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I want to have a world when humans got serious about global warming and succeeded in making Lithium Air battery work. Since the lithium air has same potential energy density as gas, and electric engine is simpler and more efficient industries rush to adopt it. People are also thrilled with possibility to not spend money on gas and use solar to charge their vehicles.

Is my technology adoption cycle plausible:

  1. Experimental vehicles only, gets lot of press but nothing concrete
  2. Battery is too cumbersome & expensive so it's used only on large machines such as those made by cat & deere where large fuel savings are enough to justify large front investments.
  3. Batteries become smaller but they're still expensive so luxury & sports cars adopt them as a status symbol
  4. Batteries become cheap enough that all the new cars are using them
  5. Oil producers collapse due to nobody buying their oil

Note

  • Battery to wheel efficiency: ~68%
  • Tank to wheel efficiency: About 16%

Which means electric motors are about 4x more efficient than combustion engines . Theoretical energy density of the Lithium Air battery is same as gasoline, even if its hard to achieve full potential even 25% of the potential density would put it on par as gasoline

See this as humorous take of Tesla Owner test driving gas car

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In contrast to Thucydides, I'm going to take an optimistic view of the technology. I honestly believe that we are only waiting for an Edison to come around and solve the engineering and chemistry issues to make it possible.

That being said, there are some issues with your 5-step process.

Early adoption in Municipal Transport

First is that adoption on Cats and Deeres is unlikely. They sell equipment to the most conservative buyers, and their equipment routinely lasts decades. Turnover is low, they make a lot of money from life-cycle maintenance and attachments, etc. A better option for initial adopters is city governments who would be easily convinced to do something for the environment that makes absolutely no sense economically. City buses and particularly commuter rails would make a lot of sense.

Spread to commercial rail

Bostom's MBTA, Chicago's Metra, SF's Caltrain, NY's New Jersey Transit, etc., all use diesel or diesel-electric rolling stock. Convincing them to covert to efficient batteries is important because that give a direct lead-in is important to commercialization. If battery powered commuter rail is successful, commercial and freight rail won't be far behind. Especially given that these are often nationalized or semi-nationalized in Europe, the changeover to battery could happen quickly here. Now with a worldwide commercial adoption of the technology, engineering improvements should come quickly and passenger transit won't be far behind. Also note, that if bus adoption is successful, the logical next step for large applications is trucking.

Oil price drops will make oil power plants successful

The other beef is with the oil companies collapsing. You put that in there almost vindictively, but it won't happen. Why not? Because if a billion car-drivers stop buying oil, the price goes way down, but the price of electricity goes way up (gotta charge those batteries somehow). Now oil fired power plants are much cheaper to operate since the competing demand for oil is almost gone. This is actually another net positive for the environment, because if you convert all coal plants to oil plants, CO$_2$ emission would go down significantly.

Energy companies will get into batteries when the time is right

Lastly, oil companies are some of the biggest and richest on the earth. If lithium air batteries are successfully demonstrated on commercial freight train, who do you think is going to fund the mass production of batteries, and pay for the research to make them automobile size? Elon Musk might be rich, but he's a beggar compared to ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, which each take in 20 times more in cash every year than Musk has in market valued wealth.

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There are several difficulties with your timeline:

  1. Li-air batteries are said to have twice the energy density of Li-ion batteries in the article. Hydrocarbon fuels are something like 40X as energy dense as Li-ion, so you are still at a huge disadvantage compared to hydrocarbon fuels. To put it in perspective, the GM Volt Hybrid car gets a range of 40 miles on a ton of batteries, but a range of 300 miles on 8 US gallons of gasoline. A hypothetical Chevy "Gas" stripped out of the ton of batteries, electric engines, control electronics etc. should actually get better milage due to the vast decrease in weight. Conventional car technology still has a long way to go.

  2. Electric cars were the most common type of vehicle in the early 20th century. They were replaced by gasoline powered vehicles because the electrical infrastructure needed to recharge them could not be built fast enough to handle demand, while any corner store could easily buy a drum of gasoline to supply customers who wanted to fuel their car. The sudden introduction of millions of electric cars would overwhelm the modern grid, and a massive construction program of coal electric plants would be needed to quickly and cheaply supply the needed energy.

  3. Solar panels, while very nice, don't supply the energy density needed to recharge electric cars, not at any reasonable rate anyway. I've seen calculations where the average homeowner would need 3X the roof area of a typical American house to recharge their car, and that is on a sunny day. (Canadians and Europeans, living in smaller homes and with less insolation, will have an even harder time). Rain, clouds etc. tip the scales even further away, and of course most people drive home and recharge at night....

  4. Huge increases in photovoltaics might also have the negative side effect of destabilizing the grid, when huge and unpredictable surges of power ripple through the system.

  5. Oil companies are always the focus of very unjustified hate. Oil companies won't collapse due to reduction in demand or prices (oil has gone from \$100/barrel to less than \$40/barrel in just under two years, and the companies are still around), and oil demand is not just for transportation fuel. Oil is the basis for plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, pesticides, industrial chemicals of all sorts...the modern world runs on oil.

  6. Finally, you overestimate how fast new products could be adopted. In addition to the trillions of dollars in sunk costs for existing systems, there is also a massive pool of trained people who know how to design, build, maintain and operate IC systems of various sorts. If Li-air batteries have some sort of issue (like Li-ion batteries catching fire), then for every person that can be thrown at the problem there are at least ten or more who are working on refining alternatives that you are trying to replace. And they have multi billion dollar industries worth of resources backing them.

So while electric cars do have a lot of theoretical advantages, they need to be mated to some sort of system which takes advantage of the huge energy densities and convenient infrastructure of existing hydrocarbon fuels (they also can be stored and handled at sensible temperatures, and are relatively non toxic-something to think about the next time you go to a self serve gas station). Electric cars powered by small "extender" generators are the short term solution, but for the long term, a fuel cell which can pull the electrochemical energy of hydrocarbons in one step would be preferable. This is called a fuel cell, and Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) technology has already been demonstrated to do this, taking hydrocarbons and directly converting them to electrical energy.

Most SOFC research has focused on stationary applications using natural gas, but there is no reason that SOFC's built to run on diesel or gasoline (or other hydrocarbon fuels) could not be built as well.

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    $\begingroup$ The Lithium Air has theoretical density same as gasoline, and electric motor is 4 times more efficient then gasoline. So battery hackers would need to achieve just 25% of the Lithium Air battery to have parity. Also electric car could be refueled when electricity is cheap. Check this for humerous take teslaclubsweden.se/test-drive-of-a-petrol-car $\endgroup$ – Care_Bear Oct 22 '16 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Care_Bear This is exactly what I thought, sunlight, wind and hydro-power do not depend on demand, if there is surplus, they are wasted. Unless we charge electric cars! A smart grid like this could be 10x more efficient than what we have today, even if batteries were only a few percent the density of petrol. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 22 '16 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ Electrical grids work by matching supply and demand, so if it is windy or sunny, you would have to have everyone stop what they are doing to recharge batteries. How plausible is that? (This is also why wind and solar destabilize grids: supply is not matched to demand. "Smart Grids" don't solve that core problem, as has been demonstrated in Germany, Denmark and Australian grid crashes). Your cited article specifically mentions Li-air batteries having twice the energy density of Li-ion batteries, so I am not clear where you are getting your energy density figures from. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 22 '16 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Thucydides Wasn't allowed to post more then 2 links due to my low reputations, here's a good chart energy-without-carbon.org/Batteries energy-without-carbon.org/sites/default/files/… $\endgroup$ – Care_Bear Oct 22 '16 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ Not mentioned but potentially one of the biggest problems: mining enough lithium in the first place. If you want this to work, go for room-temperature superconducting solenoid battery. It is more hypothetical, but once we find how it works, you will have fast-charging batteries with the energy density of gasoline. Keep in mind that if breached or heated, it will explode, though. $\endgroup$ – Eth Jan 10 at 12:00

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