Building a better battery

Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S

Imagine an electric car with the range of a Tesla Model S - 265 miles - but at one-fifth the $70,000 price of the luxury sedan. Or a battery able to provide many times more energy than today's technology at significantly lower prices, meaning longer-lasting and less expensive power for cellphones, laptops and the home.

Those are among the goals of a $120 million, Department of Energy-funded Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, a 14-member partnership led by Argonne National Laboratory and including Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Sandia National Laboratories and several universities and private companies. In January, the center's Berkeley hub is moving into the lab's new $54 million General Purpose Laboratory, bringing its battery scientists, chemists and engineers together under one roof for the first time.

The team, headed by center Deputy Director Venkat Srinivasan, aims to achieve revolutionary advances in battery performance - creating devices with up to five times the capacity of today's batteries at one-fifth the cost by 2017.

To accomplish the feat, Srinivasan is looking to replace the current standard-bearer for - lithium-ion - with batteries made of cheaper, more durable materials, including magnesium, aluminum and calcium.

"We want to go beyond and find the next generation of technology," Srinivasan said. "It's clear to us that the batteries we have today are not meeting the needs."

While private companies such as Tesla and Toyota are working to improve on lithium-ion technology, in the United States it's the government labs that are trying to move technology to the next level.

George Crabtree, director of the project at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, said the federal government is pursuing the research to transform the two areas that consume two-thirds of all the energy generated in the United States - transportation and the energy grid. If successful, Crabtree said, consumers would benefit from cheaper electric cars and less dependence on utility companies for power at home.

"There's a real opportunity for next-generation storage," Crabtree said. "You have to make a big step forward. Lithium-ion will not be able to make that step. ... You need a big program and a group effort to make it happen."

Nearly two years into the project, Crabtree said, researchers have narrowed down a list of about 100 types of "beyond lithium-ion" batteries to a few of promising concepts that are already in the prototype phase.

To reach the Obama administration's goals of producing a quarter of all the nation's electricity from solar and wind by 2025, and having 1 million all-electric vehicles on the road in the coming years, consumers will need cheaper batteries with a higher energy density, faster charging time and more range, Srinivasan said. A battery costing $100 per kilowatt hour - three to five times less than today's technology - would make electric vehicles and renewable energy affordable to the masses.

"Energy storage is a linchpin of the future," Srinivasan said. "Today's batteries are kind of expensive. How do we get it to the point where the battery can pay for itself? That's the target we're shooting for."

Sharing the new state-of-the-art General Purpose Laboratory will be principal investigator and Lawrence Berkeley staff scientist Brett Helms, who is focusing his research on rechargeable flow batteries, which store energy in a liquid solution of electrolytes that can be pumped through a membrane, generating power when they circulate and react with electrodes.

Helms wants to use more cost-effective materials such as sulfur - a plentiful byproduct of refining crude oil - to create a battery with five to 10 times more energy than current flow batteries, at a much lower cost. Combined with solar panels and wind farms, big high-density battery packs could store most of the energy generated for use at a later time, providing an uninterrupted power supply in homes day or night, rain or shine, allowing homeowners to go off the grid and access the energy at any time.

This would overcome one of the main problems with renewable systems: They can produce energy only when the conditions - sun or wind - are right, not necessarily when the energy is needed, as fossil fuel-fired generators do.

"We're producing all of this energy, but where is it going to go and how is it going to be integrated into the grid?" Helms said. "The biggest concern is to take advantage of the investment we've been making in the renewables. If we don't have an solution, we will have wasted that investment."

Helms' team is developing a membrane for the flow battery that would increase its durability and enable the battery to cycle, or charge, better. He aims to have a working prototype of a lithium-sulfur flow battery - the first of its kind - by the end of the five-year project. The technology, he said, could also someday power electric vehicles.

"We've done battery work in the past, but thinking about national problems with people all over the country is an amazing opportunity," Helms said.

The future home of Berkeley's research hub is next door to the Advanced Light Source building, where automaker Toyota has been researching magnesium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries have a charge of plus-1, providing a single electron per electrical current. Magnesium has a charge of plus-2.

"For the same weight, you can have twice the charge - you're doubling the amount of capacity," Srinivasan said. "That's exciting."

Using high-performance computing, Srinivasan's team has whittled down the number of materials to a few that have sufficient energy capacity and can be classified as safe, cheaper and longer-lasting than lithium. Within the next year, Srinivasan hopes to have other new materials ready for testing, and optimized prototypes ready by 2017.


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Toward making lithium-sulfur batteries a commercial reality for a bigger energy punch

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Nov 25, 2014
Pretty ambitious, considering that all the industry can manage is a 4% improvement per year, and they have a bit more than $120 million for R&D funding. You'd think if they could, they would do everything to get to profit on the multi-trillion-dollar market that opens to cheaper batteries.

They're proposing to do in two years what is expected to take 40 years.

Good luck with that.


Nov 25, 2014
Ambitious?

Rent seeking and cronyism, writ large. The potential for graft is as voluminous as the greed of the politicians that support it.

Nov 25, 2014
as much as i'm usually against governmetn wasteful spending.

batteries are probably one of the core technologies that NOW need serious improvement in order to help push forward the next generation for MANY types of equipment.

it is a HUGE lie that the next generation batteries will be used for electric cars right away.
however the value for cell phones, laptops, handheld power equipment, even electric bicycles-----is massive.

portable devices , drones, warfare equipment, mobile equipment ---- just about everything is being loaded up with sensors and being mainlined to the wireless internet people call the 'iot' internet of things.

there's been MUCH hype in this area for years, but billions worht of investment into core network infrastructure means that the future of mobile equipment and devices is constrained more than anything by battery technology-----the net charge denisty, but even more so----the speed at which batteries charge.

Nov 25, 2014

"For the same weight, you can have twice the charge - you're doubling the amount of capacity," Srinivasan said. "That's exciting."


Well, no.

Lithium has an atomic weight of 7 whereas magnesium is 24 so the magnesium atoms are 3.4 times heavier, so you actually get 59% of the charge for the same weight.

The trick is that most of the battery is in fact something else than lithium or magnesium. You only need about 150 grams of lithium per kWh, and there's about 4800 grams of other stuff around it, so replacing the lithium with magnesium increases the weight of the battery by 7% while theoretically doubling its charge as measured in Coulombs.

But - as magnesium-ion batteries have far lower voltage than lithium at about 1.5 V vs. 4 Volts, the actual energy density is not doubled. It actually drops by 30%. The only remedying factor would be if magnesium were significantly cheaper than lithium.

And this is why I think this man is either a fool or a crank.

Nov 25, 2014
Although the price of lithium OR magnesium is rather irrelevant, because they both cost only dollars per kilogram, so their relevance to the price of the battery is in the single percentage points.

Nov 25, 2014
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Nov 25, 2014
But magnesium exchanges two electrons per atom and its mass density is at least twice as high as those of lithium - so that we'll get four-times higher energy density per volume


I already factored the double charge, and density per volume is not important here.

It's density per mass that is the key for electric vehicles. Volume, who cares, it's already close to a kWh per liter and that's good enough.

It's not so bad as it looks at the first sight.


It may not be bad, but it isn't going to quintuple the energy density, and it isn't going to be five times cheaper. Rather, it's slightly worse and only marginally cheaper.

Nov 25, 2014
Too late, this problem is already solved.

Nov 25, 2014
For stationary batteries, energy density is less important than price, but for electric vehicles, density per mass is paramount.

You can't install a 600 kg battery in a small affordable hatchback. It can't even carry that much passenger load as it is. You'd have to tow it around in a trailer.

Yet that's about what a Tesla battery pack currently weighs, and why the Model S is such a big heavy car. It's nearly 5 meters long and weighs 2,108 kg, as compared to a regular Volkswagen at 4.2 meters and 1,200 kg.


Nov 25, 2014
You must compare it to a car of the same class.
A comparable BMW is as heavy as a model S.

Nov 25, 2014
You must compare it to a car of the same class.
A comparable BMW is as heavy as a model S.


And if I'm looking to buy a cheap small hatchback, I'm not going to buy a BMW either.

The point is that the electric car cannot currently be scaled down in size without sacrificing range, because the batteries weigh too much.

The only way to do it is to scale it down way small to reduce energy consumption, so that you don't need so many batteries, but then you're basically driving a bicycle with a tent on it.

Nov 25, 2014
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Nov 25, 2014
You know you're about to get a heaping helping of "Blue Sky" when an article starts with "Imagine..."

This ain't a news story, it's an advertizement for government funding.

Nov 25, 2014
Why do I get the feeling we will continue to make significant progress, despite those who differ?

Nov 26, 2014
Why do I get the feeling we will continue to make significant progress, despite those who differ?


We will.

Where we differ is simply in how long it takes.

We have of mountains of magnesium in rather pure state (dolomites) anywhere at the Earth, but only limited reserves of lithium.


Lithium and magnesium are not that much different in availability. Magnesium is $2500 per ton and lithium is $5700 or thereabout.

The main cost in batteries are in the manufacturing process that requires extensive refinement and complex, toxic chemicals in high-purity environments. Likewise, over a third of the weight of a typical battery is simply the protective casing. There's no magic bullet here, no special chemical or material that could suddenly reduce the manufacturing costs or engineering requirements - it's a steady 4% per year dictated in great part by the ability of the industry to expand volume manufacturing to meet growing demand.


Nov 26, 2014
If you want to predict when battery technology becomes cheap, you need to consider it as a self-catalyzing system.

If we start from the hypothesis that battery prices drop as the industry manages to expand production, the feedback is apparent: a larger market produces more profit, enables more expansion, drops prices, expands the market. This continues until the market is saturated.

So the point is to predict when we can expect the tipping point where steady slow growth turns exponential, and that is the point where things like electric cars start to become affordable to the public at large.

At 4% per year in today's rate, it takes 40 years, but the rate will accelerate because of the continuous price drop. If we assume a 0.1% rate increase per year, the tipping point of the exponential curve arrives in 23 years.

I'll give it between 20-30 years. Mark my words.

Nov 26, 2014
Lead acid batteries already yield 1.5kWH for their $100. (I recently bought a new 125Ah 12v for that price) :Though I wouldn't power a car with it.
Their 1kWH per $100 target isn't ambitious enough.
I am pleased that they are beginning to fund research on a serious scale, to reduce oil demand and hasten the next generation of needed technologies.

Nov 26, 2014
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Nov 26, 2014
$100 to carry 1kWh ($3,300 to carry each US Gallon of gas worth of energy) is nowhere near viable as a target for mass market cars.
Almost all costs of any product reduce to energy usage, by someone, somewhere, in the end. Blowing $3,300 worth of energy up the chimney, or tailpipe, to let us carry 1 gallons worth around is not going to out-sell gas cars anytime soon. And its not too good for the planet either.

Nov 26, 2014
For example the weight of battery pack for Tesla Roadster is 450 kg with compare to 26 kg of gasoline fuel, which is required for the same mileage (426 km) with classical car. This is the weight of six persons, the transport of which you should pay whenever you'll move in with your electric car.

That's a very bogus calculation. Most cars have one (at most two) people in it - no matter the weight. The weight itself is completely besides the point. The figure of merit is passenger miles per kWh. (because if you make the car 450kg lighter you are NOT suddenlsy transporting 6 extra people with each trip)

Nov 26, 2014
If you want to predict when battery technology becomes cheap, you need to consider it as a self-catalyzing system.


No you don't. Another intentionally planted false assumption from an oil lobbyist. Otherwise called "spreading a lie".

If you want battery prices to be come cheap, stop pouring trillions of dollars into gas exploration and spend even just one percent of that on battery research.

When oil prices start to reflect the cost of oil, people will switch to clean, abundant, maintenance-free and way more powerful electricity to power their cars.

And then battery prices will be in free fall when the sales start picking up.

Nov 26, 2014

We have of mountains of magnesium in rather pure state (dolomites) anywhere at the Earth, but only limited reserves of lithium.


Lithium and magnesium are not that much different in availability. Magnesium is $2500 per ton and lithium is $5700 or thereabout.

There are massive deposits of lithium right here in Canada. More than enough to supply the world with today's inefficient LI-ION batteries. That's what we know of without even looking.

The prices are so high because no one bothers to mine it. There's always been an insignificant need for these minerals, but without a real demand it's only being occasionally refined as a byproduct of other more profitable materials like gold silver and copper.

Nov 26, 2014
Lithium has a periodic number of 3. It was the 3rd material ever made after the big bang following hydrogen and helium. It's the most abundant solid in the universe.

More abundant than oxygen, more abundant than carbon, more abundant than nitrogen.

There's lithium everywhere. You've just got to want it, and companies will start making it.

Nov 26, 2014
Here I see the battery debate revolves around Lithium and Magnesium (maybe Aluminium too). These are for electronic devices. Sulphur is a possible large scale storage technology for solar/wind farms. In between, is a transportation segment (discussed above). For transportation, many here seem to think that battery technologists are ignorant of fuel cells. As it turns out, they are not. Creating fuel using electricity (solar/wind) is definitely ongoing work. Using this fuel for fuel cell batteries is a "no-brainer". Hydrogen fuel cells are in cars already, ones you can buy. These have the energy density desired. The current weakness in hydrogen storage is a major research subject. BUT: Hydrogen combines with CO2 to make methanol. Methanol fuel cells exist, and as a liquid fuel cell storage media, methanol is no worse than gasoline.

This article only discusses the technologies under consideration of sulphur and lithium by Deputy Director Venkat Srinivasan. There is much more.

Nov 26, 2014
The figure of merit is passenger miles per kWh. (because if you make the car 450kg lighter you are NOT suddenlsy transporting 6 extra people with each trip)


Reducing weight reduces energy consumption per passenger mile, because rolling resistance is linearily dependent on the weight of the vehicle.

If you want battery prices to be come cheap, stop pouring trillions of dollars into gas exploration and spend even just one percent of that on battery research.


That's not how it works.

Funding research won't build the volume manufacturing capacity that is what actually determines the prices, and building factories on subsidies before there's any demand for the products just means they'll go bankcrupt the moment you stop funding them. Even if you keep paying the subsidies to wait for the demand to catch up, they simply become obsolete in the face of better technology.

That's what happened with Solyndra.

Nov 26, 2014
methanol is no worse than gasoline.


It is.

If a methanol truck falls over, the area has to be evacuated to a diameter of a mile, because the evaporating fumes are instantly poisonous.

Nov 26, 2014
Look, something is missing from this article or it is poorly written, or it is just wrong. On an atomic weight basis, Lithium has a weight of 7 vs Magnesium of 24. The ratio is more than 3 to 1 favoring Lithium on a weight basis alone. The fact that Mg has a charge of +2 and Lithium +1 does not, at this level, make the theoretical atomic charge per mass density of Magnesium greater than Lithium. Lithium is still ahead by 70% in charge per mass density. Given that a Lithium cell has a voltage of about 3.6 and magnesium 2, the watt-hrs per mass for lithium gains an additional 80% advantage. So the total lithium advantage is 300% (1.7x1.8). That's from a pure metal cation view. The anion depends on the anode material and the electrolyte, which can be many compounds in each case. So this must be where Mg gets its advantage. Greater technical clarity would be appreciate from physics.org.

Nov 26, 2014
@EIKKA, If a gasoline truck falls over, as many have, evacuation is also required. Please note that methanol (Synonyms: Alcohol, methyl; Carbinol; Methanol; Methyl alcohol; Wood alcohol) is a common household product:
http://householdp...p;id=232

you are correct that it is poisonous, just not as bad as you think.

Nov 26, 2014
"That's what happened with Solyndra."
-------------------------------------

What happened to Solyndra was the unexpected arrival of super-low-cost PV cells from China. It killed more businesses than Solyndra.

And it also proved the technology.

Nov 27, 2014
"That's what happened with Solyndra."
-------------------------------------

What happened to Solyndra was the unexpected arrival of super-low-cost PV cells from China. It killed more businesses than Solyndra.

And it also proved the technology.


Precisely. Better technology, or better manufacturing technology in this case, made Solyndra obsolete because the government bet on the wrong horse as they tried to "jumpstart" the PV industry without considering the market.

Solyndra made thin film cells out of germanium etc. while the Chinese simply made ordinary silicon cells cheaper to produce.

Please note that methanol (Synonyms: Alcohol, methyl; Carbinol; Methanol; Methyl alcohol; Wood alcohol) is a common household product


But nobody has gallons and gallons of it to spill around, thereby not providing much of a hazard.

you are correct that it is poisonous, just not as bad as you think.


10 mL of methanol ingested is enough to cause blindness.

Nov 27, 2014
The Solyndra case also showcases that there's no magical bullet, no special technology that is suddenly going to bring the prices down. The thin film cells are technically better, but that doesn't matter if you don't have the capacity to make lots of them on the cheap.

But Solyndra is also a victim of subsidies in another sense, because nearly the entire demand for solar PV has been artifically conjured up with subsidies on the customer side, and they largely don't care what they're buying because it's not about the environment but about turning a profit on an investment paid by someone else. As long as it's cheap and plentiful, they're in, even if it means bankcrupting your own domestic companies.


Nov 27, 2014
Eikka just cannot quit. His use of will probably made him win all the debates in school, but here, the lack of experience shows up.

However, he/she works at it, and is serious and I really do respect that. Instead of just printing anything, Eikka makes sure he is educated about it. We should all do that. Although I disagree with his opinions, Eikka is a great debater.

Thank you for the effort and your work. You may turn out to be correct. Who knows? Crazier things have happened.

Good luck.


Nov 28, 2014
They can use Magnesium Metal Anodes (rather than intercalated Mg-ion) if they use the right electrolyte:
http://phys.org/n...ies.html
ion batteries are so last generation. Especially as the Mg ion is even bigger than the Li ion and would damage the anode material even faster than Lithium does.

Nov 28, 2014
Eikka just cannot quit. His use of will probably made him win all the debates in school


Debating is a hobby I picked up later in life to improve critical thinking skills.

As for experience, I find it hardly relevant what your personal experience is because it cannot change reality. It's simply anecdotal.

In general, "Experience" is arguing from a purely subjective point of view that disregards all empirical evidence except yours personally. It's an ad-hominem argument, an appeal to authority that is considered weak in any intellectual discourse in the lack of other support.

We don't even know how competent you are in your experience - a person who tries and fails still gets an experience, and if they're manipulative and smart may even pass it off as a personal success. Hence why sociopaths can climb high in hierarchies by pretending to be experts, and many "consultants" are simply charlatans who know less of the subject than you do.


Nov 28, 2014
Although I disagree with his opinions


In the words of Tim Minchin;

If you show me
That, say, homeopathy works,
Then I will change my mind
I'll spin on a fking dime
I'll be embarrassed as hell,
But I will run through the streets yelling
It's a miracle!
Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory!
And while its memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it's had in it!

Nov 28, 2014
Don't know Tim. But keep on screaming in the wilderness.

Nov 30, 2014
nanoflowcell.com (redox flow battery) already claims a 5 times higher energy density per volume than lithium-ion. This battery can be recharged indefinitely. The inventor of this battery claims very high power/volume with respect to other redox batteries. No information about the battery costs is provided.

http://mediacente...owcellR/

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