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Ford, University of Michigan Open Next-Generation EV Battery Research Lab 67

Posted by samzenpus
from the giving-it-a-charge dept.
cartechboy writes "Its no secret that one constraint on electric vehicle adoption is battery production capacity and cost. Right now battery costs add thousands of dollars in price tags on electric vehicles, so the race is on to gain capacity make cheaper batteries. Today, Ford and the University of Michigan are announcing an $8 million EV experimental battery research lab to try and accelerate this type of early testing. The lab, which will be on campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will allow automakers, battery makers and individual researchers to test battery cells earlier in the process than ever. The lab says it will have strict controls to protect each entity's individual intellectual property as the research in theory happens all in one place."
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Ford, University of Michigan Open Next-Generation EV Battery Research Lab

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  • Seriously? Eight WHOLE million? What percentage of their combined budgets is that again?

    When you tell me something is important to you, I say, "Oh? Show me your budget -- I'll show you what's important to you."

    • When you tell me something is important to you, I say, "Oh? Show me your budget -- I'll show you what's important to you."

      Meanwhile, between 1995 and 2012, America spent $84.4 billion on corn subsidies [ewg.org].

      • Even porn subsidies would have been better than that. For Bob's sake, corn/US (== maize/UK, not corn/UK) is a sorry excuse for a foodstuff, at least without special treatment [wikipedia.org].
        • Misinformation (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          There are many types of corn. The most readily edible is sweetcorn. It can be eaten raw if you wish.

          • There are many types of corn. The most readily edible is sweetcorn. It can be eaten raw if you wish.

            That doesn't make it a plentiful or efficient source of nutrients. There's a reason corn still looks like corn when you poo it out.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      For a fair comparison, it should be compared to their dedicated EV battery research budget before this project.

      If you looked at most companies' budgets, you'd find that payroll and materials are important, with liability coverage (legal and insurance) ranking highly, too. Somewhere down near the bottom you find things like "research", not because they aren't important, but because it just doesn't cost as much as the mandatory things like "pay the employees".

      • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday October 14, 2013 @01:44PM (#45123607)

        Somewhere down near the bottom you find things like "research", not because they aren't important, but because it just doesn't cost as much as the mandatory things like "pay the employees".

        "Research" and "pay the employees" are not different things. In fact, most money budgeted to research is used to pay employees that are researchers.

    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      Hey, $8 million is a lot of money when most of your "workers" will be desperate grad students willing to work for next-to-nothing (free tuition and maybe a tiny stipend that doesn't even add up to minimum wage). I bet I could stretch my company budget a helluva lot farther if I didn't have to worry about healthcare, pensions, etc. and had a workforce that would fall for the idea of working for nothing (ironically based on the premise that it will one day help them get a job that doesn't pay nothing).

      • by PopeRatzo (965947)

        (free tuition and maybe a tiny stipend that doesn't even add up to minimum wage).

        To that grad student from out of state, free tuition and a tiny stipend adds up to a lot more than minimum wage. Let's see...out-of-state grad school tuition at umich is $39,818.

        Yep, if you're getting a tuition waiver and are paid as a research assistant, even if you're a resident of Michigan, you're way ahead of minimum wage. A research assistant takes home about $ 1300-1600/mo., so the Michigan resident who pays $19,792 is

        • by TWiTfan (2887093)

          Not to the university. Your free tuition doesn't cost them jack shit.

          • by PopeRatzo (965947)

            Your free tuition doesn't cost them jack shit.

            That's not exactly true, but I understand with your point.

            But, the price is the price and a tuition waiver and research assistant's salary is better than minimum wage. I've been there, both when I was getting my PhD and when my wife got hers. You're not going to be living in the clover, but you won't starve to death.

    • I already have the solution anyway. Yawn.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Fix Or Recharge Daily

    • by mark-t (151149)
      Even a Tesla generally requires a daily recharge. What's your point?
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Woosh. Have you never heard of "Fix Or Repair Daily"? It's a gearhead thing.

        • by mark-t (151149)
          Yes... and that expression which works much better as a burn. As I said, recharging daily is not that atypical for even one of the best EV's available today, so substituting "recharge" for "repair" doesn't have anything close to the same bite to it.
      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        You drive over 200 miles a day?

        • by mark-t (151149)
          Don't need to... all batteries leak charge, even when idle. In barely more than a week, even a completely undriven Tesla that started with a full charge will be empty. If you factor in that a car is typically being driven every day, you are still practically looking at having to recharge it almost every day that you drive it, unless you are driving such short distances that you may as well be walking or cycling.
  • costs would plummet on mass adoption; the big problem is energy density. get batteries improved by an order of magnitude will be the tipping point

    • get batteries improved by an order of magnitude will be the tipping point

      Good luck with that. Take a look at the periodic table. The only elements lighter than lithium are helium and hydrogen. Helium is nonreactive, and hydrogen is a gas with storage problems that have never been resolved, despite decades of effort. Computer nerds are used to Moore's Law, but exponential improvement doesn't often happen with other technologies.

      • by iggymanz (596061) on Monday October 14, 2013 @02:06PM (#45123797)

        improving battery energy density has nothing to do with lightness of elements. we're not talking of burning anything. there certainly are chemicals that could be stored in a volume of a battery that have reactions with 10x or more the energy yield. the trick is to find the "half-cell" reactions that can be built into a battery

        • improving battery energy density has nothing to do with lightness of elements.

          Energy Density [wikipedia.org] can refer to either energy/volume or energy/mass. For moving vehicles, the latter is often the more important consideration.

          • You're making the fatal assumption that the lightness of the element is directly related to how we store electricity using that element.

            If we can find a way to store things in carbon (like MAYBE this [slate.com]), then it won't matter that carbon is heavier, it can still have higher density by energy/mass.

          • by iggymanz (596061)

            so? I can put coal and liquid oxygen in volume of a battery, the energy/mass will totally blow away (pun intended, see youtube) any battery ever made. but I don't know how to make a half cell reaction usable in a battery from that fact. All the battery reactions in common use have very low energy/mass and energy/volume compared to use fossil fuels. there are some interesting things in labs that might approach that kind of energy density

    • That about sums it up, energy density..... and at a reasonable cost I might add.
    • by Lumpy (12016)

      to hell with an order of magnitude. just a 50% increase in storage capacity would hit the tipping point. Make a Nissan Leaf easily handle 140 miles and it suddenly becomes highly viable to most people.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Hell, if the Leaf cost what a Versa did, I'd have one in my driveway right now. I don't need more than about 20 miles of range per day, but I need money :)

        • by Lumpy (12016)

          Get a used one. Less than $9500 most places under $11,500 at most dealers for 2 years old.

          That is less than the price of a versa.

          • by MightyYar (622222)

            I just searched and can't find a Leaf for under about $20,000 of any year. I searched on Edmunds for 200 miles around me. If you know where they are $10,000 then I have a car carrier to rent, because 1 car carrier full of those will make it so I don't need to work for a few months.

            • by mattack2 (1165421)

              Yes, I understand I'm including evil (IMHO) subsidies, but there's a $7500 federal tax rebate for electric cars, which brings a *new* Leaf close to $20K. Your state may have further subsidies to lower it even further.

              • by MightyYar (622222)

                Even a subsidized leaf is still about $7k (and I'm being generous) more than a Versa - full price, no discounts. That is a LOT of gas and economically pays off eventually for only extremely high-mileage drivers, and then only if the battery lasts. If gas cost more it would obviously be better for the Leaf, but right now we are under $4/gallon.

                • by mattack2 (1165421)

                  I was just showing that (currently) you can get close to (or even below, if your state has subsidies) your $20K price where you said you'd buy one.

                  • by MightyYar (622222)

                    No, I said I'd buy a whole bunch of them at $10k to resell at $20k as arbitrage. I said I'd buy one at Versa prices.

      • by CoolHnd30 (89871)

        to hell with an order of magnitude. just a 50% increase in storage capacity would hit the tipping point. Make a Nissan Leaf easily handle 140 miles and it suddenly becomes highly viable to most people.

        I'm with you.... a true 140 would be just about perfect for me (as a minimum)... I'd definitely buy in at that point.

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        Why do you consider 140 miles the tipping point? As I posted yesterday, the Leaf already does OVER TWICE the distance the average driver commutes daily (so it would easily cover commute + driving for errands).

    • I'm sort of afraid that we'll sooner have practical methanol fuel cells than batteries of comparable energy density.
  • Well at least the lab canteen may be the best place to jump to a competitor.
    • Or espionage. I am thinking nerd Mata Hari would clean up. All you bases and acids are belong to us!
  • Over the last ten years, I can recall literally dozens of battery "breakthroughs" that promised to revolutionize battery technology in 5-10 years. None of them panned out. Given the amount of snakeoil in this field, an eight-million dollar pledge seems like extremely small potatoes and not terribly newsworthy.
    • by AvitarX (172628)

      2008 G1 had a 1200 MaH battery, 2012 the Nexus 4 had a 2100 MaH battery.

      I don't know the relative size or weights, but batteries are getting better and cheaper every 5-10 years.

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by Lumpy (12016)

        the 2008 G1 has a 1200mah battery. Milli-Amp Hour. You are claiming they had a 1200 Mega-Amp Hour battery. 1200Mega Amps is 1,200,000,000,000 Amps or more than what the largest lightning bolt has ever delivered.

        Please get your nomenclature right, because it makes a big difference. little m for milli BIG M for mega. Yes it's important and required when you are talking about this stuff.

        • 1200Mega Amps is 1,200,000,000,000 Amps

          Close. 1200 Mega Amps is actually 1,200,000,000 Amps Please get your nomenclature right, because it makes a big difference.

    • by mlts (1038732) * on Monday October 14, 2013 @02:13PM (#45123879)

      It isn't great, but I'd say it is better than nothing.

      Auto makers are genuinely afraid of battery technology, not to mention their bedfellows, Big Oil.

      Take solar for example. Yes, it produces energy, but if it isn't stored, oil/coal/gas is still the main source of energy come non-peak times. Add batteries with a high energy density, and places can run completely on their arrays.

      Of course, batteries that are within 1/10 the energy by volume of gasoline would drastically change transportation as we know it. Out goes the relatively wasteful Otto engine, in go electric motors which don't dump a good chunk of their energy out the exhaust pipe or through heat losses.

      There can be also things one can do with parked cars that can't be done now. When parked at night the cars can charge. If there is an overload on the grid, the cars can discharge batteries, putting additional usable juice on the wires until the batteries reach a set point (say 90% SOC or so.)

      In the past, refrigeration did not take hold for 20+ years after it was invented due to the tight grip of the ice-houses. Battery development is in a similar situation since if it does become near gasoline in energy density, larger energy generation spots can handle needs through economies of scale, and smaller places can remain off-grid, but still have reliable power.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Lumpy (12016)

        It's because the energy density of gasoline in a battery is insanely dangerous. Right now the very high capacity batteries are scary as hell, if they start to approach gasoline in energy density, I'll be demanding built in fire suppression and explosion containment technology built into them.

        A gasoline fire is a cake walk compared to a shorted 20MWatt battery.

        • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

          A gasoline fire is a cake walk compared to a shorted 20MWatt battery.

          Not sure how many Watts are in this battery [youtube.com] but I think I'd prefer it to a passenger compartment full of gasoline vapor [youtube.com] prior to ignition.

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          I don't think it is as bad as you make it sound. Chances are your 20MWatt (why do you need such a big battery, anyway?) is actually made up of hundreds or thousands of individual cells. Thus, you wouldn't short the entire 20MWatts at once, but some tiny fraction of the total. Depending on what the batter is made of, the risk of plain old chemical fire might be the bigger concern. I'd expect the whole thing to unfold more slowly than a gasoline fire, and be more containable as a result.

          Now, electrocution of

      • by holmstar (1388267)

        In the past, refrigeration did not take hold for 20+ years after it was invented due to the tight grip of the ice-houses.

        It had nothing to do with "the tight grip of the ice-houses". The first commercially available home refrigerator came onto the market in 1911 (a time when the vast majority of homes did not yet have electricity) and was powered by an external motor (or steam/internal combustion engine) that was often mounted in a different room. The first self contained refrigerator came onto the market in 1923, retailing for $714 ($9,700.30 in 2013). For comparison, the average yearly wage at that time was $1,066. Thes

  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Monday October 14, 2013 @02:03PM (#45123779)

    Tell me that GM, Ford & Chrysler haven't already spend 7 figures each on battery technology & I will call them losers.

    Something tells me this is a "support your local college" PR building campaign.

    • GM, Ford & Chrysler haven't already spent 7 figures each on battery technology.

      What? You told me to tell you that!

  • June 5, 2014 : Breaking news.....

    The number of casualties are unknown from the 2 ton Lithium fire that has broke out at the battery tech lab in Ann Arbor, MI. It seems that an experiment went wrong and when they tried to re-charge the semi truck experimental battery it caught fire and the flames can be seen all the way to Lansing, MI.

  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Monday October 14, 2013 @03:03PM (#45124425) Journal

    how much that the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are spending? As always with Detroit, too little, too late.

    • Come on, they spent enough on the Tigers to get to the post season. They may even beat Boston.

  • by VernonNemitz (581327) on Monday October 14, 2013 @03:31PM (#45124745) Journal
    There is a fundamental problem that no ordinary chemical battery will ever be able get "through". Basically, all ordinary chemical batteries involve two things, which we can call "fuel" and "oxidizer". The two things are stored separately; they are allowed to chemically combine, generating electricity in the process, and they are separated back into fuel and oxidizer when the battery is recharged. The mass of a battery is therefore constant, and it is always being carried around by the vehicle, regardless of the charge-level of the battery. Meanwhile, ordinary car engines only carry fuel around; they don't need to carry oxidizer because they get that from the surrounding atmosphere. Furthermore, when the fuel is combined with the oxidizer, the waste products (mostly carbon dioxide and water) are simply dumped; they don't have to be carried around like the "spent" fuel+oxidizer in a battery continues to be carried around. So, logically, alternatives to the entire concept of ordinary chemical batteries need to be sought. The first-level alternative that comes to mind is something known as a "zinc-air" battery. It gets its oxidizer from the air. However, after the chemical reaction occurs, the waste product is still carried around (so the zinc can be recovered when the battery is recharged). It it not as "good", in terms of vehicle mass, as the dumping of wastes that ordinary gas-powered vehicles can do. The second-level alternative is a "fuel cell". It also gets its oxidizer from the air, and its waste products can also be dumped. Fuel cells have an additional advantage over ordinary car engines; the engine extracts the potential energy from fuel at perhaps 45% efficiency, while the fuel cell can extract the potential energy at perhaps 70% efficiency. The problem here is that most fuel-cell research is concentrating on using hydrogen as the fuel, and it has the big problem of being very-low-density stuff. You have to carry a large volume of it around, in order to be carrying around a decent amount of total fuel energy. They need to research fuel cells that "burn" hydrocarbons that can be easily carried as liquids, much denser/less-volumous than gases like hydrogen. Next, moving sideways among the alternatives, is the flywheel energy-storage system. There is something peculiar about the way the research in that field has differed from electric-battery research. They would like to build a flywheel that can store about the same energy as represented by a vehicle's tank of gasoline. Meanwhile, because of the fundamental problem of batteries, they adopted the "hybrid vehicle" concept because they knew they could not get that kind of total energy or travel-range from batteries. Well, why not throw out the batteries in a hybrid, and use a flywheel instead? There are some very immediate advantages to doing that. First is simply that existing flywheel-energy-storage tech can easily match the range of existing batteries in hybrids --and they flywheels weigh less. Second is that the "conversion efficiency" from stored energy into dynamic energy is much better for flywheels (90+%) than it is for batteries (about 70%) --that's a major reason why a smaller flywheel can store as much as a larger battery pack. Third is the "recharge time" --revving up a flywheel, storing energy, can consume a lot of electricity very quickly, much much more quickly than charging a battery pack. Fourth has to do with the way a vehical can accelerate. It happens that to cruise along at freeway speeds, the car needs less than 20 horsepower to do that. But to accelerate quickly, to get up to that speed, that is why a car would have 100+ extra horsepower. Well, both batteries and flywheels can quickly dump lots of energy into electric motors, which means that in a hybird car, the gas engine only needs enough power for long-distance cruising, plus some extra to recharge the batteries or flywheel. But the flywheel is still a bit better than the batteries, because a flywheel can be revved up and down very easily, whil
    • by swb (14022)

      How do you contain the flywheel? I would imagine a flywheel capable of accelerating a 3000 pound mass would also be highly destructive if it got loose.

    • by ninjagin (631183)
      I found your comment very interesting. I like the flywheel concept in cars (sounds neat), and it was proposed by "Rosen Motors [chicagotribune.com]" (not a great writeup, I'll admit. I seem to recall seeing it in SciAm, but whatevs) in a turbine hybrid awhile back, but they had to figure out where to put it such that it could move gyroscopically, how to contain it in a safe way so that the charge & kinetic energy would not become a problem in a crash. One interesting part of that model was to use a small turbine engine for

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