doesn’t it? While not exactly as extreme as Altair is claiming, Toshiba is claiming much of the same advances. Which makes me highly suspicious they are either 1. using similar technology or 2. Sourcing technology from Altair.

“According to a report in the Nikkei, Toshiba will begin producing 150,000 batteries a month at a Saku, Nagano Prefecture, factory. It will shift to mass production by 2010 with plans to make 600,000 cells for hybrid and electric vehicles and 400,000 batteries for forklifts and other industrial equipment.”
— green car Congress
Green Car Congress

“Toshiba…19,440 kWh a year…”

“For comparison A123 is likely producing 40,000 in the eye in 2007. Altair is likely doing less than 3,500 kWh in 2007.”

9/10

ElectroVaya
http://www.electrovaya.com
Technology: “Lithium Ion SuperPolymer” (Lithiated Manganese Oxide)
Claims:

  • 40-60 percent higher energy density compared to LiFePO4
  • Comparable safety characteristics to LiFePO4

This Canadian company was founded in 2000 and makes a variety of lithium-based chemistry batteries. They seem to be going down the lithium manganese path as opposed to the lithium phosphate path. I don’t know a lot about them but I will start keeping my eye on them.
?/10

Generic Chinese LiFePO4
Claims:

  • Safe
  • Reasonable density 100wh/kg typical
  • Decent temperature ranges
  • Typically claim 1000-4000 cycles
  • 1C-10C of available current

There are at least a dozen chinese companies building and selling LiFePO4 batteries. While most of them are still fairly pricey, a few of them are bringing costs down to the point where real EV’s are possible. I believe this is the most likely way consumers will see electric vehicles in the short-term. Major auto manufacturers will probably drag their feet and ignore these companies until the market pressure forces them to play their hand.

8/10

Section 2: The holy Grail… Ultra capacitors

While batteries store chemical energy and make it available as electricity. The disadvantage of this is that the chemical reactions necessary for rechargeable batteries are limited in the speed at which they can happen, in the number of times the reaction can be repeated and reversed, and in the shelf life of the chemicals. In contrast a capacitor stores its energy by putting electrons between a pair of conductors, there is no chemical reaction. This means they could potentially last forever and they can charge and discharge at very high rates. in the past, the problem with capacitors in general was capacity. Even the last generation of super capacitors were only capable of 1000th the capacity of the lithium-ion battery.

EESTOR
Ultracapacitors
EEStor Wiki
Technology: barium titanate coated with aluminum oxide and glass capacitors
Claims:

  • Nontoxic and non-hazardous
  • Non-explosive
  • For a 52 kWh unit, an initial production price of $3,200, falling to $2,100 with mass production is projected.[6] This is half the price per stored watt-hour as lead-acid batteries, and potentially cheap enough to use to store grid power at off-peak times for on-peak use, and to buffer the output from intermittent power sources such as wind farms.
  • No degradation from charge/discharge cycles
  • 4-6 minute charge time for a 336 pound (152 kg), 2005 cubic inch (33 L), 52 kilowatt hour (187 MJ), 31 farad, 3500 volt unit, assuming sufficient cooling of the cables.
  • A self-discharge rate of 0.1% per month

Queue up EESTOR!
Claims to have Capacitors with storage density of 280 wh/kg. typical LiION is 100-200 wh/kg and in 10 times typical lead acid. In real-world terms this means you could build a vehicle that would get 4-500 miles per charge and recharge in roughly 5 minutes.

Secrecy and “adjusted schedules” has caused some concern of vaporware. On the other hand, defense contractor Lockheed-Martin has recently signed and exclusive deal for defense applications. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see consumer applications for awhile simply so that the US Military can get a good multi-year jump on building new technology around such game changing energy systems.

1 point off for my gut telling me its not going to be this cheap, 2 points off for lack of any real products.

7/10

Conclusion:

Pb (lead) – 30wh/kg, 300-500 cycles, can’t be discharged to 0%
NiCd – The past
NiMh – Memory issues, medium density, medium power
LiFePO4 – 100kw/kg, great cycle life, lots of power and reasonable price today, also doesnt have a huge environmental cost compared to NiMh.
LiMn2O4 – Reasonably safe, potential for higher density, wear quickly at high temperature and not as available.
LiCoO2 (“typical” Lithium ION) – NOT safe, best power/weight and very expensive.
Ultracapacitors – Ideal technology but not available yet.

So the winner is LiFePO4. As LiMn2O4 become more available they may have a chance and ultimately if and when EESTOR comes through on its claims, ultra-capacitors will win the long war.

Nice Lithium comparison chart

Misc…

Recent rage of adding some capacitors and batteries together to increase battery life and increase instantaneous current/power.
Technology Review: A Cheaper Battery for Hybrid Cars

Research

Stanford University – 10x lithium with nanowires
High-performance lithium battery anodes using silicon nanowires

MIT Ultra capacitors
MIT Builds Efficient Nanowire Storage to Replace Car Batteries

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply