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Category: 'Battery'

Good design! Low unsprung weight while retaining direct drive benefits.

Bad hub wheel motor design.
Bad hub wheel motor design.

I’m not going in to the details on particular attempts at hub motors, but even if executed perfectly they are bad.

Unsprung weight means terrible handling and reduced road-holding capabilities!

Done, end of story, move on.

Good news: There is an alternative.

In-board electric motors: You place the motors in the center of the vehicle and use standard short drive shafts to bring the power to each wheel. The downside? Space… you need to fit two motors (remember you no longer have a differential) as close the center of the vehicle as possible and either have the entire motor pivot or have short angled drive shafts from each one.
By placing the center of gravity of each motor almost completely off the wheel you mitigate the unsprung weight to almost nothing.

There are a couple other problems with wheel motors, you need a massive amount of current and a motor that is efficient over a wide range of RPM’s. Modern high powered IGBT’s and MOSFET’s are probably up to the task and when integrated in to intelligent power controllers, they can drive various forms of electric motors at high levels of efficiency and power.

The second problem ‘massive current’ is a bit harder. Battery chemistry is changing rapidly, but it is still difficult to find chemistries than can supply large current, long cycle life, reasonable price, weight, size, safety and the ability to be mass produced.

All said, drop the stock differential, the stock drive shaft, the motor, the transmission, exhaust, emissions equipment and all the other ICE components that become redundant and then you might have a chance of building something that has a reasonable power to weight ratio and efficiency level.

One last thing, as an alternative you could place the motor where the transmission is on a RWD vehicle, keeping the existing differential and drive shaft (a 100 year old design). This adds additional weight, but you no longer have the space restrictions and gain a bit of gearing which might lower your peak power needs.

This Detroit Electric design is ancient but a good compromise.


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Deltran Battery Tender Jr. @amazon.com
Deltran Battery Tender Jr. @amazon.com
Plugged in
Plugged in

Ok, so having a very small battery and not driving your car for a 7-10 days at a time is not compatible. The Deka battery I bought last year in Feb. 2008 was running like a champ when I was driving pretty regularly. Now I’m back in the home office, making much shorter trips and driving Kimmy’s car more and it was starting to be a drain on it.

The great news is for $25 and amazon my problem is solved. The Deltran SuperSmart Battery Tender works like a champ. Its very smart…

“Battery Tender Plus is the most advanced charger/maintainer on the market specially designed for today’s sealed lead acid batteries. The Battery Tender Plus uses micro-processor technology in a four-stage charging profile to charge, improve, and float your battery so it is ready when you are. Constant current charging and regulated voltage patterns allow the battery to be recharged fully and safely without the fear of overcharging.”

I opted for the smaller Jr. model which looks like a standard wall-wart power supply. I wired up the included quick connect cable that came with it and zip tied it near the front air intake (the quick connect cord is pretty short so it may be a problem in some installs) now I just plug in when I know I’m not going to be driving for awhile and I’m 100% sure my car will be ready when I am.


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Top Gear
Top Gear

Top Gear is by far the best television show about cars ever aired. They can be quite opinionated and occasionally wrong, but they do their best from their perspective. Today’s episode 12×07 unfortunately, in my opinion, they got it wrong. While they loved the performance and looks of the Tesla roadster they made it clear they believe fuel cell powered electric vehicles (FCEV) are superior to battery electric vehicles (BEV).

My Gripes…

1. They implied the fuel for recharging battery electric vehicles is from “dirty” power generation and that the alternative is a small wind powered recharger that would take 600hours to charge it.

They neglected to mention that any hydrogen produced would be powered by the same “dirty” power generation that any electric vehicle would be recharged by. They also neglected to mention that in doing so would require more power and would be less efficient. Meaning more pollution with hydrogen than battery electric.

2. They also implied that owners would be charging their vehicles with a “normal 13 amp” outlet which would take 16 hours (or 600 with the silly windmill).

They neglected to mention the Tesla is designed to be recharged with a much higher output connection included with the vehicle that charges it in 3.5 hours. That’s a massive difference and likely a dealbreaker for many people if they didn’t know the truth. Also, battery technology is improving at an incredible rate at the moment. There are already batteries from several manufacturers that will be able to be recharged in under 15 minutes.

3. They also complained about the price and went on to explain how hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles would NOT cost more than a “normal car” and “possibly less”.

Now with the US exchange rate as it is, the Tesla is overpriced, but the overall implication is that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be cheaper than battery electric vehicles. As far as I know there is no evidence that shows this will happen. Hydrogen fuel cells are still a pipe dream and battery electric vehicles while expensive now are at least available now and very likely could be cheaper than hydrogen fuel cells when they first arrive 5-10 years from now.

4. The most minor gripe was with the range. They mentioned they only got 55 miles on their track vs. the 200mile rated range.

That’s an unrealistic expectation. The Bugatti Veyron holds 26.4 US Gallons and at its rated 14MPG it will go 371 miles. But at top speed it will run out in 12 minutes or 50 miles. But is this fair to say it only goes 50 miles? Obviously, I chose an extreme example but I also believe driving around the Top Gear test track is also an extreme example.

So why do I like BEV more than FCEV? It’s the EFFICIENCY stupid!

Power generation -> Liquid Hydrogen -> Electric Motor = 17%*
Power generation -> Gas Hydrogen -> Electric Motor = 22%*
Power generation -> Battery -> Electric Motor = 66%*
Power generation -> Capacitor -> Electric Motor =79%**

*From a report FROM the European Fuel Cell Forum.
** Assuming 20% better for not losing anything in the batteries.

Even assuming those numbers are a little biased towards BEVs, no matter how you look at it BEVs are at least twice as efficient at a minimum. They both require a power source so you can’t argue about the source of power. But BEVs requires half the power! So that’s twice as good in my opinion.

Tesla Motors
Tesla Motors

I also don’t like to argue about distribution because both of them require infrastructure upgrades, but in my personal opinion it’s much easier to add high-powered (<15mins) charging stations at existing refilling stations and medium powered (several hours) outlets at homes. Remember you won’t often need a full charge at refilling station. Most of the time if you run low in electric vehicle you probably only need a quick under five-minute charge to get you where you need to go. Normal charging will happen at home. In the rare circumstance of long range driving, you’ll probably actually appreciate a 15 minute recharge every few hundred miles just to stretch your legs out.

The other thing which is great about a 5-15 minute recharge is the economic benefits to the stations. Remember most refilling stations don’t make substantial profits from selling fuel. They make their profits from selling ancillary items such as cigarettes and snacks. If you’re there 5-15 minutes you’re going to buy more on average.

The two points they legitimately make are that
1. Batteries are too expensive at the moment.
2. The batteries in the Tesla make it weigh too much.

I believe both of these problems will be solved with evolutionary (not revolutionary) improvements in battery chemistry. I can only hope someone from Top Gear actually reads this and might be swayed in the right direction…

Updates:
Wired chimes in…
Jalopnik Comments…
Tree Hugger weighs in…

P.S. Before anyone thinks I don’t get Top Gear, I do. It really is one of my favorite programs. They are hardly fair to ANYONE and for an Electric & American *gasp* car they really did give it a positive (for Top Gear) review. But, for some reason or another, I just wish they would have added in a few counter points and then when they oversold the Hydrogen thing…well…that was the final straw!


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Hydrogen Is Overhyped
Hydrogen Is Overhyped

There are at least three basic parts to powering a motor vehicle.

1. An energy source
2. An energy carrier
3. A motivation system

Energy Source
A natural resource that we can exploit in order to generate work. Without trying to get too cosmic, all energy sources in the universe that we are aware of are finite and will eventually run out. It is important that we choose our energy sources carefully in order to not pollute the environment (heat, carbon, radiation, etc…) and to not run out.
Examples: solar power, geothermal power, fossil fuels, wind, hydroelectric, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, etc.

Energy Carrier
A method that allows stored energy to be moved from its energy source to its destination where work needs to be done.
Examples: electrochemical conversion (batteries and fuel cells), fossil fuels, flywheel, polonium, the electric grid, etc.

Motivation system
A device that turns energy into kinetic work.
Examples: electric motor, internal combustion engine, pneumatic pump, turbine engine, rocket engine, etc.

Fossil fuels and radioactive materials such as uranium are somewhat unique in that they are both an energy source and an energy carrier. The disadvantage of using these sorts of resources are obvious. They will run out sooner than later (10’s or 100’s of years vs. millions’s of years for other resources), they often cause pollution and they often cause political turmoil because of their geospatial location.

Hydrogen falls into the second category, it is an energy carrier. Many people who are used to dealing with fossil fuels often mistakenly believe Hydrogen is an energy source. Also unfortunately, since fuel cells operate most efficiently with pure hydrogen and because there are virtually no environmental byproducts when using Hydrogen it has been identified and championed as the future energy carrier. But, it’s a really terrible energy carrier. It requires an energy source to produce, energy for transportation to move it locally, and energy and expensive containers to store it.

Hydrogen is the LEAST dense element on the periodic table. There are no other elements with a lower density, why would we choose this as the ultimate way to store energy?

Regardless of which energy source we use, what we need is a technology that can store energy with very little loss, in a compact package, repeatedly, and with low or no environmental impact.

Energy Carrier Candidates

  • Kinetic energy – flywheels, springs, etc.
  • Burning liquid fuels – fossil fuels
  • Burning gaseous fuels – fossil fuels, hydrogen
  • Electro-chemical conversion:
    • Batteries – NiCd, NiMh, LiFePO4, Limn2o4, Licoo2, Lipf6, etc…
    • Fuel cells – hydrogen
  • Radioactive decay – uranium, polonium, etc…
  • Pure electricity – capacitors

Best Long Term Solution
If we are to pick a technology with the most promise and the most long-term benefits personally I think capacitors are the way to go. Little or no losses, extremely high power (how much energy you can use per unit of time), quick charging (<5mins with the right hookup), virtually unlimited cycles (long lasting), and density on par with 2x modern lithium ion (think 450+ mile range). EEStor claims to have ultra capacitors with the density equivalent to twice lithium-ion batteries. If this is true it is truly game changing.

Best Short Term Solution
If we want to pick a solution for the interim to improve over fossil fuels I’d have to choose batteries. Fuel cells are merely batteries that instead of recharging (storing chemical energy) they re-fuel the cells with additional liquid chemical fuel and the cell is merely a catalyst (hence fuel-cell). Unfortunately, they are not ready for commercial production and sales yet. So it has to be standard chemical batteries for the time being. In the past 5-10 years there have been huge technological improvements in lithium-based batteries. There are at least half a dozen commercially viable lithium-based battery chemistries available today that can charge quickly, last much longer, are much safer, and are cheaper than traditional lithium cobalt.

Additional Considerations
It is more than likely that there will be a mix of technologies used for various modes of transportation for the foreseeable future (hybrids, biodiesel, CNG, ethanol, pure EV’s, etc). Hydrogen is often touted as some sort of panacea energy solution when in fact it’s expensive to produce, difficult to store, and difficult to use. Existing oil companies and automobile manufacturers who have vested interests in the status quo like hydrogen because of these reasons. It favors the usage of fossil fuels for the time being and it also favors the same large companies who will build the large infrastructures needed to support the hydrogen economy.


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Energy storage technologies are improving. There is no denying that. Whether it’s batteries, ultra-capacitors, or kinetic energy systems (flywheels) improvements are being made across the board. With that, every few weeks or so someone says “my energy storage will allow electric vehicles to be charged in under X minutes” (Typically 5-10). This is usually followed up with something about how the electrical grid will never be able to handle that and how you could never do that at home.

I also periodically run into someone who starts talking about swapping batteries out of the cars for freshly charged ones. This is obviously being pursued most famously by Shai Agassi’s Better Place. As intriguing as this may sound for some people it is totally unrealistic for the consumer marketplace. Besides all of the obvious possible ways to try and cheat the system for profit, the practical limitations are also overwhelming. Imagine how many batteries a refueling station would need as technology improves with multiple chemistries and vehicles of various sizes need different capacities and voltages. Packaging alone will not allow quick replacement for all vehicles. Thus this technology will ultimately be limited to fleet vehicles.

Does anyone really believe people are all going to want to drive the same vehicle or even the same line of vehicles or even vehicles that can only have batteries exchanged from the same company?

The reality is this, batteries will charge faster, the power for these batteries will come from the grid. Most homes will not be equipped to do fast charging. So where will it come from?

Let’s see, who has the existing real estate, the resources for the necessary equipment, and the economic incentive? Duh… Refilling stations.

We already know the majority of income from existing refilling stations comes from ancillary products (cigarettes, snacks, etc.). Stations will slowly allocate additional space for charging electric vehicles using existing parking areas and other under-utilized space. The local electricity providers will work with them on meeting requirements of both maximum draw and potentially energy returned to the system at peak needs. This could potentially also help offset costs of on-site storage of electric energy. Whether they use Kinetic, Capacitor or Batteries, refilling stations will have the ability to store this energy on site and dispense it to vehicles as needed. They could even have electric signs that say things like “Full charge* in 7 Minutes for $5!” (*and tiny print for 30kw maximum [insert additional legal disclaimers here]) that changes based on their current available energy.

Electric vehicles will not appear all at once out of thin air. Most arguments for electrical grid issues make the assumption that all vehicles will need to charge off the existing grid all at once and today. the reality is, it will take years for the vehicles to get on the roads, years of standards committees working out the system ( charging rates, voltages, connectors, etc.) and years for the filling stations to upgrade. No, they will probably not charge in under five minutes day one, no it won’t be free, and yes you will still be able to charge slower at home.

Electric vehicles are coming, fast charging stations are not going to be free and they will be available at refilling stations. It’s so obvious that no one seems to say it…

Update: A prime example, at least one intelligent commenter pointed out if you charge at home you actually SAVE time because you don’t have to spend time at the gas station.

Update 10/2: According to this study by the US Department of Energy If 84% of the cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs in the US were Plug-in Hybrids they could be supported using the EXISTING generating, transmission, and distribution capacity (if vehicles are charged during the least used hours at night). This would also result in a 27% reduction overall of the total greenhouse gasses in the US.


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RX-7 FD Battery Update

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008
Deka EXT18L
Deka EXT18L
 Gratuitous RX-7 pic I took
Gratuitous RX-7 pic I took

So i’ve thought about putting in a light weight battery for awhile now and earlier this year my old battery finally gave up the ghost, so I decided to try a light weight sealed AGM racing battery. I was a bit worried about whether or not he would become problematic, so I went not with the smallest possible battery but with something just ever so slightly larger. I’ve heard of people often using the Deka EXT14 (I’ve read these are the exact battery the more pricy racing brand Braille uses) which is a 200CCA 12lbs battery. I’ve also heard that if you don’t start on the first or second try it may not work. I’ve also heard that if you let your car sit for a too long it can be a problem. So I went for the EXT18L which is a 300CCA 18lbs battery. 33% bigger and more weight seemed totally reasonable to me. After removing the original battery tray and battery I saved 22lbs! Nice savings for a mere ~$80 battery which I picked up at Battery Power Inc. (818) 896-6455 (sylmar/burbank area of LA). Installation was 3 very large heavy duty zip ties.

So 6 months later? NO PROBLEMS at all… I’ve allowed my car to sit for seven days and it had no problem starting up and I’ve also had no problems turning it over multiple times. Actually, compared to my old battery which was way past due to be replaced its been a large improvement in the available power.

The only downside in going with a battery this size is that you don’t want to leave your car keyed on with the engine off for long periods of time. Also, note you’ll need some screw on battery posts. Here is a link with some pictures, links and discussion.


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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


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