Stories tagged batteries


One oft-cited reason for the relatively small percentage of renewable energy produced in the U.S. (just 7% of our energy is renewable) is that when you have a fluctuating energy source such as sunlight or wind, you need a giant battery to store the excess for use during times of scarcity. Here's one example discussing wind. Perusing Popular Mechanics this afternoon, I came across two innovative new battery designs that could bring us much closer to wider use of renewable energies.

The first design wins points for style--Beacon Power, of Massachusetts, has been testing a battery made of flywheels that store energy as they spin.

The second battery isn't quite as sexy, but it's no less useful--Donald Sadoway at MIT is working on an all-liquid metal battery that could absorb electrical currents up to 10 times as strong as today's hi-tech batteries.

Pretty exciting stuff!


Nanoballs speed up battery recharge

"Nanoball" batteries charge in seconds
"Nanoball" batteries charge in secondsCourtesy fdecomite
Byoungwoo Kang and Gerbrand Ceder at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have revealed an experimental battery that charges about 100 times faster than normal lithium ion batteries.
To increase the rate, the battery's surface area was increased by making the cathode out of tiny balls of lithium iron phosphate, each just 50 nanometers across.

Electric vehicles recharge in minutes

The researchers calculate that if cellphone batteries can be made using this material, they could charge in 10 seconds. Bigger batteries for plug-in hybrid electric cars could charge in just 5 minutes - compared with about 8 hours for existing batteries.

When? "2 or 3 years"

How long until we can buy these batteries?

Because there are relatively few changes to the standard manufacturing process, Professor Ceder believes the new battery material could make it to market within two to three years. BBC News

'Nanoball' batteries could recharge car in minutes New Scientist


Lithium is harvested from salt water: Lithium is recovered from brine pools in Chile.
Lithium is harvested from salt water: Lithium is recovered from brine pools in Chile.Courtesy ar.obrien

Where does lithium come from?

Demand for lithium needed for lithium ion batteries is exploding but the world supply is very limited. The main producers of Lithium minerals are Chile, Argentina, the USA, China, Australia and Russia. Three fourths of the world's lithium reserves are in South America.

Bolivia has most of the world's lithium

More than one third of the world's known lithium is in Bolivia.

The U.S. Geological Survey pegs Bolivia's deposits at 5.4 million extractable tons. The U.S. has 410,000 tons, while China has 1.1 million and Chile has 3 million. Daily Tech

Bolivians reject exploitation

The Bolivian government is headed by President Evo Morales. A new Constitution that Mr. Morales managed to get passed last month could give native Bolivians control over the natural resources in their territory.

“The previous imperialist model of exploitation of our natural resources will never be repeated in Bolivia,” said Saúl Villegas, head of a division in Comibol that oversees lithium extraction. “Maybe there could be the possibility of foreigners accepted as minority partners, or better yet, as our clients.” New York Times

The trouble with lithium

A study by Meridian International Research points out the trouble with lithium (click link to read 22 pg PDF) in powering the world's future fleet of electric vehicles.

Analysis of lithium's geological resource base shows that there is insufficient economically recoverable lithium available in the Earth's crust to sustain Electric Vehicle manufacture in the volumes required, based solely on Li Ion batteries.

The alternative battery technologies of ZnAir and NaNiCl are not resource constrained and offer potentially higher performance than Li MoralesIon."

Lithium supplies are very limited

If Bolivia wants to cash in on their lithium reserves, they need to move before better alternatives come to the market.

"We have the most magnificent lithium reserves on the planet, but if we don't step into the race now, we will lose this chance. The market will find other solutions." said Juan Carlos Zuleta, an economist in La Paz. Detroit News

Batteries boosted in Michigan
Batteries boosted in MichiganCourtesy mrdavisdc

Michigan, home to the headquarters of GM, Ford, Chrysler, and numerous automotive suppliers, has passed a bill that provides $335 million in refundable tax credits to encourage companies to develop and build batteries in Michigan for hybrid and electric vehicles.


Cold: Cold and snowy.
Cold: Cold and snowy.Courtesy jpmatth
JK! It’s science, of course.

Usually science loves us, and we love science, but when the temperature drops (or, here in Minnesota, when the temperature drops and drops and drops) science starts to hate us just a little bit.

How do I know this? Because, like so many other lost and lonely souls, when I went out to start my car this morning… it did nothing. And I think I heard it mutter an awful, awful word at me from one of the dash vents.

So what gives, science? Yes, I understand that I would die if I were left out all night in -30 degree weather, but my car is a robot, and robots can’t even comprehend the weaknesses of humans, much less experience them. Why did my car die?

The car died, of course, because the battery died, and the engine couldn’t be started.

Why do batteries die in the cold?

It boils down to my old acquaintance, Chemistry. (I’m Science now. Pretend I’m Science.) Batteries can work in the first place thanks to a chemical reaction taking place between the positive and negative terminals. In a car battery, the terminals (to which you clamp jumper cables) are made of lead and lead dioxide (which is a lead atom with two oxygen atoms). Between the terminals is sulfuric acid (which is a sulfur atom with four oxygen atoms and two hydrogen atoms). The lead terminal wants to react with the sulfuric acid, and so it does—it kicks the hydrogen atoms off the sulfuric acid, and combines with what’s left to create lead sulfate (which is a lead atom a sulfur atom, and those four oxygen atoms). When the hydrogen is kicked out of the sulfuric acid, an electron is also released. On the lead dioxide side, hydrogen is getting kicked off the acid, and oxygen is getting kicked off the lead dioxide. Lead sulfate is formed again, and, with the help of the free electron from the lead terminal side, that spare oxygen and hydrogen combines to form water (which we all know is two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom).

All of this is only going to happen, however, if there’s a wire connecting the lead dioxide and lead plates outside the battery, so electrons can flow from the negative (lead dioxide) terminal to the positive (lead) terminal. If there’s something in the middle of that wire, like the starter for an engine, those electrons can do some work.

Unfortunately, this chemical reaction also depends on temperature. The colder it is, the less willing all these molecules will be to mess around with each other, and fewer electrons will be tossed around. If it’s really cold, there may not be enough of a reaction to start your car. Also, because the reaction produces water, there’s a chance that the water could freeze if it gets cold enough, cracking the battery case altogether. Then you’re really up Brown Creek.

If you’re battery is just low, and the cold has made it weaker, you might try jump-starting it (remember, positive terminal to positive terminal, negative terminal on the live car to a metal spot on the dead car). With the help of a fresh battery, your weak battery could build up enough charge to start your engine, which would warm the battery and start to recharge it. If your battery is frozen, however, don’t try to jump it—it could explode. Now, an explosion would be kind of awesome, but flying battery acid is scary, and it doesn’t matter if it’s science’s fault or not if your face gets burned off.

So that’s why our cars didn’t start this morning. Feel better? No? Me neither.


ipods huddle for comfort after learning the fate of their siblings
ipods huddle for comfort after learning the fate of their siblingsCourtesy nic0
As I was innocently searching for images of fire, I came across pictures ipod!? I do not normally associate spontaneous combustion with devices that I use on a regular basis outside of perhaps my stove or car. Thus I would expect flames to appear when I turn on the stove burner, not when I charge my computer. The culprit appears to be lithium-ion batteries .

Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous in today’s technology market. They are by far the most efficient and long lasting battery available. And for the most part, they are non-flame producing. The problem seems to be their sensitivity to heat. Most of us have experienced the warmth that a battery can produce. I have been known to use my old computer battery pack on sore muscles in a pinch. When the battery gets too warm it can become unstable and the normally separated positive and negative charges combine to create the exploding electronics phenomenon.

If you are concerned about unwanted domestic fireworks displays, you are not without recourse. Lithium-ion batteries have a relatively short life span (about 3 years) so check the manufactured on date on the package and do not save the batteries for a rainy day, use ‘em right away! Keep them out of hot cars and don’t set up shop on top of a radiator. But before you add a fire extinguisher as your next ipod accessory, remember the chances of your ipod jumping off its charger and igniting your carpet are relatively low. But hey, who can resist the headline Exploding Electronics? Its not only catchy but alliterative to boot.


March 29 - April 4 are Nano Days at The Science Museum and other museums areound the country. To celebrate, here's a selection of recent nanotechnology stories in the news:

Japanese doctors are trying to build nano-scale robots to build custom-designed medicines,one molecule at a time.

Pharmaceutical companies are using nanotechnology to deliver more effective anti-cancer drugs.

Researchers at MIT are trying to develop an electric car with a battery using nanowires.

Engineers in California are looking for ways to use nanomaterials to store hydrogen, which may someday power pollution-free cars.

Scientists are using nanotechnology to develop more efficient solar panels.

Today in Toshiba's press release (bablefish translation) a battery that charges in 5 minutes and can be recharged every day for more than ten years has been promised for mass production in March, 2008.


We couldn’t get the rights to a photo of a nano-ultra-capacitor, so here’s a picture of some cute baby ducks.: Photo by Mattay from
We couldn’t get the rights to a photo of a nano-ultra-capacitor, so here’s a picture of some cute baby ducks.: Photo by Mattay from

Many devices need to use stored energy. The most common storage devices are batteries and capacitors.

Batteries produce energy through chemical reactions in their mass, and release it at a slow and steady rate. Batteries can store a lot of energy, but they’re difficult to recharge.

Capacitors store energy on their surface, release it all in a burst, and then can be easily recharged. Many devices use capacitors – cellphones, computer memory, even some trucks and buses. But the amount of energy capacitors can store is limited – only one-millionth the power in a battery of the same size.

But perhaps not for long. A team of researchers at MIT is using nanotechnology to improve the storage capacity of capacitors. Working with materials just a few atoms thick, they can build very complicated shapes with lots of surface area to hold electrical charge. Test show these devices can hold up to 50% of the energy a battery holds, and yet still maintain the advantages of quick release and easy recharge. The researchers predict this next generation of capacitors could someday help power electric cars or store energy from renewable sources.

An iron-containing protein, ferritin, self-assembles relatively easily into a uniform nanolayer. By creating a layer of ferritin and then covering it with another layer of the opposite charge, a capacitor just a few nanometers thick forms that can store charge between its layers - in other words a battery. Patent abstact.