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    The biggest problem for technologically and economically practical electric vehicles is storing the power needed to operate them A) in amounts great enough to give them a range and speed comparable to conventional vehicles, B) while staying within weight/cost/size constraints necessary to make them affordable, useable vehicles, and C) doing so in a way that doesn't take hours to recharge. Research at M.I.T. may have scored a breakthrough on all three points.

      While the financial house of cards the rocket scientists of Wall Street and the international bankers built teeters back and forth, it's worth noting that a new technology is in the works that could have a transforming effect on large parts of our economy and our environment. I ran across the news about it in New Scientist a couple of days ago and it is getting a lot of interest there. It's 'Black Gold' that could really shake up the electric vehicle field. (more)

    I'm not going to pretend I understand all of the physics and the chemistry behind the MIT work, but the implications are pretty straightforward. What the M.I.T. team has done is find a way to make a semi-liquid sludge of solid particles in suspension that can store electrical energy in chemical form within a solid structure that contains it while allowing the energy to be extracted or stored (charged up) as needed.

    A conventional solid battery can already do this of course - but the M.I.T. concept has some advantages, as reported in New Scientist by Ferris Jabr:

Rechargeable batteries are the heaviest and most expensive components of electric cars by a large margin. Chiang [one of the M.I.T. researchers] estimates that the cost of manufacturing his team's battery will be $250 per kilowatt-hour of generating capacity. So if one were built to replace the 24-kWh battery in the Nissan Leaf, it would cost $6000. That is about one-third the cost of existing batteries, and just low enough to compete with gasoline. Chiang also calculates that Cambridge crude would let a car travel at least 300 kilometres on a single charge, double what is possible with today's batteries.

 In other words, lower weight, lower cost, and higher capacity - and it gets better. When the battery is drained, the depleted electrolyte could either be pumped out and swapped for solution that is already charged, replaced just by swapping tanks of electrolyte, or (slower) simply recharging it in place. This set of options promises to greatly reduce the drawbacks of conventional solid battery vehicles to the point where going electric is not going to be that big of a change from going fossil fuel.

     There are other implications as well. Any place where there's a need to store electricity in some fashion will benefit from this new battery technology - such as a solar/wind powered home off the grid, or in a hybrid vehicle. The fact that the electrolyte is a solution offers greater flexibility in designing the shape and size of battery components. It doesn't matter where the electricity to charge the battery comes from either - it can be as 'green' as the customer is willing to pay for. As the technology comes into use, look for plenty more applications to develop as people see what can be done with it.

      Of course, there are questions to be answered as well. How many discharge-charge cycles can the Cambridge Crude handle before it begins to degrade? What are the environmental effects of obtaining the raw materials and manufacturing them into a battery? How difficult or dangerous is it to store or handle? How will inevitable losses in exchanging charged for depleted fluid be dealt with? What kind of infrastructure will be needed for quick-change stations? What kind of waste will be generated, and how hard will it be to dispose of it safely? What happens if a battery is damaged in an accident - and how does it get handled?

      Nonetheless, the initial results seem to be looking good enough to go ahead. New Scientist notes in closing:

Last year Chiang, his colleague Craig Carter and entrepreneur Throop Wilder founded a company called 24M Technologies to develop the battery. They have raised $16 million in funding so far, and plan to have a compact prototype ready in 2013.

     Their timing is good - this kind of thing is going to happen less and less often in the future, as the deficit fixation in Washington gets more feverish. It seems the funding of this work didn't come from the mythical 'job creators' out there. The M.I.T. report is careful to note where initial funding came from:

The development of the technology was partly funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). Continuing research on the technology is taking place partly at 24M, where some recent MIT graduates who worked on the project are part of the team; at MIT, where professors Angela Belcher and Paula Hammond are co-investigators; and at Rutgers, with Professor Glenn Amatucci.

The target of the team’s ongoing work, under a three-year ARPA-E grant awarded in September 2010, is to have, by the end of the grant period, “a fully-functioning, reduced-scale prototype system,” Chiang says, ready to be engineered for production as a replacement for existing electric-car batteries.

emphasis added


     Some of the things that often get overlooked in discussions of electric vehicles are some of the other advantages that go with them. Electric motors can be built that are simpler, far more rugged and long lasting than internal combustion engines - you don't need the electromechanical sideshow that goes on to manage the burning of fossil fuels within the engine or the waste heat and toxic gasses that result. You don't have an engine that is constantly banging itself apart; transmitting power to wheels is a lot simpler as well when you can replace gears and transmission fluid with electromagnetic fields.

       To take these advantages to extremes, John Wayland took a 1972 Datsun 1200 and turned it into an electric powered car that routinely blows the competition away on drag strips. Here a link to a lot of info on the car (and other projects.)  Here's a link to a report on it in 2009, along with a 10 minute video showing it in action - there's quite a few Youtube videos out there, too. A few numbers from back in 2009:

It goes from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds! In fact, it can take a quarter-mile in 11.46 seconds reaching a top speed of 114 mph – that’s a world record. And it’s street-legal.

   Imagine what Wayland could do with some 'Cambridge Crude' in the tank!


When it comes to electric cars....

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar! (15+ / 0-)

    Thought this was a bit of news that needs to get spread around.  Honk (Beep?) if you like electric cars.  Or even if you don't.              

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Wed Aug 10, 2011 at 06:59:30 PM PDT

  •  My Order-of-Magnitude Question Would Be (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, Tanya, Lujane, petral

    how much vehicle traffic could be replaced with direct-electric transport such as inter-city trains and urban trains and electric trolley-buses that don't need rails.

    We can get trolley buses up as fast as we can string wires, which would be by far the fastest rollout of nonpetroleum mass transit we could do, and every locale that can support any bus could support trolley bus.

    Of course if most of the development of individual vehicle batteries is being done by the private sector let 'em go at it whole hog. For public policy I'd like to see a serious push for mass transit starting with trolley buses because they're so incredibly easy to deploy everywhere except rural.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Aug 10, 2011 at 07:08:56 PM PDT

    •  Good - but also... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MKSinSA, Karl Rover, Lujane, KenBee

      This could make totally electric buses a practical alternative - and one that could get on the roads a lot faster than stringing all that catenary wire.

      It might be a way to get the Cambridge Crude into use a lot faster, since a transportation department running a lot of transit buses would be just the place that could make the investment in all the necessary infrastructure - their biggest expense is fuel costs.

      If electric buses prove cheaper to maintain, cheaper to run, it wouldn't take long for them to make a serious impact. Heck - the roof of a bus is big enough to make one big solar panel - these buses could charge themselves up just sitting around!

      Think of the application for school buses too.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Wed Aug 10, 2011 at 07:17:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  faster? no (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        This could make totally electric buses a practical alternative - and one that could get on the roads a lot faster than stringing all that catenary wire.

        The linked article explains that this new technology is at least 5 years away from being commercially available, whereas we could start stringing electric cable tomorrow to power existing, well-proven electric trolley buses. We could have trolley buses on the streets in a matter of months, not years. So Gooserock's point stands -- it would be much faster to deploy electric trolley buses.

        •  The basic idea is already in production (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          KenBee, xaxnar

          It's called a 'flow battery' and works on the same principle.

          The MIT announcement may be more efficient, cheaper, lighter, smaller - I really don't know. It may also be another MIT press release that never pans out as a real product.

          Our school district has had a hybrid school bus for 3 or 4 years now, and in fact it has enough range to do one of the shorter routes on battery only (and we have the second cheapest electricity in the nation here).

          If my thought-dreams could be seen, they'd probably put my head in a guillotine

          by badger on Wed Aug 10, 2011 at 10:05:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Yes and No (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Yes, we could start stringing cable today - but don't forget the rest of the picture. There's the NIMBY problem - how many people are going to support seeing their neighborhoods filled with a mess of poles and wires? There's the investment problem - how many municipalities  are going to be able to afford the construction costs when there are so many things they're cutting back on now? There's the scaling/density problem - how many miles of route and riders have to be up and running to make a system cost effective? There's the flexibility problem - how do you decide where the cables should run, and what do you do if you need to change routes for some reason? There's the Angry Voter problem - how do you convince people to pay for something a lot of them think they'll never use?

          I'm not saying these can't be overcome - they have been and are, but a vehicle that can be put into service and used largely like a conventional bus has a lot fewer hurdles to get over - and it can be done one bus at a time and scaled up. Five years isn't a long time to wait especially if we start investing in current and bridging technology now, like hybrid buses. And, I suspect getting an electric bus developed and into service would actually be cheaper and faster than developing a car, since a bus platform offers more design possibilities for battery size and storage, and riders don't care what it looks like, costs (if fares are reasonable), what the neighbors will think about it, or if it will fit in their garage. Plus, the wear and tear of operating a transit system bus will build a lot of real world experience that will make applying the technology to personal vehicles more effective.

          "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

          by xaxnar on Thu Aug 11, 2011 at 04:14:52 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Hot rod magazine this month has an article (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tanya, Karl Rover, Lujane, cotterperson, KenBee

    about an electric truck .

    "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

    by indycam on Wed Aug 10, 2011 at 07:25:51 PM PDT

  •  know what was really interesting. (5+ / 0-)

    Today I was watching the market and while everything was turning red a lot of green stock were up. sustainable energy in all forms is the future and the breakthroughs keep coming.

    To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men~~ Abraham Lincoln

    by Tanya on Wed Aug 10, 2011 at 07:31:27 PM PDT

    •  Yep, it's a "solar boom." (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, xaxnar, Tanya
      New investment in clean energy rose 22 percent from a year ago to $41.7 billion in the second quarter following a jump in funding for solar thermal power plants, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.

      About damn time, I'd say, having seen my first off-the-grid house in 1970. The technology is no longer suppressed! Wooo-hooo!

      Meteor Blades: "Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe."

      by cotterperson on Wed Aug 10, 2011 at 08:36:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Seen this ? (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, petral, cotterperson, badger, KenBee, xaxnar
    Breakthrough: New Flow-Battery Design Provides 10-Fold Improvement

    "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

    by indycam on Wed Aug 10, 2011 at 07:31:34 PM PDT

    •  No, and thanks - but repetition doesn't hurt ;-) (0+ / 0-)

      As I said, I'd first seen about this in New Scientist several days ago, so I'm late to the party. It's worth bringing up again though, since the efforts to dismantle government are accelerating. This demonstrates that government can and does have a role to play in job creation, technology development, and planning for the future - we need to remind people of this since they hear the opposite every day, and even the White House seems to accept it as 'truth'.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Thu Aug 11, 2011 at 04:22:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  But I can't tow my boat! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    heh, if I had one and wanted to tow it...

    Good stuff, I didn't read the Thing, but you said lighter, lighter than Li batteries? Really?

    And hopefully They will get it right and by the time this technology gets public, and the sooner maybe the better, or maybe not..maybe they will have figured out the battery swap standards allowing fast recharge/replacements.

    It'll be really interesting, I hope I survive the silent dam Priuses, Priusii? sneaking up on me in parking lots! Dam!

    Driven by little old republican ladies too!

    "We will punish the murderer. Our punishment should be more generosity, more tolerance and more democracy" - The mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang

    by KenBee on Wed Aug 10, 2011 at 11:38:45 PM PDT

  •  We all need a commuter car (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that does 0 - 60 in 4 seconds and beats a Tesla in the 1/4 mile.

    Others have simply gotten old. I prefer to think I've been tempered by time.

    by Just Bob on Thu Aug 11, 2011 at 05:04:00 AM PDT

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