Almost everyone coming here has a firm idea that battery technology is a critical part of the changes we need to see for a healthy economy. There is a lot going on in the research and development field. We’re going to look into one in a moment, but first lets have a reality check on what has to happen for a battery to make sense. We’re talking rechargeable here for the grid to small electronic device markets.

For a battery to make long term sense it will need to be efficient. When looking at battery efficiencies the amount of power put in while charging compared to the power that can be drawn out can be expressed in a percentage so leaving us with an idea of relative efficiency. It called “round trip efficiency” simply the comparison of what is put in to charge versus what you can get back. If you put in 10kW and then can discharge to 5kW the efficiency would be 5/10 or only 50%. It’s clear now that this will matter greatly. All those kWs lost in the battery transaction will need to be generated and paid for – so in our example low efficiency doubles the cost of the net kWs.

Its what you use that matters, so when a battery uses kWs up in heat and chemical reaction losses there is a price. None us want to be buying 100% to get 50% to use. That makes it important to try to get efficiency notes on battery technology early. Sometimes I do and sometimes not, as the research and development news is often written by journalists, who might not get the important details. That’s why I’m bringing it up, we need to know and ask that reports include this important detail.

Another part of battery activity is how quickly it can respond to demands. This attribute is called current flow, the rate at what amount of time, by which a battery can be working at its rating. Now in fairness, batteries are chemical reaction storehouses, and chemical reactions we know are affected by temperature and other variables. This insight points out the importance of a battery having quick response and perhaps a wide temperature range. Northern dwelling folks know this from cold winter starts, when the lead acid battery can let a person down.

Current flow is also a factor in another measure, the frequency in which a battery can reverse from discharging out current to taking in current in a charge. One might be seeing a lot of this when regenerative braking is common. In a few seconds a battery will be reversed, and this could happen several times a minute.

Coming up with a top-flight battery is harder than one might think.

Altairnano Titanate Surface

Now we can talk about a leader who is if anything, coming out with the details that matter for investors and engineers that are hunting for technology to put to work. It’s Altairnano who has recently completed a test for AES, the huge power company and run by KEMA, Inc. to validate the batteries Altairnano is suggesting for grid work. As you’ll see in the pdf the results were excellent and justify further testing at higher levels. The test was ran with two battery sets rated at 1 megawatt with approximately 300-ampere hours of capacity that delivered 250 kWhs at rated output of 1000kWs in 15 minutes.

The batteries were able to do the frequency test at less than 1 second at the full 1 megawatt, measured efficiencies of 91 to 97%. I’m impressed. When you look into sodium sulfur and find 65-70% it looks even better.

Another battery that Altairnano has in testing is on board an unnamed U.S. Navy vessel to replace the backup diesel generator set that is running 100% of the time to keep the electronic warfare systems running, no matter what. A brownout or power loss can get lots of folks killed, so the test details will be some longer time in coming. Being able to have the battery trustworthy allows the diesel to be shut down, saving fuel, perhaps as much as $1.6 million per ship per year. Its thought that more than 100 U.S. Naval vessels can use such a battery, saving perhaps more than $160 million in diesel alone. The battery is even larger than a grid test unit; a 2.4-megawatt version is the specification.

All the while Phoenix Motorcars has been planning to use the technology in their “sport utility trucks.” With orders for 300 in hand they have finally raised the cash to build and start the assembly line. The effort illustrates some advantages and issues that such high battery performance will bring.

A truck is a big heavy vehicle and the battery set is large, 1100 pounds for 35kW battery packs that gives 100-mile ranges. The efficient and fast technology offers 10 minute charging – but – the charge would be at 250kW, a rate that needs to be connected at the substation – not something you’ll be doing in the garage. The sales have been to Pacific Gas & Electric who owns a grid so charging the early models shouldn’t be an issue.

Altairnano technology is based on their production of titanium oxide formed into nano-sized particles that are used in the battery. The titanate particles offer very low resistance, thus less heat loss assuring high efficiency and high speed charging. The process is to make what’s called lithium titanate oxide spinels, a kind of crystal structure and coat it on an aluminum anode. With 100 times the surface area, and easy ion transfers leading to very long life, the technology is competitive to the A123 technology with a drop in density per volume as another competitive issue to work on.

That’s great set of news stories for Altairnano. This gives the engineering community two lithium ion technologies to choose from and an incentive for more research, cost cutting and product rollout. Right now the vehicle leader is A123 and the larger set leaders Altairnano and sodium sulfur up to grid installations to back up wind, wave and solar. Keep in mind, the A123 technology is wholly controlled and produced by the company and that Altairnano might be more likely to license or provide coating materials to other innovators.

It’s good news on the battery front.


2 Comments so far

  1. 375744 on September 23, 2011 12:58 AM

    375744 beers on the wall. sck was here

  2. Tom Semmel on October 4, 2011 10:19 AM

    What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It absolutely useful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & aid other users like its aided me. Great job.

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