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Batteries Are the Shocking Truth about Electric Cars

Can white elephants come in green?

President Barack Obama flew to Holland, Mich., on Thursday to attend groundbreaking ceremonies for a new lithium-ion battery plant, which the White House advertised as an example of federal stimulus grants at work and a gateway to a clean-energy future.

Great stuff — if you don’t look too hard.

Indeed, the Holland plant, effusively hailed by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as creating 300 jobs, and 62,000 “green” jobs down the road, will produce batteries in America.

But Compact Power Inc., which received $151 million from a federal stimulus program to open the $303 million plant, isn’t American and neither is its technology: It’s a subsidiary of the giant South Korean conglomerate LG Chem, and its technology is Asian.

Also that age-old bugaboo for electric cars — range and battery life — is still a work in progress. General Motors says its Chevy Volt will go up to 40 miles on a single charge and will have a range-extending, gasoline-assist feature. Nissan’s fully electric car, the Leaf, will have a 100-mile range. Ditto Ford’s electric Focus. Much depends on driving conditions.

Lithium-ion batteries are way ahead of traditional lead-acid batteries in power and weight, but they aren’t perfect. As yet, the best battery is far from being a competitor for a tank of gasoline.

There’s a back story here. The most obvious narrative is the need to create jobs in Michigan, and the hope is that electric vehicles will bolster car production there.

More obscure is the administration’s belief that a brave, new clean-energy America can produce jobs and reduce the output of greenhouse gases. In Obamaland, windmills will turn silently through the night, while millions of fully electric cars get their batteries topped up in driveways and garages.

A green and pleasant land is just a few million batteries away and, by Jove, the Department of Energy is on the job. It has $2.4 million to spend on electric car infrastructure. The department is helping to bring on nine battery plants, including the one in Holland. It’s also promoting charging stations.

Some small facts: These batteries are still so expensive (about $16,000 apiece) that any fully electric car, or near so, requires subsidies down the line to get the price down to where ordinary people will buy them in quantity. The only fully electric vehicle on the market today, the Tesla, is a sports car that costs over $100,000 and is aimed at the well-heeled greens of Hollywood.

While official retail prices for the Ford, Nissan and GM models haven’t been announced, estimates are in the range of $30,000 to $35,000. Federal tax credits are likely to trim several thousand dollars for many buyers.

Batteries have stood in the way of electric cars for more than a century. In the early days of motoring, electric cars covered short distances and held promise. But while internal combustion engines revved ahead, batteries languished.

But the dream of an electric car never died, though the batteries frequently did. In the 1970s, the U.S. government spent lavishly on battery research, including lithium and aluminum air batteries. There are dozens of ways to make batteries, but all have their disadvantages: weight, disposability, life, rate of discharge and market indifference.

If you want everything you get today on a car — electric windows, air conditioning, electric seats, multiple lights, highly variable loads and easy refueling and, maybe, towing capacity — you need a hell of a battery

We have, so to speak, been shocked by presidential energy enthusiasm before. Jimmy Carter believed in liquids from coal and launched the ill-fated Synthetic Fuels Corp., and George W. Bush went hog wild over ethanol — and those expectations are being trimmed daily.

I’ll buy a hybrid and wait, if it’s OK with Obama.

By. Llewellyn King for OilPrice.com - the no.1 source for oil prices




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  • Anonymous on July 19 2010 said:
    Why even bother with a hybrid? Buy a cheap used low emission vehicle and with the money you save, you can use those dollars to make much more rational decisions about how to save energy - like replacing your old appliances and insulate your home. Buying a hybrid is a terrible waste of money (and energy) - buying an EV is even worse...
  • Anonymous on July 20 2010 said:
    Never mind that still ~50% of our electricity is generated by coal any way. Its all a shell game to fool yuppies who want to feel Prius. I mean pious. Oh, and the 20% unemployment rate in Spain, the leader of the "green economy"? It eliminated 2.3 regular jobs for every green job. Good luck with that Detroit.
  • Anonymous on July 20 2010 said:
    Obamaland is indeed a fantasy place. "Green" jobs will increase in China for all the same reasons that much car and heavy industry have moved offshore. Nothing will be solved by increasing the use of electricity. Besides, why not sell European diesels here? They are 2 times as efficient as the cars we already have here. Leave the $100,000 electric cars for the rich hollywood types who like to waste money in order to be noticed.
  • Anonymous on July 21 2010 said:
    Just ask Spain how well it works to go green ahead of rational economics and sufficient technology. The country went broke promoting ultra-high-cost green energy. I wish Obama would go back to Acorn and let the private market work. Seriously, do you want the sky full of bird killing windmills? The one energy source that could really use Obama's help is nuclear. We should be building plants - using newer and better technology - as fast as we can.
  • Anonymous on July 21 2010 said:
    There's one more problem nobody seems to be considering with regard to electric cars being the green answer to transportation. They have to be plugged-in and charged up, right? Let's see, it takes three units of carbon-based energy to produce one electric unit of energy; a three to one ratio. That means we're going to have to burn up one hell of a lot of fossil fuels in order to power-up our supposedly eco-friendly cars.
  • Anonymous on July 21 2010 said:
    In Europe right now about half of the cars sold are diesels. Higher adiabatic efficiency and higher BTU content per gallon yield 20-30% better fuel mileage than gas powered identical models. With low sulfur diesel about 15% higher than gasoline there are savings available and infrastructure is already in place. We could also use Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) for fuel. Its BTU per gallon content is about 20% lower than gasoline but it is currently less than half the price of gasoline. In the USA natural gas is very abundant and getting more so rapidly. Natural Gas distribution is already ubiquitous and only needs compressing to become LNG. LNG burns much cleaner than gas. Light trucks that have been converted to LNG often run a million miles before overhaul. Could I stand the same car for a million miles?
  • Anonymous on August 10 2010 said:
    I rode in a 1910 or 1915 Detroit Electric in Houston, Texas in the 1950s.Drive from the left rear with a tiller. Cut glass bud vases and all. It rode great and had about 25 mile range. It was kept two blocks north of The Rice University.
  • Anonymous on August 10 2010 said:
    [quote name="baldeagle"]In Europe right now about half of the cars sold are diesels. Higher adiabatic efficiency and higher BTU content per gallon yield 20-30% better fuel mileage than gas powered identical models. With low sulfur diesel about 15% higher than gasoline there are savings available and infrastructure is already in place. We could also use Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) for fuel. Its BTU per gallon content is about 20% lower than gasoline but it is currently less than half the price of gasoline. In the USA natural gas is very abundant and getting more so rapidly. Natural Gas distribution is already ubiquitous and only needs compressing to become LNG. LNG burns much cleaner than gas. Light trucks that have been converted to LNG often run a million miles before overhaul. Could I stand the same car for a million miles?[/quote]Don't say gas when you mean gasoline.
  • Anonymous on August 23 2010 said:
    Just because the industry is in its infant stages of development doesn't mean that beginning the process of fleshing out its existence in the US is a waste of money or time. Yes, the Tesla is a very expensive car that is only available to the smallest percentage of Americans. So what? The Tesla provided a way for R&D work to be financed and sold to consumers who were willing to pay a premium for something new and rare. The Tesla is really just another thing that most Americans don't need, which is exactly what we love to buy. Maybe our cars don't need all the frills that we have today? Maybe working towards a more efficient electric cars will give us an excuse to shave unneeded poundage? The people who will buy these first electric cars, and people will buy them, don't expect or need them to compete with a gas powered vehicle. Just like the people who buy a Prius don't do it to save money. These people believe in the goal and respond accordingly.
  • Anonymous on August 31 2010 said:
    Has anyone actually bothered calculating the average daily BTU of solar energy that actually falls onto the land surface of say the continental US? It's all FREE ENERGY! I still think that solar/electric is the long term solution to our energy needs. It's the collection/storage/distribution aspect of this energy that we have to greatly improve upon. AND WE WILL. Just imagine how futuristic the WIFI technology I'm sending this post on would have seemed just 25 years ago! Expensive, short range, battery powered electric vehicles are NOT the answer, at least not for now! Oil will probably lose out to CNG in the next 10 years, followed eventually by advanced solar powered vehicles. Plenty of time for all the oil industry to adapt to new technologies.
  • Anonymous on October 13 2010 said:
    The electric car projects are just a scam to get a certain group of VC's to control the lithium fields in Afghanistan! He who controls the electric cars controls the trillions of dollars of lithium revenues. It is just like oil all over again. The U.S. Department of Energy had one guy, who George Bush appointed running $25B worth of taxpayer money. He was working with 3 other guys in this small group who gave the money only to hooked n car companies who they could control the battery orders for and thus control the Lithium profits.Dmitry Medvedev Came to Silicon Valley on June 22, 2010 and met with some of the venture capital companies that helped lobby the leverage for the electric car companies that just got funded. Only the car companies got funded that would play in this scheme.Ener1 Battery Systems who got zillions of the dollars from DOE per the Loan Guarantee and ATVM Director Seward.

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