Lithium-ion batteries, once shunned as too unsafe and unstable for vehicle use, are considered a key ingredient for lowering the high premium consumers and automakers pay for today?s gasoline-electric hybrids as they can store power in a smaller and lighter stack.
All commercial hybrids now run on nickel-metal hydride batteries.
As drivers around the world grow more conscious of fuel economy and pollution, Nissan has lost market share to Toyota Motor and Honda Motor in the all-important U.S. market, where its sales in 2006 slid 5 percent from the previous year to 1.02 million units.
Thanks for all the comments - a group of people know more than the sum of the individuals so keep it alive. I hope it brings awareness to the industrial community, so that we can tell apart ralistic, achievable things from catastrophic dead ends, stimulates a strategic view on technology, and that it may spin off completely new technologies that reduce our dependency on non-renewable resources. Yes also hybrid cars are eating up substantial non renewable resources!
First of all, I have re-done some of my homework by looking into the main constituents of popular industrialised batteries. You cannot make batteries if you lack the money to generate and keep know-how, buy input materials, run production facilities and people, run the marketing, and pay for penalties due to warranty and claims. And who is going to invest in such technology, if it may be stifled due to lack of critical elements like cobalt, lithium, lanthanium/rare earth "mischmetal" by the time the return on investment should be arriving???. This should worry the auto makers indeed and the price issue and the still relatively poor fuel economy makes me not driving a hybrid car but a classical car (modern small diesel running 25 km for one liter or better).
One comment on the picture of the relative abundance. It is not very usefull, as it shows the average content in the crust, which cannot be mined. However, sometimes we are lucky and geologic events have heaped up minerals in concentrations that can be mined indeed. The distribution is rather chaotic and some resources are predominantly found in one country and others in another. For instance, nearly all platinum comes from a single rock formation in South Africa where the level reaches 1 gram/ton which for a platinum price above 1000 $/ounce is profitable. By the way there is no other large platinum source on the world, really nowhere. For Lithium it is not as black and white as for platinum, but a substantial amount is coming from one or two obscure mines in Chile. Similarly, another main battery ingredient like the rare earths for the NiMH battery (and for magnets in the 100s of millions of hard disk drives and small electric motors), come for 97% from the PRC who is currently limiting its export quota's to keep its own industry supplied with the rare earths. Later I will show the critical Cobalt is in a similar state. Single dominant sources mean, even very large ones like the Saudi oil for instance, always bring very high risks not only financial but also politically couloured risks such as shutdowns of the supply to show and increase a state's power.
Now, back to some facts. By analysing a popular formula of input ingredients of Li-Ion batteries we may make more precise the earlier stated conclusions. Reading into the Li-ion technology I notice that most common technology uses LiPF4 based electrolyte, negative electrode of structured carbon, and most importantly a LiCoO2 positive electrode. Thus the Co (Cobalt) content is per molecule as much as the Lithium content, but it weighs about 8.5 times more than Lithium. Add two oxygen atoms i.e. 9.4 times the weight of a Li atom, and then we would end up with a ratio of 1 kg of Li agains 17.9 kg of other elements in the electrode. Basically, if we can assume that the Li containing positive electrode weight is about 2/3rds of the total battery weight (can anyone give me more precise info please) then a kg of battery weight has say 0.037 kg of Lithium. So if we produce 40000 tons of Li of which we use 5000 tons for batteries (this is the volume now used in cameras, pdas and other very usefull personal stuff) then this would create say 135000 tons of batteries (actually not a bad number compared to earlier calculations where I omitted the other elements and came to much much lower volumes of batteries that could be made). The Cobalt need however would be substantial: about 42000 tons; this may be the main limitation at present because Cobalt is rare too. World production is about 67000 tons (2006 numbers), with a 36% share of it (28000 tons) coming from (suspectedly chinese controlled mining operations) in Congo.
There are relatively abundant other materials that may replace or dilute Cobalt in the positive electrode. Mixing Nickel (LiNixCo(1-x)O2 electrodes) with Cobalt, or replacing it by Manganese (LiMn2O4). It all brings some penalty to the battery cost of production, size, Wh/per unit weight, operation safety, lifetime capacity and its ability to cope with a range of temperatures (- and +) common to in particular automobile use. Readers comment please on this to get a quantification (Yes FACTS and actual engineering numbers please and no qualitative yes/no bickering - this won't help us get out of any trap).
At a long term future there may be the Zinc-Silver rechargeable battery as one of the commenters shows - some analysis is necessary to see what is mined today and what the estimated resources are. It is made ready now for the portable computer market. It is quite expensive due to the silver price (currently at 13$/troy-ounce) but silver has very many good uses and can be structured at nanometer level to do chemical catalysis, something that you would not expect from silver but more from platinum. From a technological view we can expect some innovations/inventions that may lead to good results. At some time it may release the pressure on the NiMH battery making due to the assumption that at least our silver resources are much more abundant than Cobalt and/or Lanthanium and also silver is not so much concentrated in a single state controlling the world market for this metal. Indeed the world demand for silver is much more than mining does, but silver recycling silver is a major source too which cannot be concluded yet for Lithium or lanthanium nor cobalt.
Readers what is your opinion - (quantify if you can because this will enhance the forum thread's quality). Kind Regards Henk Mol
Worldwide lithium production can increase significantly as demand starts to ramp up.
There are more detailed studies available from the web.
Also, lithium is far more abundant in earth's crust than other metals currently produced at a much higher volume, such as nickel (needed for NiMH batteries) or copper.
Finally, companies all around the world are investing heavily on automotive lithium batteries. It seems they did their homework when assessing present and future availability of their critical supplies. Here is an example.
And there is lithium recycling and other possible battery chemistries in the future, not to mention fuel cell, hydrogen, etc.
In summary, it seems enough lithium ion batteries can be produced for many decades if needed, until even more effective automotive technologies are developed to replace them.
Silver is not an option. According to the Silver Institute, worldwide industrial consumption of silver now exceeds 870 million ounces, far outstripping the 600 million ounces mined each year. For the moment, the Silver Institute reports, the shortfall is made up through recycling and investors selling stock.
There are new, extremely viable technologies on the horizon which require a situation such as this to push them to the forefront.
The solution is really easy and fairly low cost.It does not explode and is more environment friendly than any others.In 1800 Volta invented the voltaic pile, an early electric battery, which produced a steady electric current. He had determined that the most effective pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity was zinc and silver.
Two hundred years later , the newest batteries currently being developed for electric cars are zinc-silver. This rechargeable kind of battery has been used in submarines for over 45 years and is now declassified and available for public use.The most popular non-rechargeable application of that battery for 50 years were used in calculators , watches and hearing aids.
As we know both metals are very popular and available for many centuries to go.The ONLY problem is that speculators may jump on silver and kill a whole project , just like they did with oil.So , here is a solution.No protest is needed ,since submarines in many countries were using these batteries for decades and they DO WORK GREAT.Looks like sometimes technolology runs a full circle.
Li-ion is abolutely not realistic. The problem is not the power density. Both accumulator types, NiMH and Li-Ion, have the right power density / kg to make hybrid drive systems. However, the available lithium on earth is far too small to make more than 100000 cars per year: only 40000 tons/year is mined. Proven reserves are small. Check the USGS site (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/)for to obtain actual mining info yourself. Scarcity means an inelastic price - volume relationship, so we will have to pay astronomically to get a balance of demand and supply in Li-ion hybrid car packs. For NiMH the situation is more favourable, the global Nickel production is 1.5 million tons /year. However, deep cycle - long life batteries use rare earths which are indeed scarce and currently only the Peoples Republic of China is sourcing this critical element (97% of world production). Some more numbers to make the picture clear. In NiMH the main rare earth is lanthanium. The average Prius NiMH accu system contains some 14 kg of lanthanium. Total yearly global production of Lanthanium is estimated to 25000 metric tons of lanthanium oxide (about 1/5 of all Rare Earth Oxides is La). This would be enough to make 1.8 million accu packs/year. Up to now a few 100000 per year are necessary for hybrid cars and with a 2006 price level of 30 $/kg the cost originally looked ok. However, now automakers starting up their plans and Toyota and Honda are ramping up their productions to half a million or more per year, there is cleary a scarcity and therefore again price issue. Conclusions:
1. Any production global level beyond 1 million hybrids with accupacks of NiMH are not realistic at all given Lantanium scarcity.
2. If anyone can substitute the Rare Earths by more common metals in NiMH then tens of millions of packs are feasible as Nickel is well in supply.
3. For Li-Ion the lithium supply is simply inadequate to make more than a few 100000 hybrids a year and that at astronomic costs.