Labs closed in the pandemic, but innovation doesn’t stop. So while some workers have the home office, engineers have the garage.
Right now, electric vehicles are limited by the range that their batteries allow. That’s because recharging the vehicles, even under ideal situations, can’t be done as quickly as refueling an internal combustion vehicle. So far, most of the effort on extending the range has been focused on increasing a battery’s capacity. But it could be just as effective to create a battery that can charge much more quickly, making a recharge as fast and simple as filling your tank.
There are no shortage of ideas about how this might be arranged, but a paper published earlier this week in Science suggests an unusual way that it might be accomplished: using a material called black phosphorus, which forms atom-thick sheets with lithium-sized channels in it. On its own, black phosphorus isn’t a great material for batteries, but a Chinese-US team has figured out how to manipulate it so it works much better. Even if black phosphorus doesn’t end up working out as a battery material, the paper provides some insight into the logic and process of developing batteries.
Paint it black
So, what is black phosphorus? The easiest way to understand it is by comparisons to graphite, a material that’s already in use as an electrode for lithium-ion batteries. Graphite is a form of carbon that’s just a large collection of graphene sheets layered on top of each other. Graphene, in turn, is a sheet formed by an enormous molecule formed by carbon atoms bonded to each other, with the carbons arranged in a hexagonal pattern. In the same way, black phosphorus is composed of many layered sheets of an atom-thick material called phosphorene.
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Tesla said it was working on advances that would lower the cost of batteries and increase their capacity to store energy.
Battery prices are dropping faster than expected. Analysts are moving up projections of when an electric vehicle won’t need government incentives to be cheaper than a gasoline model.
Tesla cofounder JB Straubel has been funded by Amazon for Redwood Materials, a start-up aiming to extract lithium, cobalt and nickel from old smartphones and other electronics for reuse in new electric batteries.
Redwood is one of five companies Amazon is investing in as part of its $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund, announced this year.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said in a statement that this first batch of companies were “channelling their entrepreneurial energy into helping Amazon and other companies reach net zero by 2040 and keep the planet safer for future generations.”
Better batteries are a critical enabling technology for everything from your gadgets all the way up to the stability of an increasingly renewable grid. But most of the obvious ways of squeezing more capacity into a battery have been tried, and they all run straight into problems. While there may be ways to solve those problems, they’re going to need a lot of work to overcome those hurdles.
Earlier this week, a paper covers a new electrode material that seems to avoid the problems that have plagued other approaches to expanding battery capacity. And it’s a remarkably simple material: a variation on the same structure that’s formed by crystals of table salt. While it’s far from being ready to throw in a battery, the early data definitely indicate it’s worth looking into further.
Lithium-ion batteries, as their name implies, involve shuffling lithium between the cathode and the anode of the battery. The consequence of this is that both of the electrodes will end up needing to store lithium atoms. So most ideas for next-generation batteries involve finding electrode materials that do so more effectively.
Worrying about your battery’s health might not be worth the hassle.
When demand exceeded supply in a recent heat wave, electricity stored at businesses and even homes was called into service. With proper management, batteries could have made up for an offline gas plant.
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“Children around the world are being poisoned by lead on a massive and previously unrecognized scale,” according to the study, a collaboration of UNICEF and Pure Earth, an advocacy group.
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In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack with 1 kWh of capacity—enough to power an electric car for three or four miles—cost more than $1,000. By 2019, the figure had fallen to $156, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. That’s a massive drop, and experts expect continued—though perhaps not as rapid—progress in the coming decade. Several forecasters project the average cost of a kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity to fall below $100 by the mid-2020s.
That’s the result of a virtuous circle where better, cheaper batteries expand the market, which in turn drives investments that produce further improvements in cost and performance. The trend is hugely significant because cheap batteries will be essential to shifting the world economy away from carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and gasoline.
Batteries and electric motors have emerged as the most promising technology for replacing cars powered by internal combustion engines. The high cost of batteries has historically made electric cars much more expensive than conventional cars. But once battery packs get cheap enough—again, experts estimate around $100 per kWh for non-luxury vehicles—electric cars should actually become cheaper than equivalent gas-powered cars. The cost advantage will be even bigger once you factor in the low cost of charging an electric car, so we can expect falling battery costs to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.
Electric Hummers and Cybertrucks, as well as the next generation of S.U.V.s, will signal the arrival of the E.V. era in America if they start to sell in big numbers.
For $399, this smartphone hits the high notes: speedy, a great camera and a nice screen. Took long enough, didn’t it?
A growing array of specialty shops are turning classics into silent brutes with tire-burning torque and vintage style.
This is one of the potential layouts for GM’s new Ultium battery platform and BEV3 vehicle architecture. You can tell from the tires it’s a truck frame, and if you click on the image to enlarge it, you might be able to see that the cells are aligned vertically, which GM says allows for better energy density at the cost of a taller pack. [credit: Steve Fecht for General Motors ]
On Wednesday afternoon in Warren, Michigan, General Motors announced it has developed a new, third-generation battery electric vehicle platform (called BEV3) and a new flexible battery architecture—called Ultium—that will underpin a wide range of new BEVs across the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC brands. It’s the latest in a series of recent announcements by GM regarding its electrified future; in December 2019, the carmaker revealed a $2.3 billion joint venture with LG Chem to build a battery factory in Lordstown, Ohio, then followed that in January with plans to spend $2.2 billion refitting its Detroit-Hamtramck factory to exclusively build BEVs.
Breaking the $100/kWh barrier
GM has gone for a pouch cell design for the Ultium batteries, which can be configured in different ways depending on the vehicle and its needs. For a big pickup or SUV, that means pouches arranged vertically in the modules (i.e., with their second-longest edge vertically), which GM says is best for energy density, but at the tradeoff of a taller pack. For cars that need something a little lower profile, the pouches can be stacked on top of each other in a module. GM says that a car would use between six and 12 modules in a pack, with up to 24 in a 200kWh, 800V double-layer battery pack for something like the 1,000hp electric GMC Hummer that was trailed at this year’s Super Bowl. (The smallest six-module packs would be 50kWh units.)
The battery modules also include their own battery-management electronics. That has cut the amount of wiring in a pack by 88 percent over the current Chevrolet Bolt EV battery pack. GM says that if you have to replace an individual module within a battery pack, the electronics can talk to each other and recalibrate the pack easily. That’s because each module knows what kind of chemistry its cells use.