These are dark days for the battery industry. While everyone has been waiting for a scientific breakthrough that would dramatically reduce the cost of storing electricity1 hope is beginning to fade. As Steve LeVine writes over at Quartz.
Entrepreneurs such as Tesla’s Elon Musk continue to tinker with off-the-shelf batteries for luxury electric cars and home power-storage systems, but industry hands seem generally to doubt that their cost will drop enough to attract a mass market any time soon. Increasingly, they are concluding that the primacy of fossil fuels will continue for decades to come, and probably into the next century.
He goes on to profile Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials-science professor at MIT, who is attempting tackling the problem from a manufacturing standpoint. Currently it takes around 24 hours to make a Lithium-Ion battery and factories range from the hundreds of millions all the way up to Tesla’s 5 Billion dollar Gigafactory. Not only does this make it incredibly hard for startups to innovate in the manufacturing space but it means that established players have little interest in rethinking the processes as it may very well wipe out the value of their factories.
It all started with cassette tapes, or their demise rather. Sony invented the lithium-ion battery in the early 90’s so they could put it in a camcorder but they died to figure out a way to quickly ramp up production.
Providence stepped in: As it happened, increasingly popular compact discs were beginning to erode the market for cassette tapes, of which Sony was also a major manufacturer. The tapes were made on long manufacturing lines that coated a film with a magnetic slurry, dried it, cut it into long strips, and rolled it up. Looking around the company, Sony’s lithium-ion managers now noticed much of this equipment, and its technicians, standing idle.
It turned out that the very same equipment could also be used for making lithium-ion batteries. These too could be made by coating a slurry on to a film, then drying and cutting it. In this case the result isn’t magnetic tape, but battery electrodes.
By and large they continue to be made the same way today.
Apart from this slow process, conventional batteries have a second problem: 35% of their interior space is filled with material that doesn’t contribute to generating electricity. That includes the binder that holds the slurry to the film; a separator that keeps the anode and cathode from shorting each other out; and a current collector that brings the charge to an electronic device.
Chiang wanted to reduce the manufacturing process to a single hour. And he wanted to shrink the space filler to almost nothing.
So far Chiang has had quite a bit of success in the lab. They have even built a refrigerator sized manufacturing platform that can spit out a battery cell in 2½ minutes. Compare that to a 400,000-square-foot facility that takes 22 hours in the drying stage alone. Currently 24m, Chiang’s company, is looking to raise another 30-50 million dollars to test the commercial viability of their new manufacturing processes.
- Lithium-Ion currently costs four times as much as gasoline [↩]
Removing the reflection is pretty cool, but when they remove the foreground and show just the background my brain melted a little bit. I felt like I was watching a poorly written movie where some detective says “hey, can you enhance that reflection” and a nerd says “sure” klickity clack boom “ENHANCED!”. At which point I would normally groan and call bullshit.Leave a comment
At point point it looks like the bubbles are orbiting the sphere of water.Leave a comment
UPDATE: Phil Plait has a great article over on Slate about what these videos get right and what they get wrong. In the first video he shows the sun leading the planets which is not true, they are all in the same plane. In the second video he gets the angle of the solar plane wrong (it’s 60° not 90°) and while our solar system does bounce above and below the galactic plane the corkscrew he shows is totally bunk. Also his numbers regarding length of galactic orbit are way off. Plait acknowledges that he gets some things right and it’s a very beautiful video but as far as science goes it needs to be take with a “galactic size grain of salt”.
The author of these videos readily admits that he is not a scientist and that there are flaws with his models, but I suspect that in broad strokes his vision is mostly correct. It’s certainly worth viewing if for no other reason than to understand that the flat model we use for orbits is not just wrong, but incredibly boring.
His second video is even more scientifically questionable but it’s still worth watching. He posits that even how our solar system orbits the black hole at the center of our galaxy is not as simple as we might imagine.Leave a comment
The other part of our exponential hangover is how we build our businesses. The cult of growth denies the idea that you can build anything useful or helpful unless you’re prepared to bring it to so-called “Internet scale”. There’s no point in opening a lemonade stand unless you’re prepared to take on PepsiCo.
I always thought that things should go the other way. Once you remove the barriers of distance, there’s room for all sorts of crazy niche products to find a little market online. People can eke out a living that would not be possible in the physical world. Venture capital has its place, as a useful way to fund long-shot projects, but not everything fits in that mold.
I really want to build something that doesn’t require broad addoption to be successful.Leave a comment
June 18th, 2015 § Comments Off on Black Hole Comparison §