back to article Watt's next for batteries? It'll be more of the same, not longer life, because physics and chemistry are hard

"There are liars, damned liars, and battery guys" – or some variation thereof – is an aphorism commonly attributed to US electro-whizz Thomas Edison. Edison's anecdotal frustrations remain valid today because scarcely a month goes by without a promised battery revolution, and scarcely a month goes by without that revolution …

  1. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    WTF?

    For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery

    Err, lead acid batteries are rechargeable. (Until they're not, which is when you absolutely need your car.)

    1. fredblogggs

      Re: For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery

      Not only are they rechargeable (in some designs and applications, for many thousands of cycles), lead-acid batteries are also not thrown in the waste bin as the rest of that paragraph suggested. In fact, lead-acid batteries are probably the single most widely recycled product in the world, at a rate around 96% (source: https://vulcangms.com/lead-batteries-most-recycled-products/). I believe the author has confused lead-acid with the non-rechargeable, difficult-to-recycle "alkaline batteries" that people do typically toss in the bin after their single use.

    2. Ivan Headache

      Re: For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery

      Where does it say that?

      I can’t find a reference to expendable lead-acid batteries.

      If you are referring to “the little cylinder of metal and acid” then I think you are reading something that isn’t there. All the lead-acid batteries I have seen are not little, neither are they cylindrical nor made of metal.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery

        "For an expendable battery" previously said "For a lead-acid battery".

        El Reg has been rewriting their history!

      2. Draco
        Windows

        Re: For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery

        The wayback machine lets you see what has been quietly edited out:

        https://web.archive.org/web/20201230160324/https://www.theregister.com/2020/12/30/beyond_lithium_ion_batteries/

      3. BugabooSue

        Re: For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery

        There used to be a small-ish round 2V lead cell called a “Cyclon” battery. About the size of a D-cell that had REALLY put on weight (like you’d crammed two D-cells worth of mass into the same form factor ratio).

        1. Catweazle666

          Re: For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery

          Cyclon lead-acid batteries are still available, either as single cells or multiples, I have a 6v example on my vintage motorcycle.

          The single D cell holds 4.5 amp-hours.

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery

            That's 4500 milliamp-hours in modern bullshit.

    3. MJI Silver badge

      Re: For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery

      Mine cost me a lot and is already flat.

      I need a better charger as it won't go over 12 yet the alternator goes up to 14. Won't even trickle.

      Problem is cold start cycle runs for 15 minutes, 5 or 6 ECUs, heated windows, short trips.

      Will need a decent charger as RACMAN will be getting fed up.

    4. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      "lead acid batteries are rechargeable"

      Yeah, we know, it's fixed. Don't forget to email corrections@theregister.com if you spot anything wrong -- though tons of you did.

      Happy new year.

      C.

  2. TimMaher Silver badge
    Coat

    Pedot

    Bit of a side issue but a team at Washington Uni in St Louis have found that you can use house bricks as batteries by coating them in Pedot, a nano material of some sort.

    Then we could take our mobiles back to the 80’s.

    Mine’s the one with the Motorola 8500 in the pocket.

    1. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Pedot

      As mentioned in the article, not all applications require high energy density, or lightness, quick recharge etc. If you could essentially have your whole building be a giant battery, fed from solar pa on the roof and only topped up with mains power when needed it could help flatten the day/night power use cycle

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Pedot

        And possibly the wind err cycle.

        One thing seemingly not mentioned were flow batteries where the chargy containing thing is a liquid and can be flushed one way during charging into a store and then back to make the battery provide power, You can get a lot of umph in a bath full of chargy juice.

    2. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

      Re: Pedot

      > found that you can use house bricks as batteries ...

      Just another way to brick your phone.

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Pedot

      That explains why, when walking home from the pub recently, I could only get my phone to work by leaning against a wall.

      Or it could have been the singing...

  3. brainwrong

    Gurgling Cheese!

    "For an expendable battery, such as a lead-acid battery"

    I'm no expert on batteries, but I can see several errors in this article, of which the above is the stupidest and most obvious.

    Was this written by a bot from phys.org or something?

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Gurgling Cheese!

      It's not that bad an article, but it seems to have been written by a competent journalist after a quick cram course on batteries. Nothing wrong with that. But the results do seem a bit suboptimal.

      Batteries are complicated. They are going to have to improve a lot in order to support the climate warrior's vision of a non-carbon based future. They need much greater energy density, and faster recharge and more full recharge cycles and better low temperature performance and limited charge leakage in when not in use. All without sacrificing efficiency and without any propensity to release their large energy storage destructively. And they need to be CHEAP.

      The good news is that there appear to be literally trillions of possible battery chemistries. And dozens of construction parameters for each that can be varied to improve performance. Of course most of those possibilities will utterly impractical. But nonetheless it seems that slow improvement will likely continue for a very long time.

      1. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

        Re: Gurgling Cheese!

        The current hot favourites are li-ion based fast reacting grid stabilising batteries.

        If you believe the hype, a wave of green energy hydrolysis plants are due from 2023, to store the excess renewable/nuclear power in large quantities. This sounds more plausible, as they already exist, and if the options are 1) switch off your solar/wind farm, or b) use the "free/cheap" energy to create hydrogen fuel, it's not a terrible idea. Need to get the costs down 60-70% though for mass market.

      2. NorthIowan

        Re: The good news is that there appear to be literally trillions of possible battery chemistries.

        That may be the bad news to. With so many possible battery chemistries it takes a long time to find the few good enough ones. And that does not include the time to figure out the non-chemical variations of all those chemistries such as making the anode/cathode with the right sized pores for that chemistry..

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Gurgling Cheese!

      As soo as you see a glaring error like the lead acid one, none of the other facts presented can be trusted.

    3. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Gurgling Cheese!

      @Brainwrong

      Not reading the article and relying on comments for your critique is limiting to accuracy.

      The article refers to expendable batteries as little metal cylinders with acid in them.

  4. steelpillow Silver badge
    Flame

    Thin films, thin arguments

    So changing materials is massively hard (shut up at the back there), expensive and time-consuming. Lucky Sony's old thin-film magnetic tape tech was lithium-based, really. I always wondered what Cr02 and Fe stood for

    Icon as a reminder of one of Li-ion tech's more popular party tricks; oddly, my old tapes never did that.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Thin films, thin arguments

      There was I thinking their thin film division was responsible for The Da Vinci Code.

    2. drgeoff

      Re: Thin films, thin arguments

      @steelpillow

      What are you prattling on about? Neither Sony's nor any other magnetic tape has ever been lithium based.

      CrO2 and Fe stood for Chromium dioxide and Ferric (ie iron) respectively.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Thin films, thin arguments

        That's a woosh for you, I'm afraid. Have another sherry and a mince pie.

        1. Imhotep Silver badge

          Re: Thin films, thin arguments

          Whoosh - the same noise my deadlines make as they fly by.

      2. steelpillow Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Thin films, thin arguments

        "What are you prattling on about? Neither Sony's nor any other magnetic tape has ever been lithium based.

        "CrO2 and Fe stood for Chromium dioxide and Ferric (ie iron) respectively."

        Oh, yeah, sorry drgeoff, I forgot to mention SArCaSm. That stuff really does burst into flames.

        (But your downvote did make my day, you earned this post a keyboard icon!)

        1. V 3

          Re: Thin films, thin arguments

          Ah - the well know Sulphur Argon Calcium Samarium battery chemistry - I gather The Reg has it as a backup power source...

          1. V 3

            Re: Thin films, thin arguments

            although obviously it was replaced by a Ferric/Yttrium chemistry. Or "iron-Y" as it was more casually known.

            1. steelpillow Silver badge

              Re: Thin films, thin arguments

              Mind you, many backup systems in practice employ both SArCaSm and Iron-Y products and a lot of technologists get confused over the subtly different properties of the two. AFAIK El Reg employs just such a combined system.

          2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

            Re: Thin films, thin arguments

            But what is its energy density in official Reg units? Watt hours and Amp hours are so passé, you know?

            1. John H Woods Silver badge

              Re: Thin films, thin arguments

              Watt = Joule / sec

              so 1 Wh = 3600J

              Joule = Newton Metre

              1N = 0.01 Norris

              1m = 7.1429 Linguine

              So 1 Joule = 0.071429 NorrisLinguine

              So 1Wh = 257.14 NorrisLinguine.

              AMIRITE?

              So energy density per mass is NorrisLinguine/Jub; whereas energy density per volume is NorrisLinguine/Grapefruit. However, Linguine/Grapefruit can also be expressed in 1/Wales, so Norris per Wales would also be cromulent.

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

              2. John H Woods Silver badge

                Re: Thin films, thin arguments

                I was slightly confused that energy density per volume would be in Norris per Wales and therefore pressure but have now realised that this kind of makes physical sense - you can store energy in a fixed volume by filling it with pressurized gas: my back of fagpacket gives 100 atmostpheres to be about `36MJ i.e 10kWh per cubic metre (which is about 0.1% of the energy density of diesel, I think, whilst Li-Ion is what, about 200kWh per cubic metre, or around 2% of diesel).

            2. steelpillow Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: Thin films, thin arguments

              Energy density in official Reg units?

              Well, I guess cynicism would be measured in grimaces or gurns per point size. Since Courier is standardised at 12 pt, and sarcasm and irony are basically cynicism per pint (or litre), I'd hazard we should be measuring in duodecalitres per gurn.

              1. TimMaher Silver badge
                Coat

                Re: Thin films, thin arguments

                And, @steelpillow, if you combine all three in a secure container under extreme pressure you can produce pure satire my lord!

                Mine’s the green one, for obvious reasons.

  5. clayusmcret

    Interestingly, we've noticed that every battery operated Christmas doodad we've had for years are only lasting 2-3 days this year vice a week or two every year previously. Since they couldn't all have suddenly had overcharge issues, we have to believe it's related to the batteries we bought this year...both alkaline and lithium.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      @clayusmcret Have you taken the processing drain of all the smarts and spyware into account?

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Watt$ next?

      If you come up with two new battery designs, one of which can deliver 5Ah and be recharged daily for 10 years, while the other delivers 6Ah and lasts about 1 year or 100 recharge cycles ... which do you think will be sold as the best new battery ever?

      Batteries are designed to be replaced.

      1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

        Re: Watt$ next?

        Lithium-iron-phosphate and Lithium-titanate batteries are the ones that deliver a bit less power (lower voltage) but with a much longer service life and better chemical stability. They definitely have uses.

      2. JassMan Silver badge

        Re: Watt$ next?

        Batteries are designed to be replacedunless fitted inside an iPhone

        FTFY

        1. Circadian
          Trollface

          Re: Watt$ next?

          @jassman

          But the batteries are designed to be replaced - it’s just the packaging it comes in (known as an “iPhone”) is a bit expensive...

      3. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Watt$ next?

        Batteries are designed to be replaced

        Ideally not so often that you might as well use throw-aways

        (from the article)

        batteries comprised of more abundant materials

        This _I_ like. I've heard good things about Aluminum-ion types of designs [whether its exactly that, or some derivative of it]. Lithium being a 'rare earth' material would eventually make it more expensive. However, other materials that are much more abundant would make "better" batteries that are physically larger and heavier. For many applications the latter battery might actually be a better idea. I'm thinking hybrid cars and inexpensive laptop computers, specifically... things that an extra pound or two isn't gonna hurt, especially when minimal cost is one of your goals.

        As for overall capacity, the improvements made to lead-acid batteries over the years to extend THEIR life hit a kind of plateau but still might reflect the *kinds* of things that could be done to LiPo, such as a method to increase the surface area of the lithium side, better electrolytes to improve power density and recharge cycles, yotta yotta.

        But yeah, those damned laws of physics and chemistry keep getting in the way of our battery pipe dreams.

    3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      It's certainly true that all batteries are not created equal; not even all throwaway alkaline batteries. I did a lot of work testing batteries of different brands for a recent product development, and my main discovery was that the best indicator of capacity was simply mass... cheap alkalines weigh less - sometimes as much as 50% less- and last correspondingly shorter times.

      Oddly enough, the well-known 'good' brands were the heaviest...

      Apropos of which: the increase in the availability of micropower voltage regulators with a maximum input voltage of 6.0 volts... when a set of four alkalines fresh out of the packet will deliver a reliable 6.4 volts. Obviously they're aiming at the 4.2v rechargeable lithium cell market, but it's frustrating when you're constrained to use alkalines.

      1. Bogbody

        At a previous employer we imorted Chinese made batteries for the consumer market.

        The battery weight was one of the QC checks.

        It was common to find that a "C" or a "D" cell had one "AA" or even a "AAA" inside.

        They were cheap tho .....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Using a high-capacity AA Ni-Mh battery in a shroud in place of a non-rechargeable C or D - generally achieves the equipment's functionality.

          Known constraints are operating at very low temperatures - or replacement expectations exceeding a couple of years. Some devices warn against using rechargeables - possibly due to their ability to deliver high currents or having a slightly lower voltage.

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Yep, C and D diameter sleeves for AA and AAA alkalines were a common upgrade years ago for reporters' audio equipment; the alkalines were quite capable of meeting or exceeding the power requirements previously requiring heavy C and D cells.

            But it's frustrating when the device is designed to use alkalines because of their capacity, current providing ability, and discharge curves; when the the manual states DO NOT USE rechargeables or zinc carbon cells (cunningly labelled 'high power' by many makers!) and recommends a couple of quality alkaline brands, that users still ring up to complain that when they stick old nicads in it does work at all well...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Um... How about using 3 alkaline batteries at 4.8V?

        Posted as anon because I've probably been stupid.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Not stupid at all: but if you need 6v elsewhere in the circuit for whatever reason, particularly if that reason requires significant chunks of an amp, it's often both more efficient and cheaper to build a 6v supply than to try and boost a lower voltage.

          Also, try finding a 3-cell battery holder in Farnells, RS, Digikey, Mouser... :)

      3. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: the well-known 'good' brands

        Might we possibly get a list of those ?

        For reference ?

        I promise I won't tell.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: the well-known 'good' brands

          A list, no. That's company IP I'm afraid. And also probably actionable if someone tests using a different method and gets different results...

          But personally I buy *only* Duracell and Energiser, in no particular order.

      4. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

        Aldi AA

        Aldi's alkalines are about the same capacity as Duracell Ultras at only £2 for 8. Yes I built a test rig!

        Not the Simply Duracells they have next to them. Those are pants.

  6. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Trollface

    Best of both worlds

    Obviously, we need to combine two emerging technologies for near-infinite power and create the Lithium-fusion hybrid battery pack.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Best of both worlds

      Lithium-fusion hybrid battery pack.

      If cold fusion were _practical_...

      Question, though, how do you convert the fusion end products into electrical current?

      (I've heard the theoretical Tesla Turbine might work for a plasma flow, but this is in a solid material, right?)

      1. Steve K Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Best of both worlds

        Take a look at Lattice-constrained fusion research from NASA.

        Maybe Pons and Fleischmann were on to something.....

        Not sure how you extract energy (as you mentioned) but sounds interesting.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Best of both worlds

          There's also Polywell fusion, which was taken up and studied by the US navy for a time. The research suddenly dried up, with anything remotely interesting slapped under so many classified stamps that you could extract useful energy from the gravitational compression of all that ink collapsing on itself. Makes me wonder if they cracked something and decided to keep it secret. Maybe they invented a stargate?

          1. tfb Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: Best of both worlds

            Polywell fusion is a bit more plausible that the EmDrive, but it also turns out not to work. There's a 2019 PhD thesis, in fact (so, not suppressed, then), which is indirectly linked from the first reference in the Wikipedia entry. The thesis itself is here, but the reddit thread is also worth reading.

            Of course, the conspiracy theory that it's all been suppressed somehow is more entertaining, and conspiracy theories never hurt anyone ... oh, wait.

            In fact fusion is remarkably easy to achieve – people build fusors at home – what is hard is doing it in a way that produces more energy than you put in.

            1. Graham Dawson Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Best of both worlds

              Pity. I was hoping I could meet a jaffa.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Best of both worlds

                "I was hoping I could meet a jaffa."

                I dunked one in my coffee just now.

      2. ClockworkOwl
        Go

        Re: Best of both worlds

        "Question, though, how do you convert the fusion end products into electrical current?"

        I dunno about lithium, but if you use p,B (proton, Boron) fusion, the products are 3 alpha particles.

        All you need is a charged sphere around the reactor, and just capture the alphas...

        Hey presto, DC current!

        It is at almost 3Mv, but that's for the engineers to work out...

      3. tfb Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Best of both worlds

        Fusion reactions spit out both high energy radiation and particles with high kinetic energy. You ultimately use that energy to drive a heat engine like a steam turbine. There's another comment about using charged particles directly to make voltage, and this has been experimented with: it's known as 'direct energy conversion'.

      4. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Best of both worlds

        "Question, though, how do you convert the fusion end products into electrical current?"

        That's the easiest task of the lot - you just capture all the neutrinos...

        For pedants: yes, you can produce electrons - via reverse electron capture or neutrino absorption; it's a form of beta decay where a neutrino slams into a proton and converts it into a neutron and an electron. You see it in astrophysical environments, especially supernova.

  7. tfb Silver badge
    Boffin

    So ...

    So someone claims

    [... ] a new type of battery that could double the range of electric vehicles, charge in 15 minutes [,,,]

    Let's look at that. Petrol is about 34 MJ/l (diesel is better at about 38 but let's take the lower one to make electric cars better). The tank on my (small) van is 65l. So the tank holds about 2210MJ of energy. An internal combustion engine is perhaps 35% efficient, while an electric engine can be, say, 75%. So to do the equivalent of refueling the vehicle electrically you need to put 2210 * 35/75 MJ = 1031MJ into it. If you're going to do this in 15 minutes (900 seconds) you're going to need to provide about 1.15MW: about 760 electric kettles (is this the official unit).

    If a garage is going to be able to recharge ten vehicles every 15 minutes, it needs about 10MW of electric power, or about 7600 electric kettle's worth.

    Energy is volts * amps * time. So assume we charge at 400V (not sure what car chargers run at, anything much more than this is going to be a bit terrifying in terms of arcing etc though), and and you want to charge it in 15 minutes again. The current you need is I = 1031E6MJ/(400V * 15 * 60s) = about 2800A.

    OK, so let's assume the cable is 2m long (better park close to the charger), and we'd like to dump no more than 1kW in the cable. Power is I^2R, and R = rho l/a, where rho is the resistivity of copper, which is 1.7E-8 ohm metres, l is the length of the cable, and a is the cross sectional area of it. This tells us a which turns out to be 2.8cm^2. So the cable will will weigh about 5kg. Well, this is at least plausible: you'd be able to lift the cable easily enough.

    Just in case. please don't treat this as an argument for the continued use of fossil fuels: it's not. We have to stop dumping carbon into the atmosphere if we don't want to kill billions of humans and make the planet dramatically less habitable for thousands of years. But magical thinking about batteries is not the way to do that.

    1. MJB7

      Re: So ...

      There's a car charger in the open air near my flat in Switzerland which claims to offer 100kW charging. A little googling suggests it is operating (today) at about 1000V and hence must be shifting 100A. I find both those figures terrifying. (Particularly putting 100A through a connector which can be operated by an untrained little old lady, and one end of which gets bounced around in a motor vehicle!)

      I think a *lot* more than 1kW gets dumped in the cable - some chargers come with liquid cooled cables. (Of course, this does nothing for the overall efficiency figures - but you only need this rate of charging for emergency charging, not the overnight charge at home which will probably cover most uses.)

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: So ...

        My thanks to both of you, for the theoretical model and the pleasingly close experimental data point. Isn't science wonderful?

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: So ...

        > must be shifting 100A

        Eh, my electric motorcycle does 660A at full tilt, and that's literally an inch under my butt. There's some BEEFY cables and connections under there, and I look, but DO NOT touch.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So ...

          But at what voltage?

      3. DS999 Silver badge

        Why terrifying?

        The plug doesn't have to be live until it is properly connected to the car, so people aren't going to be plugging a male end power cable with live 100kVA prongs into something. If you leave the male end on the car, and have a little intelligence in the charger so it won't deliver any power until it senses what it is connected to and that it is properly connected (and locked, like the twist lock NEMA connectors for higher power applications)

        The car should also be required have its brakes locked when this connection is made, to avoid the "accidentally drive away dragging the fuel line behind you" scenario that can happen at gas stations.

        What is needed is some sort of national or international standard, so automakers aren't all doing their own thing, and safety rules can be enforced. The standard needs some automated way to handle billing - like plugging it in and it pops a notification on your phone or in your car that electricity costs x and you have to approve it to begin delivering power. That will also allow workplaces, apartments, malls (if those survive) etc. to set up their own charging infrastructure and know it is compatible with all electric vehicles. If you park for 8 hours at your workplace you don't need fast charging, a simple 220v 20A connection is fine - and could be provided at many (eventually all) parking spots. Ditto for home charging.

        The only time you need high power fast charging is when you are on a long trip. People make way too big of a deal about fast charging capacity - they need to get away from the mindset of driving their car until it is nearly "empty" and then refilling it. If you had a gas pump in your garage and where you parked at work, you'd quickly get used to topping it up daily and would hardly ever visit a gas station.

        1. MatthewSt Silver badge

          Re: Why terrifying?

          Most of what you've described is already there :)

          There are 2 standards (because why only have one...) and Tesla (like Apple) do their own thing. The car won't move while it's plugged in, and the car and charger negotiate the amount of power to draw using very small amounts of power until the connection is considered safe. The cables also lock at both ends so can't be disconnected while live.

          Daytime work charger or cheap overnight home charger is all most will need

          1. eldakka Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: Why terrifying?

            There are 2 standards (because why only have one...) and Tesla (like Apple) do their own thing.
            So what we need to do is select the best bits from these two standards into a new standard.

            Now we can have three standards!

            XKCD standards

            1. jake Silver badge

              Meanwhile, many years BX[0] (was: Re: Why terrifying?)

              The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from. —Andrew S. Tanenbaum

              [0] Before XKCD

        2. H in The Hague Silver badge

          Re: Why terrifying?

          "What is needed is some sort of national or international standard, "

          It's here already: CCS

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combined_Charging_System

          Much to the delight of one of my customers so they can now supply their vehicles worldwide without having to worry about the chargers. (Which companies such as ABB can provide, often modular so you can upgrade them later.)

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Why terrifying?

            Cool, while I was writing that I thought "surely there is already something" but didn't really know where to look. If they aren't already, I'm sure some governments will subsidize charging infrastructure as a way of helping encourage electric vehicles beyond high density areas where it already exists. Tesla's supercharger network will only remain an advantage for them for a limited time, eventually the standard infrastructure will dwarf theirs.

        3. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

          Re: Why terrifying?

          A while back, on rec.aviation.soaring, there was a thread about towing glider trailers long distances on interstate freeways in the USA, using a Tesla tow car. Glider trailers weigh 1000-1500kg depending on what glider is inside - the trailer typically weighs more than the glider, but have low drag due to having very smooth outer surfaces and a low cross section.

          The numbers given by one of the racing pilots, who does this a lot, gave a cross country speed of well under half the Interstate speed limit, with almost all of the speed reduction compared with an IC engined tow vehicle being due to charging time.

          In fact, to achieve the average speeds he described, he had to:

          - never fully charge the battery due to the much reduced charge rate above about 70% charge

          - always calculate the distance to the next charge point and then calculate the charge needed to get there plus 10% to make sure he got there. This gives the amount of charge that has to be in the battery for the next stage of the journey

          - only charge the battery to the calculated amount

          The only good point in all this I could see was that it was guaranteed that you'd always have time for a leisurely pit stop while you waited for the battery to be topped up to hold the calculated amount of power for the next stage of the journey.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Why terrifying?

            Whereas most people have a range limited mostly by bladder size. Having once volunteered to drive a Tesla towing a horse & trailer from Seattle, Washington to Napa, California all I can say is that I'll never do such a frustrating exercise in transportation ever again. Having to plan a stop every hundred miles or so to recharge is not my idea of a fun trip. It's especially fun when it's the only charger for a hundred miles in any direction, and some dude got there five minutes before you did. And then the SAME dude is at the next charge point ... and the one after that.

            Youtube is probably full of stories of the headaches afforded when towing with electric vehicles. And don't get me started on the awfulness of electric power in off-road conditions.

        4. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

          Re: Why terrifying?

          Having a phone & app in the charging process is the cause of a good proportion of charging failures at the moment. Dozens of apps from dozens of operators on hundreds of phone variants, it's pointless.

          Just have a chip & pin slot in the electron dispenser like a modern petrol pump or just let the charger identify the car and bill the registered keeper direct.

          Sure have the phone & app for information delivery but get it the flock out of the critical path.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Why terrifying?

            If the charging is standards based and those standards include billing why would you need dozens of apps from different operators? Apple and Google could build it into the OS to work alongside Apple Pay / Android Pay at that point. And hundreds of phone variants, please...why would that be a problem when it is not a problem for any other Android apps?

            What you describe is an early adopter issue that will go away when standards take over. It isn't as if I need an Exxon card to go to an Exxon gas station today, because standards (defacto in this case) fixed that problem.

        5. tfb Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Why terrifying?

          I agree about standards, and I'll take your word on the ability to make connectors safe (this isn't saying 'but secretly I disagree': I don't know anything about the area and it looks like you do!).

          I think the real point I was trying to make was that electric vehicles will require some combination of both significant infrastructure and significant behavioural changes: they're not, ahem, a plug-in replacement for fossil fuel cars.

          As an example, currently you can basically drive anywhere in the UK and rely on being able to refuel your vehicle without having to take a really significant break. For that to be true for electric vehicles means that either you need to start planning journeys rather carefully (big behavioural change), or a big network of really high-power charging things needs to start to exist, which means running quite major electrical power all over the place (big infrastructural change, I think).

          And it gets worse. Let's assume that you've bitten that bullet and are now all organised about charging the car at home or work. If it comes back seriously depleted, can you expect to drive it anything like its range the next day? Well, using my 1031MJ figure (which should mean it has range equivalent to a current petrol car, so more than most EVs currently have, so I should really use a smaller figure): if it needs to fully charge in 14 hours, then at 240V this is 85A, or about 20.5kW. Well, that certainly means significant new wiring in the house, and probably means new wiring to the house. To most houses: huge infrastructure change, and/or you're not going to be able to do that: if you drive the vehicle a long way then either you take it to some fancy high-power charging place or you wait for several days before it's ready to do it again.

          And it gets worse. I have no idea what proportion of people can park outside their house or have a garage. I can't and don't, and I suspect that quite a large number of people can't. So somehow that all needs to be sorted out: either there needs to be the high-power charging arrangements which frightened me, or there needs to be a big investment in lower-power infrastructure which isn't associated with houses. (And yes: this would have been our next problem if we'd been able to buy a hybrid van or if electric vans had been viable).

          Again: I am not some anti-EV fossil-fuel troll. I want EVs to work and I believe we really badly need them to work. I just find the changes involved fairly alarming (just less alarming than what happens if we do nothing...).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Why terrifying?

            What about replaceable power packs / hydrogen cells?

            Is there any mileage (sorry!!) in any of those?

            1. DS999 Silver badge

              Re: Why terrifying?

              I could see standardized battery packs perhaps having a use for the "I'm driving cross country problem". Let's say a standard for a battery pack underneath a car that can be removed in an automated fashion is developed. It wouldn't need to be that large, something like 100-150 miles of capacity (the other battery capacity in the car is separate from this and not swappable)

              You drive up to a station in a special area and your standard pack is swapped out from underneath by a cousin of the automated carwash with another in a couple minutes and you can drive for another couple hours. The gotcha is "what if my car is brand new and you give me someone's five year old standard pack", so those would have to purchased/warrantied separately - i.e. the car comes without them, but you can buy one to add range and add the ability for quick "fill ups" if you drive long distances often.

              The nice thing for the station is that the bays where those packs are swapped can charge them 24x7 so they don't need the electrical infrastructure necessary for their peak load, but only their average daily load. Those batteries could also act as the "battery" for the whole station, to support its fast charging stalls for those who don't have/use the standardized packs and have to "fill up" the slower way.

              I'm not a robotics expert by any means so maybe what I'm suggesting would be too expensive/unreliable to deploy widely. But people are clever so I'll give us the benefit of the doubt that we could manage both the engineering and financial end of this successfully.

              1. DJO Silver badge

                Re: Why terrifying?

                The trick would be have a smallish battery and use multiples where necessary so a motor bike would use one unit, a small car 2 to 4, a light van 4 to 8 and so on up to a pallet full for a sodding great truck. Keeping them small & light would also simplify the robotics.

                The only way this would stand a chance of working is if all manufacturers agreed on a standard for batteries and utilization. So while there would be advantages to such a system, it'll never happen.

                1. davenewman

                  Re: Why terrifying?

                  It has been done in a trial in Denmark of swapable batteries - managed by a man from Norn Iron.

                  And swapable packs for motorcycles have been around for a while.

          2. Joe W Silver badge

            Re: Why terrifying?

            Considering most trips are commute to and from work (though not this year) electric vehicles are there. For most of us at least. I take the train and bike, but that's a different story. If you have a short (15km, maybe up to 30km one way) commute not on a highway, things like a Renault Twizzy all of a sudden make sense. Too bad you cannot get government support for the small "cars", as the Twizzy is in fact not considered a car...

            You can always rent a fossil fuel powered car for the holidays.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Why terrifying?

              "You can always rent a fossil fuel powered car for the holidays."

              That MAY work for a few years, but as people move to EVs, assuming they all think like you, the car rental companies will be over-run during holiday periods and have loads of cars sitting around doing nothing the rest of the year. Or renting a car during the holidays will be a lucky dip, with many people disappointed if they didn't book up 12 months in advance.

              No, the solution to long distance driving with EVs is..erm...EVs. Better cars, better batteries, better fast charge options, changed habits, something else, or a combination of all of the above. Any other solution involving petrol or diesal is only ever going to be a stop-gap since ICE car sales will be ending so the n umbers available will drop. Hire companies usually only keep cars for a couple of years, so at least here in the UK and most of Europe, they won't be able to replace them after 2030.

              1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

                Re: Why terrifying?

                Another long term solution might be a combination of EVs, car-clubs rather then owning, and self driving. Being able to drive until almost flat, pull up to a station and just move your stuff to a new car that had been dispatched to meet you solves quite a few problems. Not all problems, I admit, but it seems more attainable than either swappable batteries (impractical, once you see how the batteries are stored) or some sort of technical leap in charging times.

                Plus it favours those who pack properly, which should please the engineers here.

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: Why terrifying?

                  "Being able to drive until almost flat, pull up to a station and just move your stuff to a new car that had been dispatched to meet you solves quite a few problems."

                  Who cleans up after the sprog puking in the back seat, and the dawgs puking and/or peeing all over the rest of the interior? Or does that just get passed on to the next poor schmuck? Obviously smokers will become second-class citizens, getting older, well-used replacements ... nobody but a smoker would want a car that had been smoked in.

                  And of course we all know how people treat rental cars ... would YOU trust your nearest & dearest to a vehicle that had probably been bounced off of most of the inanimate objects in three States? I certainly wouldn't.

                  1. Korev Silver badge

                    Re: Why terrifying?

                    Mobility has been running here in Switzerland since the 90s, most of those problems have already been solved. Basically if the car is late or trashed then you have to pay.

                    The one time there was a problem with the car I'd booked; they rang me very apologetically and had already arranged a less-crashed substitute.

              2. jake Silver badge

                Re: Why terrifying?

                "Any other solution involving petrol or diesal is only ever going to be a stop-gap since ICE car sales will be ending"

                I'll believe that when I see it. The date will be pushed back as many times as is economically necessary. You and I will not live long enough to see any major economic power ban ICE vehicles outright, no matter how much the greenaholics bleat about it. In fact, I'll bet a plugged nickle we'll see (nearly) pure ethanol powered automobiles in the mainstream for several decades before electricity takes over even a third of new car sales.

                Long term investors would do well to investigate corn/sorghum and sugarcane. Alcohol vehicle fuel is the future. Nothing else comes close in the price/performance wars.

          3. Stephen Beynon

            Re: Why terrifying?

            Depending on the EV you buy somewhere between 3 and 4 miles per kwh of electricity is typical.

            A 32A (7KW) connection can supply about 56KW hours of electricity in an 8 hour overnight charge. This will provide somewhere between 168 and 224 miles of range. While I am sure there are some people that need more this will provide for the *vast* majority of use cases just fine. If you need more then some cars can charge at 11 or 22KW on a 3 phase connection. If you only occasionally need more then DC rapid chargers exist with maximum supply rates between 50 and 350 KW of power depending on charger model, and car, typically allowing an 80% charge in 20-40 minutes.

            While there does need to be improved numbers of rapid chargers they exist at motorway service stations and many major junctions so long distance travel is quite possible.

            I have read studies that suggest over 80% of car owners have off-street parking so the majority should have no issue getting a home charger fitted. Obviously more provision will need to be made for streets of houses without drive ways.

            1. DS999 Silver badge

              Re: Why terrifying?

              You don't need 3 phase to go above 32A, at least not in the US (where most residences don't have access to 3 phase anyway) The standard electrical panel in new houses is 200A, and 400A is becoming more common. Obviously houses aren't drawing anywhere near that much, but you put enough 15A or 20A circuits in for outlets or lighting and code will require a bigger panel even if you know you will never be using more than a tiny fraction of that on most circuits.

              So there's easily spare capacity in pretty much any US house built in the last 50 years to run a 50A or 70A 220/240v circuit to a garage, which would fill up pretty much every car from flat if left overnight.

              Your point about on street parking is a good one, those people would not be able to rely on overnight charging and have to do it where their car is during the day or stops at fast charging stations. Just like living in the sticks means you have less access to good broadband, living where you park on the street might mean having an electric car is a pain and you'll be one of the gasoline holdouts.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Why terrifying?

                May as well not waste your breath ... the Brits think that the only sockets available in a standard US house are 10A 120V lighting circuits leftover from the 1910s and '20s.

                I know people who have their electric car charging system plugged into the already existent dryer circuit (NEMA 14–50, or 50A 240V). No, it doesn't get in the way of drying clothes, they use gas for drying and that circuit would otherwise be unused.

            2. tfb Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: Why terrifying?

              I think you're agreeing with me. I have to work in MJ rather than kWh because of background, but a kWh is 3.6MJ, so an EV does about 1 mile/MJ (which is a fucked-up unit, but it will will be convenient in a minute). If I'm right that's about 3 times as good as a petrol car, which is certainly very plausible. So, well, if you do 30 miles/day on average you do about 10,000 miles/year (actually nearly 11,000 but let's be safe), which I think is also ballpark reasonable for a car. So conveniently this means 10,000MJ/y. Well, these people claim a UK household used 3760kwh/y in 2017, or 3760 * 3600 MJ/y which is 13,500 MJ/y.

              So one EV per household is not doubling household electricity usage, but it's fairly close to that. If you allow for a bit more than one EV per household then it is doubling it, and certainly that would be the safe capacity to design for.

              Is there that kind of spare capacity in the UK power distribution grid (not just power generation but distribution)? I don't know, but I'd be a bit surprised (but only a bit: there might be). Do household power systems have cables which will deliver 32A? You'd need to run something I think, although you could get it from two sides of a 13A ring, if everything else was fine (and if you're not using that ring for anything else). I think this is roughly equivalent to installing an electric cooker in each house (and a third for households where two people commute), which you run for a bunch longer per day than a cooker normally runs, certainly not flat out.

              Again: I'm not claiming it's not possible, I'm just saying there is a significant investment to build all this out.

              1. DS999 Silver badge

                Re: Why terrifying?

                Sure, but that investment happens over 10-20 years because not everyone is going to run out and buy an electric car overnight. What's the peak generating capacity of the UK grid? That's what really matters, though if your peak is at night (i.e. a lot of electric heat, which may be the case there) that doesn't help with overnight charging.

                In the US the peak load is summer days, so that's the time you don't want cars to be charging - that's easily fixed by having the "parking lot at work charging" simply turn off on hot days when the grid is near peak. You'll do most of your charging overnight when the grid load is lower. Maybe you reverse this setup in the UK, so on cold nights if you're near peak the in home chargers shut down (or bill you at a much higher rate if you say "fuck it, I want to get charged and I'll pay whatever") and you do most of your charging during the day in the parking lot at work.

                Or maybe work from home becomes more permanent, and thus the estimate of 30 miles per day is way too high for the reality of the post pandemic world, as is the electrical draw of offices that are now vacant, which avoids a lot of the need for building out the grid to support electric cars.

                1. tfb Silver badge
                  Boffin

                  Re: Why terrifying?

                  Yes, I agree it's very possible, my point was really just that it is a big change: things will be different. One nice thing, of course, is that EVs are huge batteries, so if you have some intermittent power (solar, wind) and things line up, that works well.

            3. jake Silver badge

              Re: Why terrifying?

              "I have read studies that suggest over 80% of car owners have off-street parking"

              How do those reports explain all the cars parked on residential area streets all night, every night?

              1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

                Re: Why terrifying?

                In my limited observation, it's because where parking is available it is for one car. But there's probably two adults with a car and possibly a teenager and/or post-university student each with a car. We've organised the UK so that most working adults needs one.

                Disclaimer: I don't have a car.

          4. Bogbody

            Re: Why terrifying?

            Yes... the way my semi is connected to the mains power infrastructure I guesstimated that there was about 11KW left over after allowing for what he house needed at peak - there would be more available at night but not during the day.

            So 11kW/hr for 8 to 10 hrs ... max charge 110kW or so a session. So to charge a 200kW+ battery overnight I would need a 3-phase supply.

            Here? In the Fen miles away from civilisation.

            Some serious planning is needed.

        6. ExampleOne

          Re: Why terrifying?

          A single 220V, 20A connection sounds quite small and reasonable. How about 100 of them for a SMALL office car park?

          This quickly turns into anything from a grid substation for every office block to a full on power station in the basement for a large office block with a multistorey car park.

          There are large parts of the EV power supply picture wither being glossed over or outright ignored. Yes, getting power into the battery is a probably solvable problem, but that is ignoring the question of getting the power to the car to put it into the battery which is a much larger infrastructure problem.

          Ironically this might actually be an easier problem to solve for rural residents, who are far more likely to have space for local wind turbines and other local power generation options meaning they wouldn't be relying on the grid to provide the bulk of the power.

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Why terrifying?

            You're still working on the old paradigm where all you do is refuel a car. Battery packs that happen to be mobile are able to do more than that - they can be discharged locally to smooth power delivery, demand fluctuations, etc.

            The office car park will act like a water tower - it's the average flow that matters, not the peak.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Why terrifying?

              I am not going to allow my company to use my automobile's power plant without compensation beyond just the cost of the fuel.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Why terrifying?

              Peak matters when you have the possibility of demand spikes, say halftime of the big ball game (whichever ball fits your country). And the thing about office shifts are that people tend to come and go in batches, raising the potential for demand spikes.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Why terrifying?

              A water tower isn't liable to overheat and catch fire if you try and draw more water than the pipes can handle. Electrical infrastructure has to account for predicted peak power and current in order to avoid a very explosive overload.

      4. tfb Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: So ...

        Oh, I'm pleased that my back-of-the-envelope rant actually bears some resemblance to reality: I was worried that someone would point out some idiot mistake which meant it was all much less alarming.

        I think the two things which alarm me (despite some other comments) are that to do this the way we fuel cars is clearly going to require running multi-megawatt levels of power to wherever it's done, which is definitely not going to happen over anything even slightly domestic (it's going to need high-tension supplies I think, and basically a substation at the garage); and the whole enormously-high-current connector-operated-by-untrained-people thing. For the second one, well, maybe huge cleverness can make it all safe, but my experience with high-current connector is that even quite small mistakes result in flames very quickly indeed. On the other hand we manage petrol OK which is in some ways even more terrifying, so, I don't know.

        What is clear I think is that the electric cars need to be used are not going to be very like the way petrol & diesel ones are, and we should not fool ourselves that they will.

        1. Steve K Silver badge

          Re: So ...

          What’s the betting that in the short term, huge diesel generators are installed at service stations, out of sight of the chargers.....

          Would this be any greener than if the equivalent diesel was burnt in cars/vans/lorries, due to the efficiency of a specialised generator?

        2. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: So ...

          Why would you need huge diesel generators, just have batteries? Maybe that would be a good use for battery packs that have "aged out" of electric cars because they only have 75% to 80% of their rated capacity remaining?

          There's plenty of room to hook up a lot of battery packs on the gas station's premises (or under it, where the fuel tanks currently are) and have them charging 24x7. Then you can meet the surges (no pun intended) in power draw like rush hour, without the need for electrical infrastructure built to meet anything remotely like a peak draw figure of all bays filled with cars charging at the highest rate possible.

      5. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

        Re: So ...

        Biggest electric car chargers I've seen are the 250kW ones, think Tesla and VW use them.

        Scary to imagine a consumer using a plug at that rating.

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: So ...

          Sure, but as someone has already pointed out, you're not switching that live - thank christ - imagine the wear on the plug! I believe there's quite a lot of communication between the car and the plug before charging starts too. More than you get plugging in a 1 inch diameter tube filled with petrol, certainly.

      6. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: So ...

        Particularly putting 100A through a connector which can be operated by an untrained little old lady, and one end of which gets bounced around in a motor vehicle

        We find innovative solutions to solve the retirement cost problem, and you are still not happy...

    2. thenitz

      Re: So ...

      Your numbers match - at least as order of magnitude - the state of the art in vehicle charging today

      "A new 1MW power cabinet with a similar design to our utility-scale products supports peak rates of up to 250kW per car. At this rate, a Model 3 Long Range operating at peak efficiency can recover up to 75 miles of charge in 5 minutes "

      [ https://www.tesla.com/en_EU/blog/introducing-v3-supercharging ]

    3. MatthewSt Silver badge

      Re: So ...

      As someone who's done a long day of driving in an EV, I can say that range and charge speed are probably already there for 95% of cases. The car I've got will easily do 200 miles from 100%, and (using the most conservative numbers) does about 3 miles per kWh. A lot of the motorway charge points now are 50kW/hour, going all the way up to Tesla's 250kW/hour. Sadly there's usually only 2-3 at each service station, which is the real risk at the moment.

      Did 400 miles in a day the other week, and ended up spending a total of 80 minutes at service stations plugged in. All in 15/20 minute bursts, because by the time you've gone to the toilet, got a coffee etc you've added another 50 miles of range. If you stop for lunch it would be even more.

      1. seven of five Silver badge

        Re: So ...

        80 minutes of charging time on a 6 hour trip. Lovely.

        I will do Zurich-Cologne this afternoon (about 400 miles), return on Saturday (work on sunday). And I absolutely won't spend two and a half hours of my vacation time recharging the bloody car.

        YMMV.

        1. tfb Silver badge
          Alien

          Re: So ...

          80 minutes sounds completely fine to me. If I was 25 again maybe not, but I actively want to take breaks now. And certainly I'd take 90 minutes overhead on a trip from here to Scotland as a completely acceptable cost of not burning the entire future of humanity. If that's difficult for you, well: perhaps you'd like to go and live on some other planet.

          1. Steve K Silver badge

            Re: So ...

            a trip from here to Scotland

            That depends on where “here” is!!

            1. tfb Silver badge
              Alien

              Re: So ...

              Well, normally I live on Titan nowadays. But the trip I meant was ~400 miles.

              (And: lots of drive-by downvotes, I suppose from people who aren't really happy with the idea that helping there be a future might inconvenience them a little. Oh, well, we will all get the future they deserve.)

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: So ...

                > I'd take 90 minutes overhead on a trip from here to Scotland as a completely acceptable cost of not burning the entire future of humanity.

                lots of drive-by downvotes, I suppose from people who aren't really happy with the idea that helping there be a future might inconvenience them a little.

                If you are that concerned about not burning the entire future of humanity, I suggest avoiding doing the ~400 mile trip entirely...

          2. seven of five Silver badge

            Re: So ...

            Oh, personal attacks and the moral high ground, now that was quick. Maybe the car I use is a third hand kei car (not fun on the german motorway, but all I can afford working full time for the UNHCR). Or maybe I am employed by Academi and use a V12 Vantage. Just go ahead, judge me all you like. As before, YMMV.

        2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          I hear you.

          My Audi A5 can do almost 500 miles on one tank. It takes 5 minutes to "recharge" it at a any one of thousands of stations.

          Unfortunately, my Audi, as much as I love it, is contributing to the problem.

          One day, we will all have to adapt and adopt transit times that include spending part of our leisure time recharging a non-polluting car.

          And maybe, just maybe, we might learn to appreciate life a bit better by then.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Audi driver

            If typical Audi drivers only take a 5 minute break every 500 miles, that could explain a lot. One should be taking a 15 minute break every 2 hours. I can't imagine driving 500 miles without at least 2 half hour breaks.

            It's not just one's own safety that's at issue here; there's a reason why professional drives often have Tacographs.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Audi driver

              "I can't imagine driving 500 miles without at least 2 half hour breaks."

              And I can't imagine wasting that much time over just 500 miles. I can typically do about 1000 miles on a tank before I need to refuel. It's my bladder that is the limiting factor. I usually look for a fuel station somewhere around the 700 mile mark, at which point my wife may or may not take over the driving duties.

              "there's a reason why professional drives often have Tacographs."

              Yes. Because insurance companies mandate them. The box can provide any number of excuses to not make a payout on a claim, even if that excuse has no bearing on why the claim was made in the first place. Mandated tachographs (note spleling) are evil.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Audi driver

                Tacographs only record the amount of fast food eaten.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So ...

          Well so what? You will either not travel 400 miles on vacation, or get a car with a bigger battery or take he train. None of those seem like apocalyptic scenarios.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or 5kV + LTO Lithium titanate

      They'll simply ramp up the voltage and arrange the cells differently. You could probably flip them between series+balanced in 'charge' scenarios, and parallel in 'discharge' scenario since you never charge and discharge at the same time, you wouldn't need the car to have such thick wiring.*

      5Kv cable is only $2/foot

      https://www.wireandcableyourway.com/6-awg-mv-105-5kv-8kv-epr-pvc-power-cable-w-copper-tape-shield.html

      I'm surprised nobody mentioned lithium titanate batteries. You can quick-charge them at 20C (and discharge them at 30C!). Charge them at 5C when you're at home or office, to maximize the lifetime (>20000 cycles currently ~54 years at one charge per day, dropping to 80% capacity = Plenty of spare lifetime), and fast charge them at recharge stations as needed. Puncture safe, can charge cold or hot, no temperature problems, stable, similar charge density to Lithium-Iron.

      It's incredible the pace of development when people put their mind to it. Remember when NiCAD batteries were the best we had?

      * Would you even need the balancer? They'll get rebalanced in parallel mode anyway.

    5. ciaran
      WTF?

      Re: So ...

      So Ethanol or biodiesel? Zero carbon impact, ethanol burns very cleanly.

      In France many supermarket petrol pumps offer E85, 80% ethanol, for about half the price of normal S95.

      And yet I think there are currently no carmakers selling cars that can run on E85 without modifications.

      Weird

  8. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Sodium Sulfur

    For large fixed installations (multiple MWh to GWh), sodium sulfur batteries have advantages over lithium-ion.

    Advantages

    Both sodium and sulfur are abundant with annual production of millions of tons.

    The batteries can be manufactured in the fully charged state.

    The batteries can be made at a very large scale (multiple tons per cell).

    At room temperature both sodium and sulfur are solid which makes transportation less hazardous than the same capacity of lithium-ion calls.

    Disadvantages

    The cells operate at high temperature (300C to 350C) - batteries need good thermal insulation (in typical installations multiple cells are packed together inside a heavily insulated box)

    For initial startup from cold a heater is required to get the cells to operating temperature - in normal use the energy losses are sufficient to keep the cells at operating temperature.

    If some external event starts a fire then the presence of sodium makes extinguishing the fire more difficult.

    1. captain veg

      Re: Sodium Sulfur

      Odd spelling.

      This side of the Atlantic we write it b-r-i-m-s-t-o-n-e.

      -A.

      1. Steve K Silver badge

        Re: Sodium Sulfur

        And thus a new El Reg term is born: Sodium (or Lithium) Brimstone batteries.

        I await its first official use

      2. Imhotep Silver badge

        Re: Sodium Sulfur

        Not to mention that the British are not just mis-spelling aluminum, but also sodum, lithum and magnesum.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Sodium Sulfur

          What is surprising is that the quality of Education in the UK is so bad now that the kids seemingly can't mentally translate the obvious on the fly. Seems that a vowel is far more important than the information that the writer is trying to convey. Sad, that.

      3. Symon

        Re: Sodium Sulfur

        We British won on aluminium and caesium, but we lost on sulphur!

        p.s. For large fixed installations, you might wanna look at vanadium flow batteries.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanadium_redox_battery

        I'm as big fan of liquid sodium as the next man, it's a perfect nuclear reactor coolant for example, but I dunno if it's the best option for energy storage.

        1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

          Re: Sodium Sulfur

          Vanadium flow batteries have one major disadvantage - each cell needs 2 tanks and 2 pumps - these can not be shared between cells as the conductive liquids would short out cells. Also vanadium is nothing like as common an element as sodium or sulfur (world vanadium production around 100K tons - sulfur around 69M tons).

          1. Symon
            Happy

            Re: Sodium Sulfur

            Well, vanadium is the 20th most common element in the crust, and you're correct that world production is low. But that's because no-one needs any more than is already produced. For example, chromium is the 21st most common element. World production is 26,000,000 tonnes per annum. So, if demand increased, it wouldn't be hard to produce some more. It turns out that we release about 110,000 tonnes of vanadium into the environment each year through burning fossil fuels, which is more than actual production.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abundance_of_elements_in_Earth%27s_crust

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanadium#Earth's_crust

            This article is interesting.

            https://www.theregister.com/2015/05/31/rare_metals_mineral_reserves_talk_preamble/

            As is this.

            https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/18/worlds-biggest-liquid-air-battery-starts-construction-in-uk

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Sodium Sulfur

      There isn't and probably will never be a one type fits all solution for batteries. Today we are using basically the same batteries in our wireless earphones, phone, laptop, car, and utility, because so much investment has gone into lithium ion.

      As we move towards a renewable energy and electric car future, there is reason to invest more in alternative types of battery better suited to specific needs like "maximum power in minimum size/weight" with cost per unit of energy less important (like wireless earphones) and "minimum cost per unit of energy" with size, weight and operating temperature irrelevant (like utility scale batteries)

      There should also be a market for batteries that are "too aged" to be useful in one market get a second life elsewhere. Imagine if cells from cars are retired once they can only hold 80% of their original charge, because people will only tolerate losing so much of their original driving range. Maybe they act as power buffers at charging stations, or you buy them at a nice discount to use as a solar battery for your house. You don't care if you need more of them if you're getting a 50% discount per kwh over buying new.

    3. The answer is 42
      Mushroom

      Re: Sodium Sulphur

      I attended a Faraday lecture some decades ago on electric cars (when the only electric vehicle was a milk float) and the sodium/ sulphur battery was discussed. When 300 degrees was mentioned, the lecturer responded with the calculation of the potential energy in petrol, expressed as how many miles up the road a gallon of petrol would propel the average car. Silence from heckler.

  9. stu_san
    Trollface

    Lies, damned lies, and misattributions

    "Three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics" is usually attributed to Mark Twain, but he attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli. I would hope that a prestigious British pillar of truth such as El Reg would know this:

    "Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”"

    1. nautica

      Re: Lies, damned lies, and misattributions

      Perhaps the author of this article should be aware of another one of Mr. Twain's quotations:

      "I am not one of those who in expressing opinions confine themselves to facts".--Mark Twain

      Not only that, but Thomas Edison did have a very 'quotable' quote, regarding batteries, which the author could have used very effectively, if he had but known it:

      "The creation of the newest, greatest battery brings out man's inherent capacity for lying."

      *************************************************************************

      "Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think."--Thomas A. Edison

  10. Howard Sway

    "Fast Breeder" battery technology

    According to a short documentary film on the subject I saw several times in the 1980s, the best way to produce extended life batteries is to charge them up by getting lots of little rabbits to play drums and extract the energy generated. If there could be some way to minituarise the rabbits, and provide them with sufficient carrots and lettuce to give them the energy they need to drum a little more quickly, then future power requirements might well be met this way. You do have to be careful though, as the rabbits can get a bit tired and fall over.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: "Fast Breeder" battery technology

      Didn't a chap called Fibonacci do some early work on this?

    2. xjy

      Re: "Fast Breeder" battery technology

      minotaurize the rabbits - way to go...

  11. Blackjack Silver badge

    How about fungus?

    Today we can use day to recycle batteries, tomorrow they may be the batteries.

    Eh not likely but there is still many things we don't freaking know about fungus.

    1. seven of five Silver badge

      Re: How about fungus?

      Fungus... wasn't this the uncle of Sid the Sloth?

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: How about fungus?

        The bogeyman.

  12. chivo243 Silver badge
    Pint

    Better living through chemistry

    Tried it in Uni... it was fun while it lasted!

  13. StrangerHereMyself Bronze badge

    Solve the aging problem

    The energy density problem is insignificant compared to the aging and wear problem in my opinion. Every year hundreds of millions of smartphones are disposed of because the battery has worn out and isn't replaceable anymore. In that sense I support the EU's demand that phones' batteries should be made user replaceable again.

    I think we should put all our effort into solving the dendrite problem. I've seen many possible solutions to this problem but none of them has of yet made it to market.

    1. tfb Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Solve the aging problem

      I had an iPhone 6, whose battery eventually got to be not serious. £25 for Apple (well, authorised Apple people) to replace it, which took an hour, sometime in 2018 I think. That's probably a little more than the battery would have cost, but the whole 'you can't replace batteries in phones' thing is a huge red-herring: you can. perhaps if you buy a phone from a company which doesn't take support seriously then it's a problem, but the solution to that is to force companies to take support seriously.

      I finally replaced the phone last year because I decided running non-current iOS was going to result in possible risk: that's a problem I'd like not to have, the battery thing was fine.

      (Note this reads like an Apple fanboy comment: I'm not, but they were OK in this regard.)

      1. StrangerHereMyself Bronze badge

        Re: Solve the aging problem

        The cheap replacement for the Apple battery was part of a settlement IIRC. Normally it would've cost you $75 or the like.

        For my Samsung Galaxy S9 I'll need to spend $70 to replace the battery, Sure, I'll replace it, but most people will simply opt to trade in for a newer model.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Solve the aging problem

          Trade in of a phone like a Galaxy S9 or any iPhone made in the past 7 or 8 years means it will be refurbished and resold, perhaps halfway around the world. They aren't scrapping the trade ins unless it is so old it is no longer viable (i.e. pre LTE) or the cost of refurbishing will exceed the sales price - like if it not only needs more than a new battery like a screen replacement. That's more of a problem for the off brand phones, or the ones that were cheap when they were sold so they become essentially valueless after 2-3 years.

          1. Steve K Silver badge

            Re: Solve the aging problem

            I think that is how BrightStar make their money

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Solve the aging problem

        I don't think anyone seriously believes that's a problem for an iPhone, or a Samsung Galaxy, or any other phone that sells in units of over a million for a particular model.

        Its the less common ones that may use a specific size/shape of battery, but no third parties bother with it because the volume is too low - so once the manufacturer stops caring that's it and even if the phone can be opened with a single screw and the battery slides right out it does you no good.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Solve the aging problem

      dendrites, I assume similar to 'whiskers' in electronics, except inside batteries...

      one method that seems to work about half the time in old NiCd batteries is to short them out, rapidly charge at several times the C rating before it starts to overheat, then rinse and repeat until it holds a charge. I've done this both successfully AND unsuccessfully. YMMV. Don't let it catch fire.

      not sure how you could address that with a charge controller. Single cell systems maybe, but multi-cell systems would get cell reversals and other serious problems. Maybe ICV detectors to indicate where the bad cell is and either auto-jumper it or shut down the battery so you can manually jumper it out. That might work, actually. But it would only extend the life of the battery array, not the cell itself... and single-cell things (like phones, slabs) probably wouldn't benefit.

      during deep discharge, cell reversal is a major problem, so maybe ICV montoring could extend discharge levels by allowing you to go beyond the usual volt limits as long as there's no cell reversal...

  14. Stuart Halliday
    FAIL

    So why do we get so many Battery PR releases claiming the Earth?

    For decades now we have Anode or Cathode inventors or both claiming impressive charge densities but still no sign of them on the market?

    Can we get a ban on battery PR for the next ten years?

    Sounds like a start in the right direction.

  15. glococo
    Pint

    still remember that fantastic 2005 article

    I was very excited about 15 years ago when i read this reg article

    https://www.theregister.com/2005/03/29/toshiba_li-ion_battery/

    Now, It's been 15 years later and nothing breaking has emerged.

    1. DS999 Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: still remember that fantastic 2005 article

      They left out that it explodes with the force of a small nuclear bomb on the 1001st charge

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: still remember that fantastic 2005 article

        Where can I get a few hundred? Might need them in the brexit wars!

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: still remember that fantastic 2005 article

      I think I've been reading about carbon nanotube batteries for more than a decade.

      Where are they ?

      1. nautica

        Re: still remember that fantastic 2005 article

        "...Where are they ?"

        Easy one--the exact same place as Cold Fusion, Quantum Computers, validation of String (or Superstring) Theory, "Artificial Intelligence" / "Machine Learning", Fusion Reactors...

        “The question of whether Machines Can Think... is about as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim."--Edsger W. Dijkstra

        "It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you‭ ‬do know that ain’t so.‭”‬--Will Rogers

  16. bigtreeman

    Edison

    Well, you started and ended with Edison, without mentioning his battery technology.

    It's not compact, it's not pretty, it's not the highest density,

    But the materials are common as,

    it's near indestructible,

    it's as 'safe' as batteries cat get,

    over-charge, over-discharge, longggggg life.

    used in the right applications, peerless.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel-iron_battery

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Edison

      Powered by the power of RUUUUUUUST!

  17. Old Hand

    No-one has mentioned a factor strongly favouring Lithium batteries. The original author should have pointed out that Lithium is the THIRD element in the Periodic Table; only Hydrogen and Helium come before it and so its density os very low too. That favours Energy Density too.

  18. KittenHuffer Silver badge

    On the subject of EV recharging

    I'm surprised that the idea of replaceable batteries for electric vehicles has never been floated.

    A 'standard' EV battery is designed and fitted to a range of different vehicles. You arrive at a 'garage' where (manually or automatically) the drained battery in your vehicle is exchanged for a fully charged one in a matter of minutes. You get charged for the extra level of charge that you now have, and you're on your way.

    The garage can then recharge the stock of batteries it has in slow(er) time, getting around the fast charge issue.

    Batteries that are reaching the end of their life can be recycled and new batteries introduced at the garages.

    1. EveryTime

      Re: On the subject of EV recharging

      The idea of replaceable battery packs has been floated. Many, many times.

      Tesla even had an on-stage demo.

      But everyone concludes that the logistics don't work out. Even if you can get everything else right, such as standard form factors to support a variety of vehicle types and how to do automated quick swaps over a range of vehicle types, you still can't create a cost-competitive system.

      First, you need to produce and pay for multiples of the most expensive part of an EV. That multiplier isn't going to be close to 1.0. Depending on your assumptions, it might be above 2.0. If your system relies on transportation to a central depot for charging, and buffer stock at heavily used stations, it could be higher. If you need to support a regional crisis, such as hurricane evacuations, it could be significantly higher than 2x.

      Next you need to deal with how to pay for pack degradation, including aging, use and physical damage. If you are proposing battery-as-a-service, you are likely proposing a national utility-like monopoly. If you don't want a monopoly, you need to come up with a valuation formula that isn't trivially gamed. And keep changing the rules as new ways to cheat are found. And try to stabilize prices in an economic system where the rules constantly change. The mind reels at how complex the rules would need to be, and how expensive the system would ultimately become.

      1. X5-332960073452

        Re: On the subject of EV recharging

        I'd prefer 'they' addressed those issues rather than install billions of recharging points.

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: On the subject of EV recharging

          But it's much, much easier to move electricity around. Changing the packs would mean they have to be standardised across all manufacturers, and that standard would effectively limit any sort of innovation in form-factor. Never going to happen.

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: On the subject of EV recharging

        The only way I think it would work would be if EVs were sold with the provision for such a standard pack, but without one. You buy the standard pack from a third party to add range/flexibility to your EV if you take long trips, and if you don't you don't incur that expense (other than having some wasted space on the bottom of your vehicle where it would go)

        That solves most of those problems because the vehicle OEM isn't responsible for the warranty on that item, and you aren't swapping out your brand new one that came with your shiny car for someone else's five year old one.

        The stock problem is avoided if stations keep a much larger stock than what they actually need - which they would have reason to do as most of the packs would act as a buffer for their fast charging terminals so the peak electrical load of the station is the 24 hour average of how much power it dispenses from fast charging terminals and battery swaps, rather than the peak instantaneous load.

        The monopoly issue is more of a problem, but if the pack is standard the stations shouldn't care about who gets what. Whoever you originally bought the pack from is responsible for when the pack indicates it is no longer up to snuff, regardless of whose station it happens to be in at the time that happens. They'd have enough electronics on board they could keep track of which cars it was on, g force events (i.e. in case of accidents) when it was charged, how long it was used as a "battery" at a station before getting redeployed on another vehicle etc. so they could figure out some rules between the various vendors for cross charging to keep everyone happy.

        Perhaps there would be some room for gaming, but if someone seriously spent a few months figuring this all out with some lawyers in the room they could cover most of the angles and make provisions in the purchase contract when you buy them to allow plugging up any they missed after the fact.

        1. Steve K Silver badge

          Re: On the subject of EV recharging

          There could also be differential pricing for part-charged packs (for those who don’t need the range for their current trip), which would make it easier to manage the charging pool of reserve packs.

      3. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: On the subject of EV recharging

        The logistics dont work? The auto-mobile would never have taken off with that 'mind' set.Bertha Benz makes today's entrepreneurs look like the unimaginative twats they are.

    2. Ivan Headache

      Re: On the subject of EV recharging

      That’s the idea used in the Renault Twingo.

      Funny looking car. Even funnier is that you see so few of them.

      I wonder why.

      1. captain veg

        Re: On the subject of EV recharging

        > Even funnier is that you see so few of them.

        Possibly because Renault no longer import them to the UK.

        -A.

    3. X5-332960073452

      Re: On the subject of EV recharging

      I wish to upvote this a million times, but can't be arsed to create the accounts!

    4. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: On the subject of EV recharging

      The London Electric Tram company could replace a battery in less than 3 minutes in 1910. Beats any charging point I've heard of.

      You dont even need the whole car battery to be replaceable. Imagine if you could just pop out and in something that gives you (say) 50 miles so you can get to a proper charging point. Could revolutionise the whole industry.

  19. Ivan Headache

    error

    it's the Twizy not the Twingo

  20. Symon
    Paris Hilton

    "Sodium-ion batteries are made using the most abundant element on Earth "

    I suppose there's oxygen in there?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abundance_of_elements_in_Earth%27s_crust

  21. LeoP

    EV charging time

    What I have a hard time understanding is the unreflected "must charge in 15 minutes" argument. It may be true: What percentage of cars is actually used in a role, where a range of say 500 Km / day isn't sufficient with an 8 hour overnight top-up?

    I am in the process of selecting an EV to buy, which implies, that I did a thorough analysis of use-cases. My personal cut-off is below 300 Km / day, and I know not of a single person, where this would be beyond 600 Km / day.

    Combine parked-time or overnight charging with some smart grid-balancing by means of a charging priority (e.g. I don't care if my car is full at 2 a.m. or 6 a.m., but I want it to be guaranteed full at 7) and you might get quite a tasty package: Grid-reserve is maintained by switching off thousands of chargers for those 30 minutes it takes to get that gas turbine online when something big fails, instead of idling it all day or all night.

    1. Kernel

      Re: EV charging time

      "My personal cut-off is below 300 Km / day, and I know not of a single person, where this would be beyond 600 Km / day."

      Unfortunately your use case is not everyone's - a 600km/day limitation would mean that visiting family would become a two day trip each way, requiring two lots of overnight accommodation to be paid for, as opposed to the current one day trip each way.

      Hell, my son even spent a couple of weeks doing a job on a farm in Aussie where a 600km/day limitation wouldn't even get you to the nearest pub and back - no alcohol was permitted on the property, so staying in for a beer wasn't an option.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: EV charging time

        "Hell, my son even spent a couple of weeks doing a job on a farm in Aussie where a 600km/day limitation wouldn't even get you to the nearest pub and back - no alcohol was permitted on the property, so staying in for a beer wasn't an option."

        Given the stresses of the job, how did the landlord avoid revolts?

      2. Fred Daggy

        Re: EV charging time

        Thats not the use case for an EV. Keep the fossil fuels for that.

        I would estimate that 90% of all driving is commuter traffic plus a quick shopping trip and perhaps drop off the kids at school. Easily done in say 200km per day. 300km a day.

        More than that, the EV is not useful for you. But it IS useful for a great majority of people.

        I have a work colleague that has to do nearly at 200km round trip every day to work. Never been a problem except one time screaming baby made him forget to plug in. Next day he just went for lunch, plugged it in, picked up a few groceries and had enough easily to get home.

        For other issues the Tesla powerwall (and I suppose copycat solutions) help with many things, including spreading the load from wind (unreliable) and hydro (quick startup times) and then base load. Can be used to supplement the grid or just power your own home. Of course, can power your Tesla, or other EV. Someone more knowledgeable can fill me in if that can be a quick charge or slow.

  22. six_tymes

    I fantastic article, thank you to whoever did the research and wrote it.

  23. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    Don't Panic!

    Blighty to the rescue with "world-leading battery and wind technology"

    From biosciences to artificial intelligence, and with our world-leading battery and wind technology we will work with partners around the world."

    https://news.sky.com/story/brexit-has-given-uk-chance-to-pioneer-vaccines-says-boris-johnson-in-new-year-message-12176471

    "world-beating" is so 2020. "world-leading" is the new "world-beating"

    BB (Boris Battery) is the new AA

  24. tfb Silver badge
    Boffin

    Simulation of battery chemistry

    A question for people who do computational chemistry. It looks to me as if one of the problems is that there's a very large search space of possible battery chemistries, which makes finding a good (or better) one very hard. Are we anywhere near the point where we could use a supercomputer to simulate them well enough that it could then start looking through the search space to find good candidates? My guess is that no, we're not, but I don't know.

  25. RobThBay

    Li-Po?

    Just wondering Li-Po battery tech hasn't been mentioned?

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Li-Po?

      LiPo is great for UAVs/RC but is expensive

  26. ThinkingMonkey

    If life serves you lemons, make... power?

    I have failed to see, in all this talk of electricity-producing items and chemistry, one mention of the tech that many of us learned about as wee lads. Naturally, I'm referring to sticking a copper and an aluminum pin into a lemon. I don't recall the amp/hours but I do know it works. For a mere 10 million, I could focus my attentions fiercely on this and produce something or another in the shape of a product. All failed experiments will be processed into lemonade and sold and so I promise to make the very best use of my capital. Interested investors just leave a tenner with the bartender of your choice and I'll go round collecting. Thank you.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: If life serves you lemons, make... power?

      Lemons? What happened to potatoes? Anyway, two bugbears in current battery demand remain unanswered with the lemon/potato battery: current and longevity (as in how much can you draw at a time and for how long before it goes flat).

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: If life serves you lemons, make... power?

        If we're talking about food batteries shouldn't we talking about what currant you can get?

  27. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Digging up memories of 'O' level chemistry, isn't one of the issues also that the usefulness of an electric cell is related to how "far apart" the electrodes and electrolytes are chemically. With Lithium you're bumping up against the end of the periodic table, I think the next "best" combination is Ceasium-Fluorine.

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