A new idea for a large substation based in Clovis, New Mexico has the potential to solve one of the biggest hurdles to clean energy growth: transmission. The SuperStation, as its being called, would link the three largest grids - the east, west and Texas - allowing renewable energy producers to sell electricity across the country instead of just within their own grid.
The basic setup of the SuperStation would be a huge substation using superconducting cables to transmit electricity. The cables would carry 5 GW of electricity to and from the substation where it would be converted from AC from the grids to DC and then back to AC on its way back out. The cables are chilled to 300 degrees below zero which lets them carry more electricity, more cheaply. Tres Amigas, the company that hopes to build the project, would charge a fee for the SuperStation's use.
As more renewable energy projects are planned and built, it's infrastructure like this that will ultimately allow that clean electricity to make it into our homes. This project is expected to encounter lots of red tape because of the heavy regulation of power transmission, and it comes with a $1 billion price tag, so, for now, we can only hope it makes it.
via Wall Street Journal
In the last few years, electric vehicles have gone from a dream to the next logical step for vehicles. Of course, the future of EVs is still being debated, but IBM is using its cash and influence to push for an electric vehicle battery that can carry a car 500 miles without recharging.
500 miles is a long way, longer than most gasoline engines. And while the batteries might still require a long charge at the end of those 500 miles (longer than a five-minute gasoline fill up) it would still be a tremendous advantage over the 100 mile range of today's EVs.
There are a few paths to getting around this range problem. One is GM's "extended range electric vehicle" idea, which puts a gasoline generator in the car to recharge the batteries when they run low. Another is Shai Agassi's "Better Place" model, which has battery swapping stations scattered around the country for when you need a quick re-charge.
The third and most obvious option is to wait for battery technology to get good enough to satisfy the demands of drivers. IBM, sick of waiting, is pushing this direction hard. The project is called the "Battery 500 Project" and it focuses on advanced battery chemistries that will increase the "power density" of batteries. IBM's "Big Green" project last year asked for submissions for big green ideas, and the winning submission was the "Lithium Air Battery" which is what the Battery 500 Project will be focusing on.
Conceptually, lithium air batteries use lithium as the anode and oxygen as the cathode. Because oxygen would be fed into the battery from the surrounding air, the cathode would, in effect, be weightless. And because oxygen is available on demand, the only limiting factor is how much contact the battery can make with their air. That's where IBM's expertise comes in, they want to take their high-tech, nano-scale semiconductor manufacturing experience and use it to dramatically increase the surface area of the anode.
IBM is estimating that it will take two years to determine whether this technology is feasible. But even if that means it'll be five years before they hit the market, this will still be a huge breathrough for power storage technology.
For those of you who don't know, there's a company out there that's attracted the interest of venerable venture capitalists, established corporations, politicians, and even a few bloggers with claims that seem nearly impossible. Now, this isn't Steorn, it's not free energy. What they're talking about is possible without re-writing the laws of physics. But what they say they can do would change things. A lot of things.
EEStor says that they are working on an "electrical energy storage unit" (EESU - explained in more detail here, if you're curious) that would hold ten times the amount of power as todays most advanced batteries at the same weight. This storage unit would be able to charge and recharge infinitely without any loss of capacity and charging time (with enough power) could be brought down to three or four minutes. The storage units can be infinitely stacked together for applications as small as watch batteries and as large as grid-level power storage. And, of course, the technology is 10 times cheaper than lithium ion batteries. In short. it all sounds too good to be true.
I wouldn't even be wrting about this if EEStor didn't have investments from very smart people and contracts with very large companies. But that doesn't mean I'm not still skeptical. Smart people have been duped before. But because EEStor has been in the news an awful lot, and their strategic partner ZENN Motors says that they will be putting these devices into cars by early next year, let's try and figure out what this would mean for the world.
- Electric cars, of course, would become much more practical. While the EESU wouldn't be able to charge in 5 minutes at home with a 220 volt plug, it could charge in five minutes at high-power charging stations. This infrastructure would have to be built however, and the technology isn't cheap. Just like hydrogen or ethanol or Better Place's battery swapping stations, EESU's would require new infrastructure. The only electric vehicles that do not require new infrastructure are cars designed not to travel out of the city and cars with on-board, gas-powered generators like the Volt.
- ZENN Motor company currently has exclusive rights to put EESU's in four-wheeled vehicles that weigh less than 3,000 lbs. ZENN will likely sell those rights fairly quickly if the EESU pans out. If they don't, we'll be stuck with lithium ion for a while anyway.
- However, companies working on next-generation batteries for electric vehicles, including A123, LG Chem, GM, Tesla, Toyota and many more, will find themselves with a lot of useless research on their hands. Lithium ion batteries will never hit the numbers EEStor has claimed for it's EESU.
- Battery swapping technology may or may not become completely obsolete. Project Better Place's system of swapping out batteries to reduce the need for charging batteries could be used for EESU's instead of batteries. However, it's difficult for me to imagine that high-power quick-charging infrastructure wouldn't be far cheaper than battery-swapping facilities.
- Renewable energy sources would become much more viable. Currently, options for storing power generated during windy or sunny times of the day are limited and inefficient. An EEStor grid-level battery could store power for use at other times during the day at a comparatively low cost.
- The world might actually see a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions because of the EESU.
Let's remember, there are a lot of "if"s here. EEStor's technology could be viable, but costs could rise, imperfections could be found. It's very possible that the EESU will hit the market and lithium ion batteries will remain competitive with the new technology. Time will tell...I'm looking forward to it.
Car batteries actually have the highest recycling rate of any waste product in the world. Since they are, effecively, blocks of valuable metals, it isn't hard to get someone to pay for them once they stop holding a charge. However, while that easily applies for lead-acid and nickel batteries currently being used in traditional and hybrid vehicles, it's not as simple for lithium ion batteries.
Lithium ion batteries just don't have much in them that is economically useful. Currently, lithium carbonate is pretty cheap stuff, and it just isn't economically viable to recover it from batteries. Of course, thtoxcoat could easily change. As more and more batteries are produced, the world's current capacity for lithium could easily be strained.
Additionally, from an environmental perspective, it would be really bad news to have a new kind of battery that no one wants to recycle. Even if it isn't economically viable, Li-ion batteries contain all kinds of weird stuff that we don't want leaching into the ground water.
Those are the two reasons why Toxco, a company that already recycles nickel and lead batteries, is getting into the Li-ion game. And, also, why the DOE just gave Toxco a $9.5M grant to develop lithium battery recycling technology.
Toxco has been recycling small lithium ion batteries for more than a decade already, but new chemistries and the possible bulk of vehicle batteries is requiring them to re-focus on lithium. Hopefully, recycling Li-ion batteries will soon be just as easy as recycling any other kind of car battery. If not, it will be harder to sell buyers on the "green" part of electric vehicles.
One thing I won't say is that we're just "trading one unstable fuel for another" and that soon we'll be dependant on unbalanced countries for our lithium. Lithium is not a fuel, it's way of storing power. It is not used up by car batteries and there is plenty of it in the world. Don't start worrying that lithium is the next crude oil, it's not, especially if we can get good recycling technology going.
Via Technology Review