Saturday, 9 January 2016

Weekend Update 09/01/2016 - Batteries.

I look to the future because that's where I'm going to spend the rest of my life.

George Burns.

With every advanced battery man and his brother attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, (CES2016 the ever excellent website ( turned its attention to the development of the modern range of batteries for our future electronic world. Mr. Petersen’s cautionary, but masterful article is well worth the read.  I look forward to his coming part two.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

Understanding Advanced Batteries and Energy Storage – Part I

Since I’m the new kid on the InvestorIntel block and most investors don’t have more than a passing familiarity with the advanced battery and energy storage space, my initial articles will focus on core issues and discuss them in manageable chunks. Once I’ve laid a solid foundation, I’ll begin to explore specific technologies and applications in greater detail.

My initial articles will be thought pieces that build a contextual framework for the more detailed analyses that follow. Since my perspective on the technical, economic and supply chain issues of energy storage, vehicle electrification and alternative energy is often unsettling, I encourage you to give yourself some time to read, think and participate in the discussion. The process won’t always be comforting, but I hope we’ll have a lot of fun together.

Imagination is a battery investor’s worst enemy

In 1883, Thomas Edison said,

The storage battery is one of those peculiar things which appeals to the imagination, and no more perfect thing could be desired by stock swindlers than that very selfsame thing. …
Just as soon as a man gets working on the secondary battery it brings out his latent capacity for lying. …”

The targets of Edison’s scorn were stock promoters who claimed they could double the value of their dynamos by charging batteries during the day, when nobody used electric lights, and selling their stored electricity at night. Edison did a masterful job of deconstructing the hype, discussing the technical challenges and related costs, and showing why the cure cost more than the disease.

Thanks to Google Books, the complete Edison interview from 1883 is available online and I believe it’s a “must read” for every prudent investor who wants a better grasp of the opportunities and challenges of alternative energy in general and advanced batteries in particular.

As we flash forward to 2016, updated lyrics for the same old song promise higher value for solar power systems that charge batteries during the day and deliver the stored electricity at night. All of the issues Edison drove home in 1883 are still issues, but they’re all too frequently ignored.

Mark Twain was right when he said, “History does not repeat itself but it rhymes.”

I began with the Edison story because his statement that batteries appeal to the imagination is a fundamental truth of energy storage ­ A Great Truth. When fertile imaginations consider energy storage, they invariably overestimate the potential, underestimate the costs, technical challenges and risks, and make a quantum leap from sensible to absurd. By the time you factor in ideology, hope, politics and the profit motive, useful signals all but disappear. The result is an environment where promoters don’t even have to lie because the collective imagination lies for them.

Frankly, there is no alternative energy opportunity that’s more wildly overrated than the value of using manufactured energy storage devices to reinvent transportation and the electric grid. The opportunity is gargantuan, but unicorns abound and investors who don’t rigorously and regularly question their own assumptions are begging for trouble.

I’m a little less cautionary about the future pace of development in battery and related storage technologies, in part due to the companies involved in the sector, and the amount of money getting poured in this decade, but only time will tell. Note I have no ax to grind in this sector. I hold no stock in this sector nor have any relationship in the sector.

Below some of the recent developments.

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."

Bill Gates, 1981

Prospects for reducing the processing cost of lithium ion batteries


•A comprehensive cost study on lithium-ion electrode processing is reported.
•Advanced electrode processing can save up to $111/kWh-usable.
•Reduced SEI-layer formation time can save an additional $22/kWh-usable.
•These processing technologies are amenable to any anode or cathode chemistry.
•Capital cost savings realized and cell processing bottlenecks addressed.


A detailed processing cost breakdown is given for lithium-ion battery (LIB) electrodes, which focuses on: 1) elimination of toxic, costly N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) dispersion chemistry; 2) doubling the thicknesses of the anode and cathode to raise energy density; and 3) reduction of the anode electrolyte wetting and SEI-layer formation time. These processing cost reduction technologies generically adaptable to any anode or cathode cell chemistry and are being implemented at ORNL. This paper shows step by step how these cost savings can be realized in existing or new LIB manufacturing plants using a baseline case of thin (power) electrodes produced with NMP processing and a standard 10–14-day wetting and formation process. In particular, it is shown that aqueous electrode processing can cut the electrode processing cost and energy consumption by an order of magnitude. Doubling the thickness of the electrodes allows for using half of the inactive current collectors and separators, contributing even further to the processing cost savings. Finally wetting and SEI-layer formation cost savings are discussed in the context of a protocol with significantly reduced time. These three benefits collectively offer the possibility of reducing LIB pack cost from $502.8 kW h−1-usable to $370.3 kW h−1-usable, a savings of $132.5/kWh (or 26.4%).

Battery University. 

Cost-Effective All-Copper Flow Battery Using Flowable Slurry Electrode for Large-Scale Energy Storage

Wednesday, October 14, 2015: 17:00
106-A (Phoenix Convention Center)
E. Agar, E. A. Nagelli, N. S. Sinclair, N. C. Hoyt, E. A. Stricker, R. F. Savinell, and J. S. Wainright (Case Western Reserve University)

One major issue limiting the implementation of renewable energy sources is the lack of efficient, cost-effective, and reliable energy storage technologies. Recently, vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFBs) have gained a significant interest as a promising electrochemical technology for large-scale energy storage due to their ability to decouple energy and power ratings and to store energy efficiently [1]. However, the high capital cost of vanadium-based electrolyte represents a major bottleneck for the commercialization of these systems [2]. By this motivation, in this study, a novel all-copper flow battery (CFB) using flowable slurry electrode is introduced. 

CFBs have a great potential for commercialization, as copper is a less toxic, widely abundant, and less expensive element than vanadium [3]. Moreover, its relatively smaller cell potential eliminates hydrogen evolution as a side reaction. However, electrochemical-plating of copper within the negative electrode during charging recouples energy and power ratings, which limits the widespread implementation of these systems.
In order to mitigate this issue, a flowable slurry electrode strategy is implemented for the negative half-cell instead of using a conventional, stationary electrode [4-5]. A schematic of an all-copper flow battery using a flowable slurry electrode for the negative half-cell is shown in Fig. 1. The slurry electrode carries the deposited metal out of the stack to the reservoir, allowing the energy and power capabilities of the battery to be scaled independently.

Sparton Resources Announces Vanadium Flow Battery Entering Final Commissioning Phase

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Jan 7, 2016) - Sparton Resources Inc. (TSX VENTURE:SRI) ("Sparton" or the "Company") is pleased to announce that the final phase of commissioning for the Zhangbei Project's 8 megawatt hour vanadium flow battery is expected to begin on or about January 8, 2016. (Please see Sparton News Releases dated September 10, November 12 and November 23, 2015).

Commissioning Work

The State Grid North China Company Limited's ("State Grid") "863" comprehensive testing program was completed satisfactorily on January 5, 2016. This test involved integrated full power charging and discharging of all of the energy storage units currently installed at Zhangbei including the 8 megawatt hour vanadium flow battery. These performance tests were monitored by engineers and technicians from State Grid to ensure that the battery meets design protocols. Following successful completion of the 863 testing procedures, State Grid has given permission to begin the continuous 240-hour operations test that will be the final phase of the 8 megawatt hour vanadium flow battery commissioning program.

Both State Grid and VanSpar's technicians will monitor the battery operation during this test period and will prepare comprehensive reports on the test procedures and results. These will be submitted to State Grid for acceptance.

Upgrading our Trams and Trains. The next decade holds out a whole lot of promise.

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."

Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

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