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Technician showing Ceramatec sodium sulfur 'hot' battery.

Technician showing Ceramatec sodium sulfur 'hot' battery, one of a number of promising new technologies in development.

Batteries! Batteries! And More Batteries!

Reports from back-to-back advanced battery conferences

By Sam Smith

anuary 2011 offered a unique opportunity for those tracking energy storage for the electric vehicle (EV) industry. In one month (and in one State), two conferences occurred that provided the latest information on the current EV battery production and a look into the next decade. The look forward came at the 10X Advanced Battery R& D Conference held in Santa Clara, California, January 10 – 12.

The 10X Advanced Battery R&D Conference was organized and ably administered by Infocast out of Canoga Park, California. Infocast is a very professional conference planner that aggressively seeks the leading researchers and pulls together a comprehensive agenda. They also provide professionals who administered the conferences on-site very effectively. The goal of the 10X Conference was to look out 3 to 10 years at all the promising battery storage chemistries. The technologies presented covered improvements to current Li-Ion battery technologies through ultracapacitors and fuel cells.

There was a panel dedicated to Lithium Air and Zinc Air electrochemistries. These Metal-Air batteries offer some phenomenal energy densities (hence the 10X conference title) that could significantly increase the range and bring down the cost of on-board energy storage for future electric vehicles. An example was presented of a 100kg battery pack that could provide enough energy for a 700km range. The challenge with this technology appears to be in the power density required for normal vehicle operation. To this author there appear to be some real opportunities for a hybrid battery system (battery/battery) with a power battery for acceleration and Metal-Air battery for range.

In the Alternative Electro-Chemistries session there was a very interesting presentation on a new look at “hot” batteries. Dr. W. Grover Coors, from CERAMATEC, Inc., showcased a recent development in a sodium sulfur battery that functions at a lower operating temperature (~ 300 degrees C vs. the previous versions that operated at 600 degrees). The performance numbers were very attractive and Dr. Coors indicated that his company was looking at both mobile and stationary applications for the technology.

Having been an observer in the battery field for more than 25 years I was still enthused by the promises of future technology. Mobile applications of Metal-air batteries are very attractive as they come close to the energy density that petroleum products currently provide. I have always observed that the best battery technology was the one that was the most number of years away from commercialization. I recommend serious energy storage professionals stay in touch with Infocast and this annual review of advanced battery research and development.

Back to the Present

The week of January 24-28 provided an excellent update to the current state of the electromotive battery industry. The Advanced Automotive Battery Conference (AABC) was another in the series of looks at the near-term energy storage technologies. This conference was organized and very professionally run by Dr. Menahem Anderman and his excellent staff from Advance Automotive Batteries. I have attended several of the AABC conferences and am very impressed with the global nature of the participants and details of the technical information provided. AABC is expanding internationally with their next conference in Spain later this year. This is a key conference for those interested in the practical aspects of energy storage.

The conference included two tracks: The Advance Automotive Battery Technology, Application and Market (AABTAM) Symposium; and the Large Lithium Ion Battery Technology and Application (LLIBTA) Symposium. The real value of this conference is the comprehensive nature of the content. The presentations covered everything from computer modeling tools for battery design and manufacturing to the latest techniques for test and evaluation of finished products.

Although this conference is entitled “Advanced Automotive Battery”, there was significant content on stationary applications of energy storage. This included applications such as power quality enhancement, back-up power supplies, load leveling and several other electric grid level opportunities. The financial reality of driving the cost of energy storage down is to achieve the economies of scale that come from high volume manufacturing. The mantra of those who oppose electric transportation is “the energy storage is too expensive!”

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