The State of Batteries

Tonight, January 31st, 2006, U.S. President Bush delivered his 6th “State of the Union” address. In this speech he touched on the energy challenges facing the U.S. and the world, as we search for the eventual replacement to oil. What will be next?

It’s too bad President Bush didn’t talk more about the potential of photovoltaic electricity – something that could be the ultimate renewable. There are advances in nano-technology that in a few years may bring humanity photovoltaic panels that produce electricity for under $2.00 US per watt (installed), and last for half a century. But this is not something that can be taken for granted.

In the meantime, Bush recommended research into clean coal, safe nuclear power, and biofuels. These are realistic choices, and in aggregate will do much to move the USA, and the world, away from dependence on oil.

In addressing energy challenges, there were two more things Bush talked about in his State of the Union address; fuel cells and batteries. Bush’s decision to mention battery technology is interesting. There is a little known race between the fuel cell and the battery – both of them are competing to become an economical energy carrier.

Remember hydrogen is not a primary fuel. It must be manufactured using biomass, or fossil fuel, or electricity. The greenest way to make hydrogen is by using electricity. But for powering an electric car, using electricity from the power grid, far less is lost in conversion by using batteries than by using fuel cells. For an in-depth comparison of fuel cells vs. batteries, read “The 100% Electric Car.”

A battery powered electric car, with a 1,000 pound battery pack, using batteries with an energy density of only 100 watt-hours per kilogram, has a range of up to 125 miles per charge. Moreover, at $.10 per kilowatt-hour, it only costs $3.5 cents per mile to drive this car when it’s recharged by plugging it into a home outlet in the evening.

The legendary Ford EV-1 had a 1,600 pound battery pack – with energy densities lower than batteries today, which are approaching 200 watt-hours per kilogram. Such a car would have a range of well over 300 miles. Where is the battery powered car today? Wouldn’t such a car be cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, and cheaper to fuel than anything on the road today?

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