The Guardian has an interesting article on available lithium supplies that could be used in electric car batteries - What is going to power our cars ?.
It wasn't the sound of his car engine that was distracting Ian Clifford. The chief executive of Canadian business Zenn Motors makes electric vehicles that give off no noise. He was worried that the obvious choice to power his next car - the same stuff that goes into laptops and cellphone batteries - was going to be in short supply.
"If you look at the increase in lithium prices over the past seven to 10 years, it's been dramatic," says Clifford. Zenn's short-range urban cars traditionally used nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, but his next vehicle - an 80mph model with a 250-mile range - needed more efficiency. "There are very limited global reserves, and they're in potentially very unstable parts of the world," adds Clifford.
Supplies under strain
The US moved the previously obscure chemical element to centre stage in the 1950s when its lithium-hungry H-bomb programme kickstarted world production. The rising popularity of lithium-ion (Li-Ion) in batteries has sent demand soaring again, and pundits now worry that electric cars will strain our supplies.
Your laptop might use six finger-sized Li-Ion cells in its battery, but US-based Tesla Motors bolts together 6,000 cells to power one of its high-end electric sports cars. Now others, drawn to Li-Ion's light weight and high capacity, are joining in. Toyota's Prius hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) runs on a small battery powered by braking energy that switches to petrol when it runs out. The group will switch its Nickel Metal Hydrid (NiMH) chemistry to Li-Ion in 2010. GM will be putting Li-Ion batteries in the Volt, its plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) due out the same year. Other vendors also promise PHEVs, which are similar to HEVs, but with a larger, plug-in battery. Many will take the Li-Ion approach.
So how much lithium do we have? 1m tonnes of lithium metal is used to produce 5.3m tonnes of lithium carbonate, says Brian Jaskula, an analyst at the US Geological Survey (USGS), which goes into Li-Ion batteries.
Data from USGS puts total world resources of lithium metal at around 14m tonnes. The total world resource includes all the lithium metal we know about, whether it is commercially viable to extract it or not. But the USGS data is based on a 1976 National Research Council report.
A lot has changed in 32 years. Back then, most lithium came from a mineral called spodumene. But in 2001 SQM, a large mining group, began producing it in huge volumes by extracting it from salars - salt flats through which water has leached. The cheaper process sent prices plummeting and put many spodumene mines out of business.
"That was the last time that an organisation got together to do that type of research," Jaskula notes. But now two independent researchers are hoping to update the facts. In the pessimist corner is William Tahil, research director at Meridian International Research, who predicted two years ago that demand for lithium in cars would outpace supply. "There is no surplus lithium carbonate available for the automotive market. It's all being used by existing industrial applications," he says.
His report provoked a rebuttal from retired industry veteran Keith Evans, who worked on the original 1976 report. In March, he released An Abundance of Lithium, claiming a world resource of 28m tonnes, almost half of which he says could be extracted commercially (worldlithium.com). This would produce nearly 74m tonnes of lithium carbonate. "Tahil's argument that the world is short of lithium carbonate is wrong," Evans says. Two months later, Tahil released an even more pessimistic report, claiming that economically viable lithium metal reserves were just 4m tonnes. Evans is due to respond with a further rebuttal soon. Who is correct?
"Tahil considers that the total world lithium reserves are 4m tonnes," says an insider at SQM, which produces 37% of the world's lithium carbonate. "However, SQM's proven and probable in situ reserves alone total 5m tonnes."
Tahil, who still stands behind another report he wrote in 2006 claiming that the World Trade Center was felled by underground nuclear explosions, also dismisses the potential extraction of lithium from hectorite, a type of clay. But Western Uranium Corporation, a Canadian group, is testing recovery methods that it says could be worth 2m tonnes of lithium. Tahil has also largely dismissed the option of recycling lithium carbonate from Li-Ion batteries.
Disagreements over lithium reserves aside, the other debate is about how much lithium we can produce from our reserves, and whether it can match the growth of the car industry. ...
Peak oil advocates will worry that in spite of Kumar's analysis, we'll be forced to embrace Li-Ion in the coming years because oil will simply run out. But Bill van Amburg of research organisation Weststart-Calstart says that lithium won't have to support the auto industry on its own. "You'll have more efficient cars, alternative fuel, blended fuel, then the hybrids and electric drives, and all of them will have their piece of the wedge," he says.
Zenn and EEstor continue to get much of the press for electric cars lately - Tyler Hamilton has another article on them up at Technology Review - Better Batteries Charge Up.
A Texas startup says that it has taken a big step toward high-volume production of an ultracapacitor-based energy-storage system that, if claims hold true, would far outperform the best lithium-ion batteries on the market.
Dick Weir, founder and chief executive of EEStor, a startup based in Cedar Park, TX, says that the company has manufactured materials that have met all certification milestones for crystallization, chemical purity, and particle-size consistency. The results suggest that the materials can be made at a high-enough grade to meet the company's performance goals, as well as withstand the extreme voltages needed for high energy storage, the company said in a press release last week.
"These advancements provide the pathway to meeting our present requirements," Weir says. "This data says we hit the home run."
EEStor claims that its system, called an electrical energy storage unit (EESU), will have more than three times the energy density of the top lithium-ion batteries today. The company also says that the solid-state device will be safer and longer lasting, and will have the ability to recharge in less than five minutes. Toronto-based ZENN Motor, an EEStor investor and customer, says that it's developing an EESU-powered car with a top speed of 80 miles per hour and a 250-mile range. It hopes to launch the vehicle, which the company says will be inexpensive, in the fall of 2009.
But skepticism in the research community is high. At the EESU's core is a ceramic material consisting of a barium titanate powder that is coated with aluminum oxide and a type of glass material. At a materials-research conference earlier this year in San Francisco, it was asked whether such an energy-storage device was possible. "The response was not very positive," said one engineering professor who attended the conference. ...
Weir says that EEStor's latest production milestones lay the foundation for what follows. It has taken longer than originally expected, he says, but the company is now in a position to deploy more-advanced technologies for the production of military-grade applications, alluding to EEStor's partnership with Lockheed Martin.
Weir says that momentum is building and that he'll start coming out with information about the company's progress on a "more rapid basis." Plans are also under way for a major expansion of EEStor's production lines. "There's nothing complex in this," he says, pointing to his past engineering days at IBM. "It's nowhere near the complexity of disk-drive fabrication."
Despite its critics, EEStor has won support from some significant corners. In addition to Lockheed Martin, venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is an investor, and former Dell Computer chairman Morton Topfer sits on EEStor's board.
The company is also in serious talks with potential partners in the solar and wind industry, where EEStor's technology can, according to Weir, help put 45 percent more energy into the grid. He says that the company is working toward commercial production "as soon as possible in 2009," although when asked, he gave no specific date. "I'm not going to make claims on when we're going to get product out there. That's between me and the customer. I don't want to tell the industry."
Dahn says that he hopes EEStor will succeed. "I hope it works like a charm, because it will be a lot easier than fuel cells and batteries if it comes to pass."
Another high profile ultracapacitor manufacturer is Maxwell technologies, who Cleantech.com reports have landed a contract with a Chinese hybrid bus company - Golden Dragon Bus to use Maxwell ultracapacitors
Golden Dragon is producing diesel-electric hybrid buses for the Hangzhou, China, Public Transport Group. San Diego-based Maxwell Technologies made a deal to supply its Boostcap ultracapacitors to Xiamen, China's Golden Dragon Bus. Golden Dragon is producing diesel-electric hybrid buses for the Hangzhou, China, Public Transport Group.
Maxwell said today that it has completed delivery of 720 of its 48-volt multi-cell ultracapacitor modules to Golden Dragon for installation into 45 hybrid buses. Financial terms of the supply contract were not disclosed.
Green Car Congress reports the Th!nk City electric car has appeared at a show in London - TH!NK city Debuts in UK.
The TH!NK city electric vehicle made its debut at the 2008 British International Motor Show in London. The two-seater urban car has a top speed of 65 mph and a range of 126 miles in city driving on a single charge. Charging the batteries from 20% capacity to 80% takes four hours.
The TH!NK city accelerates from zero to 30 mph in 6.5 seconds and to 50 mph in 16 seconds. It requires just an overnight top-up of electricity and can travel for 126 miles in city driving on a fully charged battery.
Production started this year in Norway, and the first batch of right-hand drive cars will be delivered to UK customers in summer 2009. Prices of the TH!NK city will be announced closer to the on-sale date.
The TH!NK city is the sixth-generation electric vehicle that has been produced in Norway. Series production of the newly designed TH!NK city car recently started and the first cars have been delivered to Norwegian customers. Currently, cars are being produced at a rate of three to five a day, rising to 20 a day in the next six months.
The capacity of Think’s first assembly plant in Aurskog, outside Oslo, is presently being increased to 10,000 cars per year. Think plans to increase its production capacity with new assembly plants in the USA, Continental Europe and Asia in the next two years.
Joel Makower has a look at some of the adjustments that need to be made to support large scale rollouts of plugin hybrids - GM and the New Plug-In Infrastructure.
This week's announcement by General Motors that it has joined with more than 30 utility companies across the U.S. to work on issues related to electric vehicles got a great deal of media play. But the coverage only began to scratch the surface of the complexity of bringing plug-in electric vehicles to market in mass quantities.
In reality, the GM-utility conversation isn't entirely new. It began in January, at a Vehicle Electrification Workshop held at GM's research center in Warren, Michigan. I had the privilege of attending the meeting, which was facilitated by my colleagues at the sustainability strategy firm GreenOrder. The meeting included more than two dozen utility executives, including a team from the Electric Power Research Institute, the industry-funded consortium that served as the co-convener of the meeting.
It was an eye-opener, to say the least. It turns out that building the infrastructure for the plug-in electric vehicle isn't simply a matter of, "Here's a plug, here's a socket. End of story."
First of all, not everyone has a socket — a secure place to park their car and recharge it. Those living in apartment buildings, for example, lack this ability. Even where a plug exists, it may not have sufficient amperage to handle the load. (I'm a good example: I have a socket in my garage, but it's on the same circuit as my bedroom. If you plug in a power-hungry appliance in the garage, TiVo gets grumpy.)
But that's the least of it. Building the plug-in infrastructure involves a mind-numbing array of technical challenges. Among them ...
The Boston Herald reports that rising fuel costs are forcing police departments to increase the use of foot and bike patrols and to shift to electric vehicles - Police: rising fuel costs are ‘major public safety issue’. Coming soon - the Tesla Patrol Car.
Municipal police departments, which must run 24-hour fleets on $4-a-gallon gas, are charging extra for cruisers at traffic details, increasing bicycle and motorcycle patrols, and putting electric-powered vehicles into commission, a Herald review has found.
A Herald survey of the state’s largest police forces found that cops are being asked to morph into fuel-efficient crime fighters while gas costs gobble tens of thousands of dollars in law enforcement cash.
“The whole fuel thing is a major public safety issue. It’s a major economic issue,” said Framingham police Chief Steven B. Carl. “We put cops in very specific areas to keep them from driving around a lot and to be more efficient. You just can’t get away from answering calls. Most people don’t have accidents or commit crimes in areas that are convenient to police.”
And finally, EcoGeek reports that the Tata Nano may be going electric too - The Tata Nano: World's Cheapest (Electric) Car? . It sounds like they are talking about the (very) long awaited air car.
So it looks like the world's cheapest car (the Tata Nano) could soon be the world's cheapest electric car as well.
The price of the Nano is just above $2,500 and Tata's chairman Ratan Tata says he expects demand to exceed supply. Tata's plant in the city of Singur in the state of West Bengal will eventually have the capacity to make 350,000 Nanos a year.
Tata Motors plans to make a second generation of its four-passenger Nano with a diesel engine. But initially, it will have a gasoline engine capable of 50 miles to the gallon.
But the interesting news out of Mr. Tata's talk to shareholders at the annual general meeting last week was that the company is competing for an Eco car in Thailand and looking at other ways to make even more fuel-efficient versions of the Nano.
Tata is working with a French firm in developing an electric Nano. The electric car will use compressed air. Tata Motors also announced earlier this year it is in talks with Chrysler on developing electric vehicles.