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).
Yesterday, Canada’s Electrovayaannounced the signing of three Memorandum of Understanding MOU’s with Chinese manufacturers of electric cars, trucks and manufacturing equipment including Chana International Corp. which has joint ventures with both Ford and Mazda. Electrovaya’s announcement comes less than a month after signing a strategic partnership with India’s TATA Motors to sell cars in Europe in 2009.
Where is Detroit?
Detroit’s Big Three (GM, Ford & Chrysler) are distracted by short-term challenges. Their ‘legacy costs’ associated with building cars around the combustion engine could keep it from leapfrogging into a new era of vehicle manufacturing and design based on electric motors.
Global automakers figure out that the revolution is how you build cars, not how you fuel them that matters. (Oil is not the problem, the problem is the combustion engine.) The key to building low cost high performance electric cars revolves around energy storage systems. If it is cheaper to build energy storage systems in China than Ohio and Michigan, than the Rust Belt might struggle to grow cleantech jobs.
Electric car industry is going global, quickly!
Now that the US election is over, the tone of conversations could change significantly to reflect more pragmatic policies. One policy vision that could be destroyed is the notion of ‘energy independence’ via electric cars. This rhetoric could fade quickly as it becomes more clear that both the auto and energy industries are very global, and will likely continue to become more globally integrated in the post-combustion era.
Energy Storage key to Accelerating Change
The key to electrifying the world’s transportation fleet is to advance and integrate energy storage systems around batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.
Detroit’s future might depend on how the value chain unfolds around global energy storage systems. If Asia appears to be the lowest cost manufacturing hub for energy storage systems it could reinvent the world’s auto industry.
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.
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.
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.
Once nanotechnology, stem cell research, and genetic engineering were able to converge upon the same laboratories it became clear that a wide variety of deadly and debilitative diseases share their origin: damaged or failing tissues, organs and bodily systems. Some are chronic due to aging, others are more acute, but they have correlated pathologies after all. The interrelationships between the biggest 20th century killers of humankind became astonishingly clear, as did the road to the regenerative medicine to cure nearly all of them.
What if Barack Obama said in his first State of the Union address: 'America must invest in high surface area materials...' ?
Most people would be puzzled. Some minds would probably close down after hearing something slightly intimidating and 'scientific'.
Why surface area? Why not say 'invest in better batteries, cleaning up fossil fuels, solar and hydrogen'?
Energy is about Interactions Surface area enables better interactions between light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, metals, and bio enzymes. (At least, that's the short answer.)
The real road to a 'New Energy Economy' is paved at the nanoscale of material science.
What types of applications can we expect?
1) High surface area materials - Trap Molecules & Light Imagine being able to 'trap' harmful molecules that are byproducts of coal or oil. Or solar cells that hold photons longer to produce more energy!
2) Solid state storage of energy - High Density Packets Imagine billions of people buying high density 'packets' of energy at retail stores. We 'refill' instead of 'plugging into' wall sockets. Or electric vehicles that can be refilled by swapping out 'bricks' of energy in the form of solid Hydrogen.
The Evolution of MOFs Chemical Engineering & News is reporting on progress in a very promising class of high surface area materials that can absorb hydrogen and carbon: Metal Organic Frameworks or MOFs.
MOFs are highly ordered interconnected 'lego' like structures that have open pores that can selectively absorb molecules. It is a 'sponge' with the highest surface area of all known materials- estimated at several football fields per gram.
The problem? Clogged pores.
Now, a team led by UCLA's Professor Omar M. Yaghi, who synthesized MOFs in mid 1990s at Michigan, has developed a technique using supercritical fluids that essentially clean out the material leading to a vast network of open holes.
What to do next? Somebody tell Barack Obama to make Molecular Surface Area a National Priority
EV startup Miles Automotive has announced plans to outsource manufacturing of its California-bound electric vehicles to a China-based assembly factory.
Auto analysts continue to speculate about plans by Detroit-based companies to partner with Asian manufacturers. And yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported on BYD's plans to produce EVs for global markets based on a lower barrier to manufacturing.
More than ever before, the road to electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors seems destined to pass through Asia.
And it is time to challenge common assumptions about EVs?
Will EVs be a Domestic or Global Industry? It is commonly assumed that electric vehicles would bring non-OPEC countries more 'independence'. Instead it seems clear that the age of EVs will pull them further into the global economy of 'interdependence'. Electric vehicles propulsion systems and storage systems (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) are likely to emerge from a global value chain that spans from Asia to Europe to Americas. Will Early Adopter Markets Emerge from within Europe/California or Asia?
FueCellMarkets is reporting on a $30 million Phase II contract to expand testing of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) coal syngas power generation. This type of stationary fuel cell converts coal derived gas via electrochemical processes to produce electricity and heat. The result of this scalable non-combustion method is higher efficiency and signficantly lower carbon emissions.
Advancing Global Carbon Solutions Coal is not going away anytime soon. In fact, its global market share is growing as the primary source of energy for electricity generation.
Cheaper solar and wind does not, by default, mean less coal in a world economy expected to double energy production in the decades ahead. Coal is already embedded into global power grids, and it is not going to disappear overnight.
If we expect to address carbon emissions, we have to do more than develop alternatives. We need scalable carbon solutions that move us beyond the age of combustion conversion and harmful release of emissions.
While coal will never be 'clean', there are cleaner ways of converting it that result in significantly less carbon emissions. We have written extensively about algae, but fuel cells offer another path forward.
Fuel Cells, Coal Gas, & a Post Combustion Era of Energy Conversion
Becoming 'energy efficient' goes far beyond changing light bulbs. Our greatest gains will come from moving beyond today's 'combustion' energy systems that burn fuels in large power plants and under our hoods.
Central to this 'post-combustion era' strategy is the fuel cell- which converts chemical energy of hydrogen or hydrogen rich fuels (e.g. natural gas, methanol) into electrical energy. Fuel cells are modular, have no moving parts, offer higher efficiencies, lower maintenance and are ideal for distributed applications.
One of the major roadblocks has been the high costs of platinum catalysts that are peppered on fuel cell membranes (MEAs). To scale up in the decades ahead, fuel cell researchers need to find non-precious metal catalysts.
Can Carbon outperform Platinum? Now a research team from the University of Dayton has found a way to create a carbon nanotube based catalyst that might outperform platinum and dramatically drop the costs of fuel cells.
Shape helps speed up reactions The research team, led by Dr Liming Dai, synthesized carbon nanotubes using an iron base and doped nitrogen particles to change the shape (and properties) of the nanotube cathode, resulting in a faster reaction / higher efficiency.
New Scientist reports Dai's claim that "They are even better than platinum, long regarded as the best catalyst," as they avoid problems with carbon 'poisoning' that leads to lower performance.
We have written extensively on the disruptive role of nanoscale science and engineering in all energy applications (old and new), and the importance of 'shape' in determining molecular system performance in catalysis. We cannot simply extrapolate our assumptions of what is possible or impossible with carbon or hydrogen based on a microscale era of scientific knowledge.
Giving Carbon a New Image (Nanotubes, Nanoparticles & Graphene Sheets)
Geek.com has a nice snapshot of the three fuel cell models including a hybrid lithium ion battery charger.
Many 'gadget' bloggers love to hate fuel cells because of missed 'hype' expectations. But the appeal of hydrogen's 'clean molecules' is hard to escape. And business leaders with foresight see a nice path to growth around micro-fuel cells and packet-based refueling sales.