Batteries! What future?

By Hugh Abner
[46 Years and Counting Manufacturing Batteries and Battery Machinery]

The most prominent energy researcher of our times has said, “Batteries used for electrical vehicles will have to be standardized.” ————— Okay, come on now ————- stop laughing. Seriously! Cut it out. We have things we need to discuss here. SHUT UP AND QUIT LAUGHING. Now of course a group of people like you in the SLIG battery industry know something about a standardized battery market. You know there simply isn’t one. I have not added them up lately but there are hundreds of battery designs just in the Pb-acid types.

Now we have to settle down here and listen to what this researcher has to say because a few years ago his book, The Prize, won the Pulitzer. That book documented the world’s energy history up through the time Iraq invaded Kuwait. Since oil plays such a gigantic part in the energy of this earth then, of course, all the sweat, blood and tears it has taken from us were compared in detail to the benefits and joy it has given. This man knows something about the energy of our world. Now, this year he has followed that book with another energy history book, The Quest. I am speaking of Mr. Daniel Yergin.

I have to admit that after I had finished reading over 500 pages of The Quest I began to wonder if he was going to even mention batteries. It took him to page 688 but here he dove right into it. Is there much about Pb-acid batteries? No! Not much at all. He was forced to mention batteries because his objective was to write about electric cars. But before we lock in on batteries here let me inform you what he had to say about lead. Much earlier in the book he was explaining how today’s back and forth about Cap and Trade with carbon is backed by many success stories in our past. You see, tetra-ethyl lead became a no-no, (My last blog explained that lead is poisonous), as a modifier in our gasoline even though it reduced engine failure by eliminating “engine knock.” Tetra-ethyl was thus removed from the gasoline supply in a few years time because gasoline refiners were able to trade “permits” as opposed to being mandated to remove the lead. It became a market based solution just like the proposed carbon Cap and Trade and Sequestration, (CCS).

Batteries in this book, as mentioned, come about as the writer is forced to mention them. Not because he had a burning desire to. He had to mention the Edison Battery days and he had to mention how the gasoline engine did not reach final overall approval until the old hand crank of the gas engines could be replaced with a starter and a battery. Before that the electric car with Edison’s batteries had high approvals.

Electric cars had another bump of interest back when Reagan was governor of California. Smog had always been a problem in the L.A. area even back in the days of the red-skinned Indians for any kind of smoke simply hung around due to the local weather patterns. When exhaust pipe emissions were added it became just too much to control. A micro-chemist that loved to research the fragile world of flower odors reached a breaking point with the invasive smog odors and scientifically proved that the gasoline automobile was the culprit. He became known as the “Father of SMOG.” His name is Haagen-Smit.

Reagan was forced to insert government action. First he went on T.V. and pleaded for people to drive only if forced to. He set up a program that eventually became the standards for our national auto emissions regulatory demands. In short this was because each state had the right to set their own standards and California alone represented over 12% of the nation’s automobile use. If the auto manufacturers had to satisfy Californians then it was just as easy and/or difficult to do the same for everybody. Reagan’s California standards administering group was named, “CARB”, for the California Air Resources Board. So, during this time thoughts were returned to EV’s. The thinking on the subject of cleaning the air was so strong that “ZEV’s”, Zero Emission Vehicles, were seriously considered. Out of all this came the catalytic converter. The converter was effective enough along with the “on-again, off-again” nature of California’s smog problem that any serious rush to electric vehicles died away.

Consideration of electrical vehicles though will not die completely. In the beginning of this century a return to the thoughts of it brought us to thinking of hybrids and other variations to wean us off pure gasoline power.

Permit me here to return to the “giggles’ we were all having at the beginning of this little “thingy” of a blog. I have to be fair to Mr. Yergin. In this latest book he leads us through many options which are being considered when it comes to making changes or eliminations to the gasoline engine. One of those changes looked at a pure battery operated automobile where one simply drives into a battery station and swaps the used ones for new ones. He identified two factors which would have to be in place. First, the exchange would have to be timely. He compared it lightly to the time it takes for tea. He advised that gassing up our automobiles today takes about the same time it takes to drink a cup of tea. Therefore, the changing out time of a battery pack would have to be the same. The other normal factor of his is the one that gave us such a laugh. He pointed out the standardized battery requirement and in this context it makes all the sense in the world. It makes so much sense that it is kind of easy to see that in this world it will not happen.

For us in the Pb-acid world though, for sure, it will not happen in that format. In fact, it is hard to see the Pb-acid thing happening in any format regarding automobile total power. It seems that the all-mighty trend is for the light metal lithium to be in the final solution to the purely electric vehicle.

Of course any form of battery will have to have far more than some kind of standard. A battery, unlike gasoline, just does not go away in smoke after it is used. Either it is to be disposed of or recharged.

!!!!! Alert: Literally as I was writing this a report has come out that our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is finding the battery pack on the relatively new Chevy-Volt to be catching fire during crash test.

It is not going to be easy is it? That is, a transformation to new energy modes. Again our writer, Yergin, addressed this fact. He pointed out that it took a century for oil to truly replace coal as our energy product of choice.

Our Pb-acid might have a greater future than we can imagine though. (This is my thinking – not Mr. Yergin’s). For applications where weight is not so detrimental Pb is still cost favorable. Huge stand-by operations are not all weight conscious and then if our homes can have individual fuel cell, solar or wind generators then why not the Pb-acids for storage? Actually if a family house had such a built in electric system it makes the little buggy we know as a golf cart a bit more desirable for grocery store runs. Heck, if I keep on here I might really get excited about all the possibilities.

To keep everything in perspective I have to end by being totally honest. I am close to having to recognize that I might soon have to buy a new car therefore I am paying attention to the cars I see my neighbors buying. I am not pleased to see all these little things I am seeing. During the 1950’s is when I learned to automobile watch. In September it was all-American to play hooky and walk to town to see the new muscle cars. Even more exciting were the times when someone’s older brother would buy a car and let them drive it to school. If we were lucky we were invited to hop in and head out to highway 301 for a test ride. Imagine looking at the speedometer of a Studebaker Hawk which would register up to 140 miles per hour. Would it really go that fast? Yes it did.

I need to make sure that my references to Mr. Yergin’s books; The Prize and The Quest do not diminish them in any way. These books cover the energy history and present situations of our world in such a detailed scope so great that nothing is left out. For me personally I have found that I want to know more about Samuel Insull. He organized our electric utilities but yet died a pauper and was even hated by some. I have ordered one of his biographies. The detail on electrical vehicles leaves out nothing. For example the fact that vehicle noise is a problem because an electric one will not have a noise and this could be extremely unsafe. The Japanese are working on this and have formed an organization – (CCCRQHOV) – to solve it with a forced applied noise. I will let you look up the full organization’s name. I will stop here by just using the word “standardized” one more time with this question: Will the noise for electric vehicles be standardized?

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