Nickel-Lithium: The Next Battery Break Through?

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October 10, 2009

By Bob Difley

As electric vehicle proponents, alternative energy entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists have predicted, the development of better, more efficient batteries will give the electric vehicle (EV) industry the game changing boost it needs to change the way we think about transportation. Battery technology, which produced the successful development of the lithim-ion battery for laptop computers and then in the Tesla sports car, is now about to take the next leap forward with a battery that can be produced at lower prices but with greater capacity, meaning an increased range between charges.

Well, the lower price hasn’t happened yet, but researchers have created a new generation battery by combining Nickel and Lithium to produce a battery that can store more than 3.5 times the energy of lithium-ion batteries..

This is a prime example of the payoff from the money and effort going into the development of smaller, cheaper, safer (the Nickel-Lithium batteries are less prone to burst into flames as some lithium-ion batteries in laptops have), and more powerful batteries that will deliver more miles between charges as the era of the Electrical Vehicle (EV) is knocking at the door.

Other companies are developing the components that will complete the EV. One such company (Proterra) claims to deliver a full charge to lithium batteries in ten minutes, and has produced an all electric bus that also includes a regenerative braking system that they claim will capture 90% of a vehicle’s kinetic energy during braking to put back in the battery.

These new batteries will also be a boon to the several municipalities, including New York and Toronto, have already ordered hybrid/electric and all electric busses, which, lucky for us, are of the size that could be used for RVs. With break-through battery technology we might have taken another step closer to more hybrid/electric and all electric motorhomes, as well as trucks with enough power and range to be practical for towing fivers and trailers.

With these kinds of improvements on the horizon, we may be hearing the last of the negative comments about RVs as “gas hogs” and “gas guzzling behemoths.” Not only that, but the saving in fuel costs and repairs (electric vehicle parts last longer and require less maintenance than fossil fuel engines and drive trains), it is possible to recover a big chunk of the inevitable higher prices of the first electric RVs to hit the streets. And as popularity increases, demand rises, and finally mass production and competition will bring the prices down. The day will come when EV RVs will be priced equivalent to gas and diesel RVs of today, and fuel costs will be a concern of the past.

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  3. kirk

    a 50kwh (50,000 watthours) will drive a 3000. lb vehicle approx 300 miles according to the info I’ve researched……
    or approx 200 wh per mile (electricity cost approx.. .02 cents per mile at .10 cents per kwh
    my minivan costs approx .15 cents per mile for gasoline..
    I would love to have an electric rv if the cost for an electric was competitive with an internal combustion rv if it could be recharged quickly if it could be recharged thousands of times……
    I’m an optimist and based on all the battery research going on I’ll bet within 3-5 years I’ll own one

  4. kirk

    Battery breakthroughs are announced frequently these days (much research money is now in battery technology.)
    The following companies may be producing commercial batteries/supercapacitors next year
    EESTOR years late but wow if they actually do produce their supercapacitor…
    ERRA Yess Battery Nickel Hydrogen as used in satellites but new technology allows light weight

    ECOLOCAP CNT Battery CarbonNanoTube battery tweaked lead acid battery

    All claim to be on the verge of production and have 10 times the storage capacity of lead acid quick 15 minute recharges and thousands of recharges and cost competitive with lead acid batteries……
    If we get real lucky one of the above will be successful next year and be able to ramp up production quickly….

  5. GMAs

    Darth… don’t you just love it… no motorhomes or trailers… oh but wait a min… the house across the street is a duplex and has cars at night lined up and down the block. Oh gee its full of illeagle mexicans who are renting the place. I count 29 bodies all going in . Why they have even turned the garage on both sides into quad plexes for the wonderful people. And yet the little old lady things its great that they have a place to live while pointing to the neighbors motorhome saying that they should ban those. When I mentioned about all them people living in one house and not paying their fair share to the city for the water, trash and sewer her comment was very defensive toward the illegals but still deverted back to the MH that makes the neighborhood look like trash???? sometimes you know it must have been sick…

    Yep california passed a law that the power companies have to PAY you for the power you generate if you have solar… but, here is the clinker… The PUC (run by and for the utilites) will set the rate.. want to bet its 50% less than what you pay for.. and the homeowner will get gigged because they have to pay the 50% for the power… so rate increase on the utility bill for solar power addition charge. Hey its all about the money.. don’t ever forget it… they can make static numbers lie. Effecency is the key. And we aint their yet folks.. The generation of nuc power is the stepping stone to better effecency of energy useage in this country.. and then yes electric cars charged at night might be a good answer. But, you stll can’t get around the battery charge /recharge issue of 50% loss each time.. Remember it takes 150% to charge the batts up.. no matter which one you are using… and that my friend is not effecent use of energy.

    As to 77% of its energy useage right now… did yo know that working at night.. even with lights on.. takes less energy than during the day according the national study by MIT. Indeed at night you don’t need AC (largest pull of power) and some of the other things that you would need during the day. So maybe effecency can be better achieved by shifting work times???

    Oh bob can you illuminate us on the 300 watts per 30 miles… still waiting !!!!

  6. Kriilin Namek

    Bob, you’re right, the key is charging at night. I used to work as a chemist in a coal plant, and you can’t turn the boilers off at night. Same story for nuclear, and even hydro spills a lot of water at night, especially in wet seasons. One DOT study estimates America could get 77% of its current transportation energy from CURRENTLY EXISTING domestic capacity that’s (unavoidably) wasted if that “unstorable” energy could be captured by batteries. The down side would be peak demand by people charging during the day, the vehicle would need enough capacity for a full day.

  7. Bob

    It is good to know we don’t have to upgrade our electric delivery system. California’s is already near collapse. I don’t pretend to be an expert in these matters. I just try to apply my American “common sense”. I am all for keeping the planet as clean as possible. Thank you for your article.

  8. G L Pruett

    Some of the overly restictive laws on RV’s came about due to poor neighbors who did not park off street and behind the front building line as manners would seem to indicate. For the people who live in areas with restictions on property use, my sympathy, that is what glasses are for, to read the fine print! Our “fair” city does not enforce the few safety items in the code such as no over height units within 30 feet of an intersection unless irritated by someone. We bought with the requirement of off street parking for a minimum 25 ft unit and it is seldom vacant. Yes it was a longer search but worth it. The last attempt to “clean up” our streets came up against reality, no one wants to pay the bill to enforce more parking laws. The State has also discovered an extra income, licenses are now by the foot of length, Anoying but at 25 ft, livable.

  9. QUOTE:”Darth….
    :You can’t even put the motorhome in the back yard… as the next door neighbors will turn you in around here”
    Yeah, unfortunately ‘been there-done that’. This city permits an RV on your property if: [1] It’s not visible from the street, and [2] It is parked on a paved surface. Strange you should mention the “next door neighbor”. That’s just who ratted me out. All of the city enforcement departments in my city are EXCLUSIVELY “complaint driven”. (their words) Basically, they primarily provide the means of neighbors ratting each other out in a vindictive vein. Sadly, I have a very close (proximity-wise) neighbor whose sole purpose in life is to F*** with all those around her.

    I was obliged to have a concrete pad poured for my motorbox. No big deal, I was going
    to do that anyway to facilitate working on it. Next complaint: ”Mr. XXX is working on his motorhome in his back yard”. In a rare display of actually having a backbone, the city replied: “SO?” At this point I think they were feeling my pain from the dozens of complaints this neighbor had lodged against me. I had also obtained a permit to put an additional drive to this pad, but the aforementioned neighbor went to “city hall” and made such a scene the driveway permit was rescinded. NEVER underestimate the power of a hysterical, emotional old woman. If a man were to conduct himself in such a loud emotional, tearful manner, the cops would be called. Sexist statement? YOU BET!

  10. GMAs

    300 watts… wow… lets see 746 watts equals one hp… so that means it only takes
    less than 1/2 (o.42 ) hp to go 30 miles… wow bob thats pretty dang good… must be down hill with a stiff wind at your back… why that comes out to be 10 watts per mile… I don’t think so… or the gas engines would be making 100 miles per gallon at that HP rate… (.014hp/mile) I don’t even think you can do that on a bycycle.. even if you peddle your bottom to help out.

    200 million cars with one lap top… charge?? Bob your sluring youself again… I think its called per-pet-ual engine?? Where do you come up with this stuff?? Can we be privi to your source materials…

    Best check the math and numbers again their Bob… have another brew and come back with some more good EPA numbers…. LOLL

    You can’t even put the motorhome in the back yard… as the next door neighbors will turn you in around here… it has to be in a City APPROVED.. storage yard… can you say kick back… Most didn’t worry about the fire ring… but ran the fire bell when the thing accidently caught on fire parked out on the street in front of the house… (right after the ordance went into effect some 17 motorhomes caught on fire in one week) to which no more storage problem and some kick back from the insurance on it… I mean motorhomes, RV were cheap.. people were strip’n the things down and scrap’n ’em out because it cost over 400 bux a month to store it at a approved yard… (thats almost $5,000 a year) and you had to provide insurance to the city/owner putting bothof them as co-insureeeesss so they would not be responsible. Go figure that one out.

    I understand that in county now you have to get and pay for a yearly permit to park it on YOUR property.. and it has to be on , gravel, asphatl or concret and a designated parking spot approved by the fire marshal… (USSR/Nazi ring a bell)

    The use the aerial photos to show you have one and then check to see if you have a permit.. no permit… $2500 fine and jail time. All for something you own… wow.

    I bought a 4kw onan gen set that was almost new and later a 6.5 kw onan that was removed from a motorhome that was headed for the recycle yard. Craigs list has parts cheap for ’em.

    So if you can put it in the back yard.. your lucky… but eventually the enviro nazi’s will get you…

    Bob.. I am still laughing at your 200 million cars per laptop and 300 watts to go 30miles… hey can I have a drag off that thing before you throw it away… must be some really good stuff… 😀

  11. Darthvagrant

    QUOTE:” it takes 300 watts to drive an electric car about 30 miles”
    Sorry, but you lost me on that one. “300 watts” is an increment of an untimed unit of power. Any useful measurement of what it would take would be expressed in “watt hours”, or more likely “kilowatt hours”. “300 watts”, to wit: 30 volts @ 10 amps would constitute “300 watts”. A static expression of current draw doing no work without a time element introduced.
    Am I missing something here?

  12. Regarding the amount of energy needed to run electric cars (John – “It will take enormous amounts of money and time to upgrade the system to handle the additional demands of these vehicles It seems to me that all we will do is shift our concern for the price of fuel to the price of electricity.”), it takes 300 watts to drive an electric car about 30 miles, the average an American drives in a day, about the same as leaving your laptop computer on all day. A study by the US Department of Energy shows that you could power 200 million electric cars without a single change to the grid.

  13. Darthvagrant

    OK….I give up. After wading through Cal Tech grad’s (GMAs’) post replete with misspelled words and multiple gaffes in syntax, I can see there’s no hope for any
    alternate solution.
    I guess I’ll be obliged to put my RV on stand jacks, dig a fire ring in the back yard,
    and play like I’m camping. Nawww…..can’t even do that. My city has a TOTAL ban
    on ANY fires of any kind including “campfires” and outdoor barbecues.
    Anyone want an aging motorhome? D’oh! Silly me. Of course not. Consider
    that a rhetorical question.

  14. GMAs

    Dream On. Do you really think the power companies (old oil companies) are going to allow you to get in on their profits. you stand a better chance of going with co-generation power using nat gas… something we have not seen yet in motorhomes (radiant floor heating, cogeneration, better insulation)

    The problem with batteries is that they take 1-1/2 more times of power than they will deliver. Thus your consuming 1.5 times the power to get 1 unit of power back. Not very effecent in my book… hmmm.. but wait… the’re is more loss.. as we take it from the powerplant… which burns fuel to make steam which then turns the turbine which then turns the genarator (with 150% overload factor being generated) which then feeds power to the transformers which then go through transmission lines (how effecent are they??) with then go back through another transformer which then feeds the grid which then feeds again another transformer that then powers your house… (now lets assume that every thing is 95% effecent at each change .. how much loss do you have??) still 50% loss overall… with the electric vehicle taking now 150% of the power needed to move it down the road… ouch bet they didn’t think of that huh… (so now you know why toyota recharges its battey from its own little effecent engine instead of plugging it in) Its a scam folks…

    When we were a student at Cal tech… we worked on the hybri car… similar to what toyota has today back in the ’60’s. The problem is not with the electronics in the car but rather the motors started picking up this black stuff that ate the heck out of the rotors.

    (you can get the same thing by dragging a magnet through the dirt) Space dust? rocks and small children? no matter it was a major contender in the maintenance of the electric vehicles… then again… wait till some guy starts following you around because his compass point to your car… 🙂 talk about electrical/magnetic interfearance… wow…

    The electric car is not the magic answer. If anything its a step backwards as they were around almost before the gas engine was. Remember the stanly stemers?
    well their were baker electrics… and GE/ westinghouse were also contenders… but like all the rest… they too had effecency problems… thus the gas engine one out… Dr. Diesel also was a contender but it too was ineffecent due to its massive weights. GE kept trying to make products that would sell.. even made a electric garden tractor during the war and up till the 70;s why did they quit.. impractical

    while electric cars may be a futuristic idea… it has along way to go to become a reality that can compete with some of todays internal combustion engines… (i.e the toyota prius makes less mileage than the toyota tercel…yet they are the same car… why.. too much weight and systems making it ineffecent.

    Dream on Bob… next…

  15. Ronald


    If that was possible, our Irish Terrier could help us a whole lot!

    We are at the Alberquerque Balloon Fiesta and a couple from Cleveland Ohio was telling us that they just installed solar panels on the roof of their house for the credit write-off thing. With people doing that and replacing power back into the grid for credit, couldn’t they recharge a car very easily?

    The off-peak useage to recharge cars sounds like it should work. I guess I will have to rethink putting solar panels on the motor home! Waiting for the prices to drop!!

    Some good food for thought Bob.

  16. Darthvagrant

    Hey! Why stop with the dreaming there? How about a composting toilet that produces methane? Then the RV could run on ….errr….you know…..
    Just being facetious, of course.

  17. Howard

    You are so right. Imagine how green the RV parks would be if we had composting toilets.

  18. Howard

    Great idea! Couple one of these parked in every garage with additional solar and wind power and you now have a distributed system, so in times of need, the power company can tap energy stored in your car. My ideal scenario would also include a few new nuclear plants for firm power base. We must end fossil fuel dependency.

    By the way, if composting toilets are so great why don’t we have them in our motorhomes?

  19. Dan Rambow

    The key is to charge in off-peak demand hours.

    Put the the chargers on timers, to come on late at night.

    Have slow charge or trickle chargers at high-occupancy parking facilities for those millions of commuters who only need to go 30 miles one-way.

    Just thinking out loud

  20. Don MacConnel

    Short recharge times mean high peak power loads. Sort of like filling your fuel tank in two seconds, you have to pump a lot in a short time. Relieving high peak power loads would require local energy storage that would recharge over a long period, perhaps 12 hours and at night when power grid loads are down. The local storage would dump energy into fast charging new technology.

    In my experience fast charging and battery heating go hand in hand. If Proterra has a solution they’ve got a leg up on other battery technologies.

    In my best of all worlds a scheme of dumping out an energy depleted fluid and putting in fresh, energy rich fluid would be a fast way to “recharge” batteries.
    Not practical I guess but a nice thought.

  21. All the talk about EVs is all well and good. The thing I can’t understand is how we will charge them. This country is full of aging and failing electricity delivery networks. In California we can’t deal with the overburdened grid now. What will happen when we start plugging our vehicles in too? It will take enormous amounts of money and time to upgrade the system to handle the additional demands of these vehicles It seems to me that all we will do is shift our concern for the price of fuel to the price of electricity.