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Technobabble electric cars and turbos, how MIT will save the world lead

Technobabble:

Electric Cars & Turbos (How MIT is Going to Save the Wolrd)

by Dave Coleman

 

A few months ago, a short press release fluttered across the internet. It was about MIT researchers and some breakthrough in battery technology. All the normal media outlets regurgitated the release, proclaimed the results as exciting, and all was forgotten.

It would be easy to miss this story amid all the noise about hybrid this and electric that, but something stands out about this particular breakthrough. This looks very much like The One. This could very well be the breakthrough that's single-handedly makes electric cars stop sucking.

The breakthrough is this: Through what must have been an excruciatingly boring analysis of electron flow in a charging lithium iron battery, two heroic nerds (Byoungwoo Kang & Gerbrand Ceder) figured out exactly what was making it take so long to charge. Then they fixed the bottleneck by, effectively, greasing the microscopic tracks the electrons slide around on, making them boogie into the battery a staggering 36 times faster!

Suddenly, their little flashlight-sized prototype battery that normally took 6 minutes to charge, could be charged in only 10 seconds. Brief pause for the obligatory exclamation of religiously sacred excrement.

Finished? Ok, now apply that same factor-of-36 improvement to a car-sized battery. If a conventional electric car takes 8 hours to charge, one equipped with a magic MIT battery could do it in only 13 minutes.

Think for a second about what that does to electric cars. In our world, gas-powered cars are the pure, mechanical expression of freedom. They are instant, cheap mobility on a fantastic scale, that let normal humans, who can only cover a few miles if left to their natural-born feet, go hundreds of miles on a whim. No planning, no tickets, just a wild hair to drive to San Francisco is all you need, and any old Craigslist clunker can get you there.

Electric cars, on the other hand, are commuting appliances. With limited range and excruciating re-charge times, they are good for little more than your soul-crushing drive to and from work. Sure, commuting to work may be all you ever do, but that's not the point. You want to imagine that you'll actually decide to go somewhere fun, and gasoline enables this fantasy life.

But in this magical MIT world, electric cars can do that too. Drive 100 miles, stop, plug in, take a leak, and keep going.

Best of all, this new technology isn't really that new. It's a refinement of how lithium ion batteries are already made, meaning it can go from MIT fantasy world to your real world in record time. They're claiming less than 5 years to bring these babies to market, and they've already licensed the technology to multiple battery manufacturers.

Those of you able to see the big picture have already spotted the next obvious problem. Dumping 50 kilowatt-hours of juice (roughly the size of a Tesla battery) into your car in 10 minutes will blow up every transformer in a 10-mile radius. The electrical grid just isn't equipped to handle spikes that big, nor is it really capable, in most areas, of supplying all the extra energy that would be needed to power all of our cars. Time, then, to step from MIT's magical world into mine.

In my magical world, you could have electricity stations, conveniently located near busy streets and intersections, that could slowly charge up big batteries, supercapacitors, carbon fiber flywheels, or whatever energy storage mechanism seems cheapest at the time. They would charge up at night, when the grid has surplus capacity, and rates are typically lower, then they could sell it to MIT nerds to jolt their electric cars back to life during the day, turning a tidy profit to cover their storage and high-amperage delivery service. At home, you can slowly charge overnight, so you'd only have to use the high-amperage electron stations if you out-drive your charge during the day. In other words, only on the rare day where your fantasy life meets your pathetic real life.

This quick-charge capability does more than extend range and enable freedoms hitherto known only to hydrocarbon poppers, it also fundamentally changes the car. Electric cars should be simpler and lighter than gas cars, considering how small and efficient electric motors are, but the batteries ruin everything. With charges taking hours, any electric car needs to have a 150-mile range to be taken seriously, and that takes hundreds of extra pounds of batteries.

Supporting that weight requires a stronger chassis, beefier suspension, bigger brakes, heavier wheels and tires… weight is contagious. But if you can re-charge the car in less time than it takes to water the lillies, a car with a 40 or 50-mile range isn't really a problem. (Remember, this is a car that always leaves your house, and probably your work, with a full charge.) A lithium-ion powered electric car with that kind of range could be Lotus light, and a hell of a lot more fun to drive.

But where to put these fanciful quick-charge stations? I dunno, maybe in the same gas stations these MIT boys are trying to put out of business?
 

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Comments
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, August 02, 2009 9:17 AM
The new style of battery charging would work well in something like a Chevy Volt, where an engine is used to charge a battery pack. If you reduce the time the engine has to run, you reduce the emissions, and trees are happy.

That way I can burn C16 on the weekends, and important days, like Earth Day.

Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, August 02, 2009 9:20 AM
Sean Morris actually wrote that but I accidentally deleted it so here it is.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Sunday, August 02, 2009 6:39 PM
Mike, Sean, whoever, you're completely missing the point. If you can charge the batteries in minutes, why would the Volt carry an engine? Ditch those hundreds of pounds and thousands of dollars.

And why are you burning C16 on Earth Day, when you can burn a clever mix of 87-octane and E85 and get 150 octane!? This is the future, dude, C16 is so 2008.
JustTheTip
JustTheTiplink
Monday, August 03, 2009 3:19 AM
OH SNAP!!!

Dave +1
Mike 0

Good article btw
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Monday, August 03, 2009 5:34 AM
Plus, the mechanical racket of a poor 1.4L Chevy engine trying to make electricity at the rate that this new battery could take it would be horrendous.

Excellent article Dave, but now I have "Ice Ice Baby" stuck in my head. Thanks...
tyndago
tyndagolink
Monday, August 03, 2009 8:59 AM
The range could be huge if you did carry an on board engine. I am not missing the point, rather seeing another side to it. More for something larger, people carrying thing, rather than a lightweight sports racer type thing.

I like C16 because its leaded. Kills more things. Now EBS is interesting. But, why run E85 when you can run 100% ethanol and do the mixing in the combustion chamber? Its E85 because its 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. However if you are running 87 swill in one side, then why not just inject pure ethanol, or methanol, or whatever ? That way we don't even need to seek out E85.
AErrorist
AErroristlink
Monday, August 03, 2009 9:30 AM
Dave,

You make auto enthusiasts, hopeful for the future, thank you for that.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Monday, August 03, 2009 4:26 PM
I would think they're using E85 instead of pure ethanol because there are nearly 2,000 gas stations that sell the stuff (something like 2 of which are here in California). They said methanol (windshield washer fluid) actually works even better, though they were still talking about mixing in some gasoline. No idea why. I agree, it seems like there's plenty of mixing going on in the combustion chamber. Maybe it's something to do with fuel system corrosiveness? Or maybe its just so they don't have to re-map everything from scratch. Mike, any ideas?
tyndago
tyndagolink
Monday, August 03, 2009 5:43 PM
E85 so that the cars start when they are cold. Like E85, not generally a thing we have out here in LA. As far as mixing it with direct injection it seems like the plan to me. Kinda like water injection, but more gooder.

The problem would be like BMW has with the urea injection on their diesels. For emissions testing and how the car operates. If it runs out of urea, it don't run no more.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Monday, August 03, 2009 6:19 PM
Methanol has a higher octane and a much higher latent heat of vaporization than ethanol. Should work better.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Monday, August 03, 2009 7:01 PM
Cold start is irrelevant, since the E85 is only being used as an octane booster under high load. At cold start (and most other conditions) the engine runs on 87 octane.

Also, if the E85 tank runs dry, the car keeps running. Urea in diesels is an emissions control device, so they are required to prevent the car from running if there is no urea in the tank. E85, in this case, is only a performance enhancing device. If the tank runs dry, the ECU switches maps to a low-boost, retarded timing map that sucks, but still gets you home.
tyndago
tyndagolink
Monday, August 03, 2009 7:15 PM
While cold start is irrelevant in this case, that is some of the reason that E85 exists. Its just hard to buy here in SoCal. For on road tax(gas tax), you would probably be a bit cheaper running a pure E100 vs an E85. And as Mike said, methanol is more gooder than ethanol.

I would just wonder how a 13:1 compression engine, at 8- 20 psi would run on 87 at the torque peak of the engine at part throttle. I think it might rattle itself to death.
BenFenner
BenFennerlink
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 6:49 AM
Dave, your idea for quick charging stations (for the rare long trips) and charging up slowly at home seems to present a problem. If everyone is charging up at home 90-99% of the time you can imagine the demand for charging stations plummeting, yet you expect to find them where ever your whim takes you?
Colin
Colinlink
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 10:45 AM
Could the U.S. ever reach the point at which filling stations are more an energy station?

Instead of just dino-juice, one could purchase some lovely green bio-fuels, or ├╝ber-eco solar/wind generated electrons.

These e-stations (e=energy, clever, I know) could have banks of solar cells and a wind turbine or two to generate free electricity.

Hell, some of them could generate so much they might even be able to offer some sparkling clean Hydrogen atoms for fuel those forever 10 ears away fuel-cell vehicles.
Fuji-Kun
Fuji-Kunlink
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 8:26 AM
this is my idea. i didn't read it. i just came up with it. maybe, there is another person that already thought of this but i havent heard from him.

How about battery tanks? you have a battery right?, most batteries have a fluid where the chemical reactions take place an creates energy/current/electricity/releases electrons. when the engine turns on, the electricity just travels back to the fluid so that when the car is not running there is still a charge/current/electrons.

now how about you just change the fluid, draining it into a pool of charge while at the same time refilling the battery tank with charged fluid? uncharged goes out of the car, and charged comes in. there should be stations that have pools of charge fluid, people come and go but the pool never gets empty. there is no transportation of anything or shortage of material. the only shortage could be of electricity.

the pool would be always charging like a huge battery, and at the same time the car would just drain electrons in whatever way they needed. so the pump and go attitude or comute is still there, but the difference is that the car always weight the same, and you can also charge it at home.

i am not sure any of this is posible, i am studying and hope one day to bring a good idea to life, this one or another one. just bash it all you want or tell me if some of it could happen.
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 8:36 AM
Funny thing about those sparkling-clean-forever-10-years-away-hydrogen-burning-IC-cars: Unless they're supplying their own oxygen (which of course would be a disaster waiting to happen to house both H2 and O2 in the same vehicle traveling at 85mph with an inattentive soccer mom gabbing on the cellphone while simultaneously disciplining her brats) NOx is still a byproduct since Nitrogen makes up the majority of our atmosphere. FAIL.

Fuji-Kun, one problem with your idea is you're trusting the average idiot to handle battery acid. Not such a good idea. Check out the local diesel filling pump for a visual. As far as the fluid containing the charge, I'm not sure on that. I'm sure someone smarter than me will chime in.
tyndago
tyndagolink
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 8:40 AM
From what I remember and know, the charge is actually in the plates, and the fluid just allows the transfer from one plate to the next, ie carries the charge, not contains it.
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 11:57 AM
That's what I had thought as well.
Fuji-Kun
Fuji-Kunlink
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 6:28 PM
and now i know that! thanks.

but that is my point. creating a fluid like material that carries/contains the electrons that would power a car.

i guess i used the battery example cause i didn't knew what you know, and i know now, but the main idea would be to exchange something used for something charged.

being that changing a huge container with "charged insides" would be a problem, just exchanging what holds the charge inside the "container" could be a lot better.

it is all very unrealistic cause nothing of this is even in the works.
tyndago
tyndagolink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 5:14 AM
A fluid that carrys electrons.... how about a fuel that carries hydrocarbons. We fill it up on every corner, and its pretty cheap.. Yep, Gasoline or diesel.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 5:36 AM
Fuji-kun, your basic idea, of being able to swap the electron storage medium (solid or liquid) is a good one. There are people trying to convince electric car makers to standardize their batteries and put them somewhere accessible (under the floor, removable from below, for example) so the car owner can just rent the batteries, pre-charged, and stop at the battery station for a 10-minute swap and a pee.

This MIT breakthrough basically bankrupts that idea (as did the basic premise of getting carmakers to agree on a standard), since just pumping the electrons in faster is the easist way.

Also, not only is tyndago right about the charge being on a battery's plates, but most high-density batteries don't have a liquid medium anyway, using something of a more paste-like consistency. Unfortunately, fluid draining is only practical in old-school lead-acid batteries.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 5:40 AM
Rockwood, you're absolutely right about NOX emissions on hydrogen internal combustion engines. That's just one of many reasons they aren't likely to be a widespread solution. Still, NOX is relatively lower, since combustion temperatures are lower than gasoline (since there's less energy, and therefore less power...) and NOX formation is a function of how hot things get in the cylinder.

Also, catalyzing NOX emissions is relatively easy when you don't have to simultaneously clean up HC emissions.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 5:46 AM
BenFenner has a good point about home charging making electric stations unlikely to be ubiquitous. Remember, though, there's no real need to have dedicated electric stations could simply add one quick charger to their islands (similar to Colin's e-station idea).

The investment to add a single quick charger would likely be lower than adding, say, a diesel pump, and since stations make very little money on fuel sales, it wouldn't be hard to turn a relatively better profit on the electricity. Most stations make less than 5 cents/gallon on gas. Their profit is in Red Bull and Snickers bars. If they can get the battery boys to stop along with the gas guys, they get that many more hungry stomachs to fill with too much good stuff.
Fuji-Kun
Fuji-Kunlink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 8:40 AM
@tyndago: the main idea would be that whatever carries electrons doesn't just disappear and you need to get more. the thing with gas is that it "disappears", you use it and you have an empty tank.

what an electron "bucket" would differ is that you can charge it and use it, and the only thing disappearing is the charge, which is renewable. this way the only thing to harvest is electrons, and these can be had from many renewable sources unlike gas which will run out.

waltinseattle
waltinseattlelink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 10:59 AM
But, speaking of Electric Cars and BATTERIES to run them. These cells don't have fluid like old lead cells, they are more like the rolled glass cells. Those are already a big hit with electric dragsters. Lead based but "cheap" and plentiful.,

As for charging at home and puting the stations out of business? Well, if you see no problem with a little 440 wiring, you can replicate the speeds advertised, at 220 you can still go fast to full charge. But the expense of the equipment might be in the order of "gee I guess that other toy I was gonna get will have to wait another year..." but you can do it at home with 110 overnite when the rates are lower. You could even send it back in the daytime and if you had a 2 way meter, see a profit.

BTW,Fuji Kun, the "charge" is between the plates and not "in the fluid" you are confusing the situation inside batteries with inside a fuel cell I think. you cant charge the fluid and pour it in a battery like this. Oh it would be sweet!

Yeah, that swap and pee system is the one. You don't buy the batteries, you basically lease them. And the economics are a vast improvement of buying a car and buying $50,000 to $100,000 of batteries all in an afternoon.But it will take some standardization.

Chicken, egg, chicken....where were we?
waltinseattle
waltinseattlelink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 11:00 AM
But, speaking of Electric Cars and BATTERIES to run them. These cells don't have fluid like old lead cells, they are more like the rolled glass cells. Those are already a big hit with electric dragsters. Lead based but "cheap" and plentiful.,

As for charging at home and puting the stations out of business? Well, if you see no problem with a little 440 wiring, you can replicate the speeds advertised, at 220 you can still go fast to full charge. But the expense of the equipment might be in the order of "gee I guess that other toy I was gonna get will have to wait another year..." but you can do it at home with 110 overnite when the rates are lower. You could even send it back in the daytime and if you had a 2 way meter, see a profit.

BTW,Fuji Kun, the "charge" is between the plates and not "in the fluid" you are confusing the situation inside batteries with inside a fuel cell I think. you cant charge the fluid and pour it in a battery like this. Oh it would be sweet!

Yeah, that swap and pee system is the one. You don't buy the batteries, you basically lease them. And the economics are a vast improvement of buying a car and buying $50,000 to $100,000 of batteries all in an afternoon.But it will take some standardization.

Chicken, egg, chicken....where were we?
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 3:09 PM
Dave,

Didn't think about it being easier to clean out NOx when HCs aren't present. Good point.

Regarding the lower combustion temperature, would it be reasonable to think that the lower combustion temperatures and the associated resistance to knock (I'm assuming that one based on some half-assed research I did for some course I took years back) would just make it more tempting for automakers to push the envelope to acheive the same combustion temps?
Wes Dumalski
Wes Dumalskilink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 3:38 PM
Man what it would take to equip stations (especially in remote areas) with the charging gear gives me visions of battery swap stations (a la propane tanks) at every turn.
tyndago
tyndagolink
Thursday, August 06, 2009 4:33 PM
Chicken or egg , well thats going to be seen when gasoline is $8 a gallon. $2-$3 - $4 a gallon gas, and people take what they know. Its easy and its there.

Start getting it up near Europe, Japan, Australia levels, and we will see some kind of shift. Maybe not a huge one, but we will see one.

The battery swap thing, there is a place talking about that - Better Way. From what I hear though, they have some issues like Tesla has had issues. Over promising and under delivering for years. Tesla seems like they might come out of it with the big DOE grant, but we will see.
rsmotors
rsmotorslink
Thursday, November 12, 2009 5:20 AM
This is a comment that maybe only Dave can explain to me, I am wondering why a car company hasnt tried to spin a turbo with an electric motor instead of exhaust gas? Its just a thought but wouldnt it elminate turbo lag completly? If anyone has any ideas why this wouldnt work let me know.
tyndago
tyndagolink
Thursday, November 12, 2009 5:58 AM
There are some electrically assisted turbos out there. Back in 1999 Garrett had some turbochargers that they were working on. Those obviously took off and we have them everywhere now.... http://www.syty.org/archives/syty/9911/msg00723.html

Its like a lot of technology that gets passed over. Might be too complicated, too heavy, too expensive when its first developed, and might take years, decades, or maybe never to actually see a mass market appeal.

VNT turbos have been around for years, and about the only car I can think that comes with them stock (other than diesel trucks) is the Porsche 911 turbo.
rsmotors
rsmotorslink
Thursday, November 12, 2009 6:05 AM
Thanks for the Info! I am just wondering with todays tech if it could be done lightweight and cost effectively like if you used regen-brakes to get the power for the turbo in the first place and have an 11,000+rpm electric motor spooling the turbo, lag would be gone and with direct injection becoming more widely used up the boost no lag small displacement ethonal injection! 500hp 1.6 4 cylinders will rule the world lol !
tyndago
tyndagolink
Thursday, November 12, 2009 6:27 AM
Look up BAS and BAS plus . Belted alternator starter. GM is using it on the 4 cylinder Ecotec engine.

http://hybridreview.blogspot.com/2008/03/gm-upgrades-belt-alternator-hybrid.html

Electric motor has max torque at 0 rpm. If it can assist with the "bottom" where a too large turbo will be coming up, sounds like a good system. Electric motor boost at the bottom and coming up, followed by the turbo coming up into its range.
waltinseattle
waltinseattlelink
Thursday, November 12, 2009 9:39 AM
re 500 hp rule the world. It matters not if its 1.2 litres displacement of 15 litres . Its the horsepower we are not happy with. The practical car only requires a dozen ponies at most. The rest is compensation and ego and overgrown kids.
rsmotors
rsmotorslink
Thursday, November 12, 2009 9:47 AM
I agree we dont need 500hp cars to drive back and forth to work and average trips but I for one like to be able to unwind at the end of a long day by ripping around in a nice car....
tyndago
tyndagolink
Thursday, November 12, 2009 9:59 AM
A dozen horsepower with the current weight of cars would never be able to come up to speed and merge with traffic in a major metropolitan area.

Your dozen horsepower car will be in my way, and when they make it legal, I will bump you out of the way. I have better things to do than sit behind slow people.
Nick
Nicklink
Monday, March 29, 2010 11:21 AM
This breakthrough is really exciting. There are many ways to create a solid infrastructure for it as well. The solar panel industry could definitely benefit from this. Have dedicated "gas" stations that go sun farming all day and solely exist for charging cars could start replacing extra gas stations if this technology is pursued. The infrastructure build-up would be relatively quick and cheap as well; much cheaper than setting up an infrastructure for say, hydrogen fuel (although I'd like to see that happen too!).

Now, if only they'd put a charge station at WSIR and I'm totally game :) Electro-spec class racing anyone?
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