General Electric is taking another step into the growth sector of energy storage by investing $30 million in A123’s $102 million Series E financing, making it the battery manufacturer’s largest single cash investor – at 9 percent ownership. The investments were made by GE Commercial Finance – Equity and GE Energy Financial Services, bringing GE’s combined total investment in A123Systems to $55 million.
What does GE see in storage? A way to manage production?
GE is already one of the world’s leading power generation equipment providers, so why invest in batteries and storage?
GE’s executives must see clear growth ahead around demand for storage to support growth in wind and solar power generation, utility companies trying to build more robust ‘smart grids’, and to help the automobile industry as it moves the world’s fleet away from liquid fuels and the combustion engine.
If GE is able to expand alternatives for energy storage through better batteries, fuel cells and capacitors- it could expand growth around its own wind turbines, solar panels and hydrogen production appliances.
In a decade GE might be a leader in emerging classes of distributed ‘energy appliances’ involved in on-site storage and power generation, not too mention a potential brand name for powering electric vehicles expected to hit showroom floors after 2011.
A123 Mixed Week of News A123 has had a lot of recent press coverage around its nanostructured rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that provide power density, low weight, and low cost without sacrificing safety issues caused by overheating. But the startup must figure out a way to compete against strong incumbents in the energy storage sector.
Earth2Tech is reporting that thin-film lithium-ion battery start-up Planar Energy Devices, has announced $12 million financing deal as it prepares to release its PowerBlade™ product in 2009.
The demand for safe, energy dense storage systems will only continue to grow as more consumer gadgets, wireless sensors, and micro devices hit the marketplace.
Planar hopes to capture its share of this growing market (Est. $55 billion) with its thin film solid state battery design that uses a unique cell separator to prevent overheating and potential fires common to lithium ion.
This is Planar’s second finance round. It was spun out of the U.S. DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) with an initial $4 million in 2007 with venture-financing from Battelle Ventures and Innovation Valley Partners (IVP).
This [30 minute] interview reflects a very different way of thinking about the future based on the potent combination of new technology platforms and disruptive business models.
The simplest translation of Shai Agassi’s disruptive vision
We should buy the car, but not the battery or fuel cell. Remove the cost and risk of owning energy storage systems out of the consumer equation. Instead consumers would subscribe to an energy infrastructure provider and ‘pay per mile’ (e.g. mobile phone minutes plan). They could refill at a local electric recharge station, or pull up to a station to ‘swap out’ an old battery (or depleted solid block of hydrogen) for a new container. Agassi believes this new business model could lower the barriers that prevent us from leaping beyond the era of the combustion engine.
How do we do it? Big bets, major infrastructure investments and new business models.
[If you roll these sheets up, you form a ‘carbon nanotube’, or break them apart and bind with other compounds to form ‘nanoparticles’. These are the three basic shapes of nanoscale materials. Master these components and the next stage is creating functional mechanical nano-machines!]
Graphene sheets are arguably the strongest possible material in the universe based on bonding properties of all known elements. But what makes them very special is how carbon sheets interact (or don’t interact) with electrons, hydrogen atoms and photons. They have uses as electrodes for solar cells, ‘sandwiches’ for solid hydrogen storage, backpanels for sensors, and as the anode electrode material in lithium batteries and fuel cells.
Why is this important to the future? Energy components designed at the nanoscale
Before we can apply graphene sheets to commercial applications we must find lower cost methods of mass production. This breakthrough is a significant milestone. According to researcher Matthew Allen “These graphene sheets are by far the largest produced, and the method allows great control over deposition. Chemically converted graphene can now be studied in depth through a variety of electronic tests and microscopic techniques not previously possible.”
It’s very hard to build a better battery. The chemistry is just bad. Pulling together the right combination of elements is either expensive, toxic or the ideal performance is short lived. The long view favorite for portable power systems remains micro fuel cells, but until that day arrives it is likely to be lithium ion batteries that dominate the market share for micropower.
Rechargeable lithium ion batteries power everything from cell phones and laptops to digital cameras. But they have failed to keep up with the pace of development in high performance, power hungry consumer electronics. iPhone owners struggle to get through a full day of use without running out of juice. And laptop carrying road warriors scramble inside airports, and geek freelancers position themselves in cafes just to find a plug. But hope for lithium ion batteries may be on the horizon!
A Korean research team led by Dr. Jaephil Cho at Hanyang University has demonstrated a novel 3D silicon material used as a lithium-ion battery anode that greatly improves performance.
Li-ion batteries charge by transporting lithium ions from a positive cathode to a negative anode usually made of carbon (graphite). The energy charge is stored on the anode side of the unit, until needed by the device. Researchers try to expand performance by increasing the amount of energy that can be stored. Switching from carbon to silicon based materials is one path towards better performance.
Materials scientists have been exploring silicon as an anode material but, until now, have been unable to overcome its main barrier: maintaining its structural integrating after repeated charging and discharging.
A solution? Cho’s team of researchers have created a 3D porous silicon material that appears to hold its own and avoids collapsing on itself.
In the blur of announcements from solar companies, oil company TV commercials, and news pundits, science sometimes get lost in the conversation. But it's science that will bring us to a workable energy future and this year has seen some significant breakthroughs. MIT's Daniel Nocera announced the development of a low cost catalyst that helps in the electrolysis of water into oxygen & hydrogen. The development of Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) for solid hydrogen storage continued to evolve; Nanotechnology continues to bring promising experimental results across many energy related fields including, catalysts for fuel cells; conversion of waste heat into electricity; a new theory explaining molecular movement in polymers; and more.
Which of these scientific breakthroughs might change the commercial viability of cleaner hydrocarbons, bioenergy, renewables and advanced energy storage systems?
Continue Reading other Top 10 Energy Stories from 2008
What went wrong? Everyone has their own reasons for why automakers are failing: Labor costs, oil, management, credit markets, et al. All have valid points. And, obviously there are multiple problems, not one issue.
But I have a very different theory and set of presriptions.
The problem isn't oil, it's the combustion engine and its legacy liabilties of intensive manufacturing, limited design and obsession with 'new car' sales paradigm.
Our great opportunity? The problem is based on how we build and sell cars, not how we fuel them. So let's focus on the platform of a post-combustion engine era of mobility.
How do we get there? You cannot summon the future on demand with band-aid solutions, you must enable it and wait for it to change.
Our priority should be to enable a multi-decade long transition that changes how cars are bought, sold, driven and upgraded.
21st Century Vehicles: Focus on Wheel-based Electric Motors, Energy Storage and Software...
American Industrial leaders might be ready to reinvest in the country's industrial capacity to innovate and manufacture components needed to reinvent the energy and auto industries.
The keys to electric vehicles are electric motors, energy storage systems (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) and drive by wire systems.
The US has now formed a new coalition to pursue the biggest prize: Energy Storage!
Pride or Profits? US playing catch up with Asian What if electric cars didn't bring America and Europe 'energy independence'? The public relations failure of trading 'foreign oil for foreign batteries', has motivated US business leaders to form a coalition to seek federal funding for securing a domestic battery industry.
The Chicago-baesd National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture will include 14 companies and the US DOE's Argonne National Laboratory. 'The Alliance' will be modeled around Sematech which helped the U.S. semiconductor indutsry play catch up to Asian manufacturers in the late 1980s
The founding members of the Alliance include 3M, Johnson Controls, ActaCell, All Cell Technologies, Altair Nanotechnologies, Dontech Global, EaglePicher Corporation, EnerSys, Envia Systems, FMC, MicroSun Technologies, Mobius Power, SiLyte, Superior Graphite, and Townsend Advanced Energy.
Short term vs Long view of 'Electric' We have been writing for several months about the globalization of electric vehicle industry, and Asia's early lead in the first energy storage device lithium ion batteries.
We have also suggest that the 'car is not an iPod', and that 'pluggin in' battery systems are not the default future of electric vehicles. It is not certain that batteries can solve the energy storage problem.
Ask a lawyer or engineer if there is something wrong with this plug in picture!
Instead, next generation vehicles will integrate batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and capacitors. But industry leaders, politicians and the public seem only ready to take one step at a time, and for now talk is focused on first generation storage of batteries. So we will crawl instead of leap into the future.
Toshiba Corporation has announced plans to construct a new production facility for its safe, long-life rapid charge SCiB battery to meet expected demand for industrial and automotive applications from 2010 on. The company also announced plans to expand production of high efficiency motors at a Vietnam based factory.
Energy storage is going to be a major growth area within the 'new energy economy'. Batteries are expected to be the dominate platform in the years ahead, but fuel cells and capacitors could soon emerge from the bottom of the 'Hype Cycle' with actual commercial products.
Toshiba estimates that the market for lithium-ion batteries for industrial and automotive applications to reach sales of 1.7 trillion yen (approximately US$19 billion) worldwide in fiscal year 2015.
The US Fuel Cell Council is now lobbying Congress for more than a billion dollar investment to accelerate America's manufacturing position around this important piece of the future energy sector.
Energy Storage - Sprint vs Marthon Even though Asia appears to have won the sprint towards next generation 'batteries', the US could regain its position in energy storage and conversion around the marathon race towards fuel cells.
Fuel cells convert chemical energy (e.g. hydrogen, methanol, natural gas) into electricity. They can be used for stationary power to reinforce the electrical grid with onsite generation, or to power portable devices and electric vehicles.
Fuel cells are not Dead, just Misunderstood There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty and skepticism towards fuel cells among eco and energy bloggers. The technology fell victim to the 'Hype Cycle' after the Dotcom Bust in 2000, but the energy conversion platform has been making steady progress in recent years. Their long term advantages in terms of cost per kilowatt, performance durability, scalable modular manufacturing are still complelling reasons to support fuel cells as alternatives to batteries and combustion engines.
USFCC's Recommendations: Now, the USFCC believes the invesment could create an estimated 24,000 jobs and is recommending funds for: Deploying Fuel Cells ($100 Million), Supporting a Fueling Infrastructure ($65 million), improving Federal Fuel Cell Investment Tax Incentives, expanding applied Learning Demonstrations ($375 Million) building foundation for American Manufacturing Capacity ($100 Million), accelerating Research in Partnership with Industry ($350 Million), investing in Fuel Cell Transit ($180 Million) and including Fuel Cells in President-Elect Obama‘s Energy Initiative.
We are not going to 'consume' ourselves into a future global economy driven by clean energy technologies.
We have to build it using new scientific knowledge based on nanoscale interactions of light and molecules mostly- carbon, hydrogen, oxygen reacting to metals and enzymes.
Energy = Interactions Creating 'clean energy' means using materials that make these molecular interactions that capture and release energy more efficient and less wasteful.
While consumers might be the ones who get the credit for changing behavior, the real heros of our cleantech energy future will be people involved in chemistry, biology, physics and materials engineering.
And the good news is that these scientists are increasingly turning to advanced computers and simulation software to accelerate the development of energy related materials!
Computational Power & Materials Science - Recent Examples for Materials Science
The US continues to play catch up to Asia in manufacturing advanced energy storage solutions used in electric vehicles and 'smart grids'. But a more organized US energy storage industry is starting to emerge.
Last month a group of battery makers formed a coalition to seek federal support. A week later a group of fuel cell makers petitioned Congress for its share of cleantech funding.
Now lithium-ion battery start up A123 Systems has submittedan application to qualify for $1.84 billion in direct loans to support the construction of new world-class battery plant in Michigan. At full operation, A123 expects the combined plants would occupy as much as 7 million square feet and create over 14,000 jobs to supply battery systems for five million hybrid vehicles or half a million plug-in electric vehicles per year by 2013.
Should the US leapfrog batteries into fuel cells and capacitors? (Continue)