Archive for the ‘ Energy technology ’ Category – Video: Panel sees limits to fast-rising battery sector – Video: Panel sees limits to fast-rising battery sector.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — The multi-billion dollar battery industry is poised for huge growth. But lithium ion, today’s fast rising technology, faces significant limits and a race is on to find better chemistries.That was the conclusion of a panel of experts at a Silicon Valley gathering of investors Tuesday evening (April 13) sponsored by Silicom Ventures.

Lithium ion makes up about $10 billion of the $50 billion worldwide market for batteries today, but “every link in the whole value chain needs to scale up by three orders of magnitude,” said Mark Platshon, a partner with VantagePoint Venture Partners (San Bruno, Calif.) that has investments in electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors, battery recycler Better Place and other battery companies.

“Given adoption in everything from consumer electronics to hybrid electric vehicles, we will need to grow production of lithium ion batteries a thousand fold, and not many $10 billion industries will grow a thousand times bigger,” Platshon said.

Lithium ion batteries will see “in ten years a ten-fold increase in production, and that’s only with tiny growth of things like electric vehicles,” said Atiq Raza, an entrepreneur in residence at Khosla Ventures and chief executive of lithium ion battery maker Seeo (Berkeley). That’s why battery maker A123 Systems [that recently went public] has a billion-dollar market cap,” he said.

“A123 was the hottest IPO of 2009 despite having $91 million in annual revenues and $86 million in losses–this is how the market is valuing the promise of batteries,” said Doron Simon, general partner of consulting firm Simon Says (Los Altos) who moderated the panel.

Although lithium batteries are the fastest growing segment of the market, the technology has limits in energy density and readily available raw materials. In a video segment below, panelists generally agreed the market for electric vehicles will be limited as a driver for lithium batteries.

Researchers and investors are combing through opportunities in batteries beyond today’s growing lithium market.

“You can only make batteries incrementally better with same materials and beyond that you have to go to different chemistries,” said Platshon. “That’s why everybody in batteries is actively looking at other alloys and compounds and all the nano guys from Stanford to Carnegie Mellon are working in battery materials,” he said.

Wildcat Discovery Technologies, a 27-person San Diego startup formed in late 2006, is using a system originally geared for high throughput combinatorial DNA research to investigate new battery chemicals, said Mark Gresser, chief executive of the company.

“We have unique tools to look at thousands of materials in the time it takes most researchers to look at a handful,” said Gresser. “We think we are on the verge of some transformational discoveries in battery world,” he said.

“You could almost throw darts at the periodic table between any two materials and come up with interesting different galvanic voltages–zinc chloride, zinc bromide, iron chrome, a whole litany of different chemistries,” said Platshon. “The reality is they all work with different limitations,” he said.

Some car makers see fuel cells, not batteries, as the best sustainable energy source for vehicles. But the technology is a decade or more away, according to Naoki Sugimoto, the principal of a small strategic investing group at Honda Research Institute USA.

Naoki Sugimoto
Strategic Investing Principal, Honda Research Institute USA

Honda is reluctant to introduce a battery-driven car because such vehicles are still not practical for consumers and only serve to “push [the energy] problem to the grid,” Sugimoto said on the panel.

“If every house has one electric vehicle to charge you need a big upgrade to the grid and power plants,” he said. “That’s a problem, so we are trying to build a self-sufficient energy cycle,” he added.

Sugimoto said a combination of fuel cells, solar panels and chargers that use natural gas could create sustainable zero-emissions vehicles for the mass market. The biggest challenge is the cost of creating the infrastructure for such a solution. “That’s still far future,” he said.

Likewise Mercedes-Benz has been spending as much as $1.5 billion a year on a fuel cell program and “expects it will take 10 years before it comes to fruition,” said Marv Bush, chief executive of EV subsystem maker Atria Controls.

Cold fusion moves closer to mainstream acceptance

Cold fusion moves closer to mainstream acceptance.


A potential new energy source so controversial that people once regarded it as junk science is moving closer to acceptance by the mainstream scientific community. That’s the conclusion of the organizer of one of the largest scientific sessions on the topic — “cold fusion” — being held here for the next two days in the Moscone Center during the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

A new “calorimeter,” shown immersed in this water bath, provides the first inexpensive means of identifying the hallmark of cold fusion reactions: the production of excess heat. (Credit: Melvin Miles)

“Years ago, many scientists were afraid to speak about ‘cold fusion’ to a mainstream audience,” said Jan Marwan, Ph.D., the internationally known expert who organized the symposium. Marwan heads the research firm, Dr. Marwan Chemie in Berlin, Germany. Entitled “New Energy Technology,” the symposium will include nearly 50 presentations describing the latest discoveries on the topic.

The presentations describe invention of an inexpensive new measuring device that could enable more labs to begin cold fusion research; indications that cold fusion may occur naturally in certain bacteria; progress toward a battery based on cold fusion; and a range of other topics. Marwan noted that many of the presentations suggest that cold fusion is real, with a potential to contribute to energy supplies in the 21st Century.

“Now most of the scientists are no longer afraid and most of the cold fusion researchers are attracted to the ACS meeting,” Marwan said. “I’ve also noticed that the field is gaining new researchers from universities that had previously not pursued cold fusion research. More and more people are becoming interested in it. There’s still some resistance to this field. But we just have to keep on as we have done so far, exploring cold fusion step by step, and that will make it a successful alternative energy source. With time and patience, I’m really optimistic we can do this!”

The term “cold fusion” originated in 1989 when Martin Fleishmann and Stanley Pons claimed achieving nuclear fusion at room temperature with a simple, inexpensive tabletop device. That claim fomented an international sensation because nuclear fusion holds potential for providing the world with a virtually limitless new source of energy. Fuel for fusion comes from ordinary seawater, and estimates indicate that 1 gallon of seawater packs the energy equivalent of 16 gallons of gasoline at 100 percent efficiency for energy production. The claim also ignited scepticism, because conventional wisdom said that achieving fusion required multi-billion-dollar fusion reactors that operate at tens of millions of degrees Fahrenheit.

When other scientists could not reproduce the Pons-Fleishmann results, research on cold fusion fell into disrepute. Humiliated by the scientific establishment, their reputations ruined, Pons and Fleishmann closed their labs, fled the country, and dropped out of sight. The handful of scientists who continued research avoided the term “cold fusion.” Instead, they used the term “low energy nuclear reactions (LENR).” Research papers at the ACS symposium openly refer to “cold fusion” and some describe cold fusion as the “Fleishmann-Pons Effect” in honor of the pioneers, Marwan noted.

“The field is now experiencing a rebirth in research efforts and interest, with evidence suggesting that cold fusion may be a reality.” Marwan said. He noted, for instance, that the number of presentations on the topic at ACS National Meetings has quadrupled since 2007.

Among the reports scheduled for the symposium are:

* Michael McKubre, Ph.D., of SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., provides an overview of cold fusion research. McKubre will discuss current knowledge in the field and explain why some doubts exist in the broader scientific community. He will also discuss recent experimental work performed at SRI. McKubre will focus on fusion, heat production and nuclear products. [3pm, Monday March 22, Cyril Magnin ]
* George Miley, Ph.D., reports on progress toward a new type of battery that works through a new cold fusion process and has a longer life than conventional batteries. The battery consists of a special type of electrolytic cell that operates at low temperature. The process involves purposely creating defects in the metal electrode of the cell. Miley is a professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana and director of its Fusion Studies Lab. [11am, Sunday March 21, Cyril Magnin I]
* Melvin Miles, Ph.D., describes development of the first inexpensive instrument for reliably identifying the hallmark of cold fusion reactions: Production of excess heat from tabletop fusion devices now in use. Current “calorimeters,” devices that measure excess heat, tend to be too complicated and inefficient for reliable use. The new calorimeter could boost the quality of research and open the field to scores of new scientists in university, government, and private labs, Miles suggests. He is with Dixie State College in St. George, Utah. [2.30pm, Sunday March 21, Cyril Magnin I]
* Vladimir Vysotskii, Ph.D., presents surprising experimental evidence that bacteria can undergo a type of cold fusion process and could be used to dispose of nuclear waste. He will describe studies of nuclear transmutation — the transformation of one element into another — of stable and radioactive isotopes in biological systems. Vysotskii is a scientist with Kiev National Shevchenko University in Kiev, Ukraine. [11.20am, Monday March 22, Cyril Magnin I].
* Tadahiko Mizuno, Ph.D., discusses an unconventional cold fusion device that uses phenanthrene, a substance found in coal and oil, as a reactant. He reports on excess heat production and gamma radiation production from the device. “Overall heat production exceeded any conceivable chemical reaction by two orders of magnitude,” Mizuno noted. He is with Hokkaido University in Japan, and wrote the book Nuclear Transmutation: The Reality of Cold Fusion. [3pm, Sunday March 21, Cyril Magnin I]
* Peter Hagelstein, Ph.D., describes new theoretical models to help explain excess heat production in cold fusion, one of the most controversial aspects of the field. He notes that in a nuclear reaction, one would expect that the energy produced would appear as kinetic energy in the products, but in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment there do not appear energetic particles in amounts consistent with the energy observed. His simple models help explain the observed energy changes, including the type and quantity of energy produced. Hagelstein is with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [10.20am, Sunday March 21, Cyril Magnin I].
* Xing Zhong Li, Ph.D., presents research demonstrating that cold fusion can occur without the production of strong nuclear radiation. He is developing a cold fusion reactor that demonstrates this principle. Li is a scientist with Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. [9.10am, Sunday March 21, Cyril Magnin I]. – Can nuclear waste be handled safely? – Can nuclear waste be handled safely?.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Can science and technology provide safe methods to handle the waste from nuclear power plants? That’s the question a blue-ribbon panel convened by the Obama Administration Friday (Jan. 29) must answer within two years.The panel is part of an Administration effort to re-start the U.S. nuclear power industry which has been on hold for decades after the accident at Three Mile Island plant and the debate over storing spent fuel at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. President Obama said in his State of the Union speech this week that nuclear power will be part of his broad effort to drive a clean technology initiative in the U.S.

“I regard myself as an environmentalist, but I believe nuclear power has to play some role [in a renewable energy future] because it is carbon free, and I believe it can be a safe environmentally friendly alternative,” said Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, announcing the panel in a conference call. “As a scientist, I believe these issues are solvable in a manner that can gain confidence for American people,” he added.

The news came the same day the Department of Energy announced progress in research on fusion technology seen as a safer approach to nuclear power.

“Fusion would be wonderful, however practically speaking no one expects it to be commercialized in the first half of this century,” said Chu. “These are research projects, but the nuclear technology we are trying to restart in the U.S. has been proven and we can make it safe and environmentally responsible,” he said.

The 15-member DoE panel that will recommend safe practices for spent nuclear fuel includes a diverse range of technical experts and politicians. They include a former commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a former chancellor of UCLA, and professors of physics and environmental science at the University of California, Berkeley; George Mason University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“This isn’t about picking another spot [to store nuclear waste],” said Chu.. “We will look at the full range of scientific options for dealing with the back end of nuclear fuel cycle,” he said.

Can nuclear power technology be made safe? What is the latest technology for handling nuclear waste? We invite the engineering community to share your thoughts below.