Why No Further Public Funds Should Be Used To Research Lithium-Ion Batteries For The Sole Use Of Propelling Electrified Private Passenger Carrying Motor Vehicles

by Jack Lifton on March 25, 2009

in Batteries, Hybrids & EVs, News Analysis, Nuclear Energy, Recycling

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I urge you to read the new article from Mr. John Petersen called “Why Long Range EVs Can Never Be Cost Effective“, a thorough and comprehensive survey of the current state of lithium-ion battery technology development as it relates to the electrification of motor vehicles for private passenger-carrying use. When you are done with that, I urge you to read the associated article by the same author, entitled “Li-ion Battery Manufacturers: The Bleeding Edge of Energy Storage Technology”.

After reading both articles please tell me why there is any argument supporting the use of tax dollars to develop lithium-ion batteries, or engineering methods to mass produce them, if the sole purpose of that development is to power electrified vehicles, such as plug-in hybrids or battery only propelled motor cars for private passenger-carrying use?

I believe that the future of the electrification of motor vehicles for private use will be a mix of battery and internal combustion technologies for a very long time to come. I believe that whether or not privately owned passenger-carrying motor vehicles are mostly entirely battery powered, mostly hybrids powered by batteries and internal combustion engines (ICEs), or mostly powered only by ICEs, depends exclusively on the progress of the world in replacing the fossil fuel burning generation of electricity, with nuclear reactor-based generation of electricity.

Until such replacement has occurred. the cost of electricity will simply continue to go up until there is a critical shortage of electricity to produce and recycle base metals. and the mass production of technology metals has become prohibitively expensive.

If the nuclear replacement of fossil fuels occurs, then the generation of hydrogen by the electrolysis of seawater could make hydrogen universally and economically available enough to be used to fuel ICEs with only water as an exhaust.

In the meantime the critical driver for the electrification of private passenger-carrying motor vehicles will be COST. The political issue of reliance on foreign oil is after all ultimately one of cost and the risk of supply interruption. The so-called greenhouse gas emission reduction issue will shortly fade away, in the face of the increased COST it brings to our society without any obvious near term benefit.

As Mr. Petersen points out so well, we have already reached the bleeding edge of energy storage technology – the point at which increased spending brings decreasing or no valuable results.

In the near term, we will produce as many hybrids powered by nickel metal hydride batteries, as the rate of production of their critical raw materials and its percentage allocation to battery production allows. This I think cannot exceed 5,000,000 Toyota Prius-sized vehicles per annum.

A small number of small, limited range plug-in hybrids using lithium-ion batteries will be built, but I think that they will be supplanted rapidly by modern lead/carbon -acid battery powered vehicles, which are far more economical for short range, limited load and limited performance vehicles than expensive lithium-ion batteries.

Ultimately I think that the far more economical lead-acid batteries will be widely used for short range vehicles, and longer ranges will be obtained with nickel metal hydride hybrid systems.

There can be no shortage of lead based on currently known resources and reserves of that metal. If there is a serious need for longer range hybrids, then nickel metal hydride will be joined by lead-acid using systems.

As soon as this future trend is realized there will be a massive interest in recycling minor metals, such as the rare earths, so as to try and completely eliminate their waste.

Ideally a future driving world would be one where hydrogen-fueled ICEs are allied with hydrogen-using fuel cells, lead-acid batteries, and nickel metal hydride batteries in various combinations, and every component is made with recycling and rebuilding in mind from the start.

As a mass-produced energy storage system for private passenger-carrying motor vehicles, I think that lithium-ion batteries are a dead end.

I do agree with Mr. Petersen, however, that the wealthy and adolescent (wealthy ones only) may always drive foolish toys such as the Tesla, to show off their wealth by demonstrating that they can afford private vehicles powered by hugely expensive, hand-built lithium-ion batteries.

Let the braying begin as the era of interest in lithium peaks and begins to subside.

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