The Battery Series
Part 2: Our Energy Problem: Putting the Battery in Context
The Battery Series is a five-part infographic series that explores what investors need to know about modern battery technology, including raw material supply, demand, and future applications.
Our Energy Problem: Putting the Battery in Context
In Part 1, we examined the evolution of battery technology. In this part, we examine what batteries can and cannot do, and the energy problem that humans hope that batteries can help solve.
Batteries enable many important aspects of modern life.
They are portable, quiet, compact, and can start-up with the flick of a switch. Importantly, batteries can also store energy from the sun and wind for future use.
However, batteries also have many limitations that prevent them from taking on an even bigger role in society. They must be recharged, and they hold a limited amount of energy. A single battery cycle is only so long, and after many of them they begin to lose potency.
Therefore, to understand the market for batteries and how it may look in the future, it is essential to understand what a battery can and cannot do.
The biggest difference between batteries and other fuel types is in energy density.
Even the best lithium-ion batteries have a specific energy of about 250 Wh/kg. That is just 2% of the energy density of gasoline, and less than 1% of hydrogen.
While it may be enough to power a car, it’s also magnificent engineering that helps makes this possible. Airplanes, ships, trains, and other large power drains will not be using batteries in powertrains anytime soon.
A Renewable Future?
Renewable energy sources like solar and wind face a similar problem – today’s battery technology cannot store big enough payloads of energy. To balance the load, excess energy must be stored somehow to be used when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
Currently, industrial-strength battery systems are not yet fully developed to handle this storage problem on a widespread commercial basis, though progress is being made in many areas. New technologies such as vanadium flow batteries could play an important role in energy storage in the future. But for now, large-scale energy storage batteries are experimental.
Other energy storage technologies may also solve this problem:
- Chemical storage: Using excess electricity to create hydrogen fuel, which can be stored.
- Pumped hydro: Using electricity to pump water up to a reservoir, which can be later used to generate hydroelectric power.
- Compressed air: Using electricity to compress air in deep caverns, which can be released to generate power.
Solving this energy storage problem will pave the way for more use of renewables in the future on a grander scale.
The Sweet Spot
Therefore, the sweet spot for battery use today comes when batteries can take advantage of their best properties. Batteries can be small, portable, charged on the go, and provide energy at the flick of a switch.
It’s why so many rechargeable batteries are used in: electronics, laptops, smartphones, electric cars, power tools, startup motors, and other portable items that can benefit from these traits.
To assess the suitability of a particular type for any specific use, there are 10 major properties worth looking at:
- High Specific Energy: Specific energy is the total amount of energy stored by a battery. The more energy a battery can store, the longer it can run.
- High Specific Power: Specific power is the amount of load current drawn from the battery. Without high specific power, a battery cannot be used for the high-drain activities we need
- Affordable Cost: If the price isn’t right for a particular battery type, it may be worth using an alternative fuel source or battery configuration for economic reasons
- Long Life: The chemical makeup of batteries isn’t perfect. As a result, they only last for a number of charge/discharge cycles – if that number is low, that means a battery’s use may be limited.
- High Safety: Batteries are used in consumer goods or for important industrial or government applications – none of these parties want batteries to cause safety issues.
- Wide Operating Range: Some chemical reactions don’t work well in the cold or heat – that’s why it’s important to have batteries that work in a range of temperatures where it can be useful.
- No Toxicity: Nickel cadmium batteries are no longer used because of their toxic environmental implications. New batteries to be commercialized must meet stringent standards in these regards.
- Fast Charging: What good would a smartphone be if it took two full days to recharge? Charge time matters.
- Low Self-Discharge: All batteries discharge small amounts when left alone over time – the question is how much, and does it make an impact on the usability of the battery?
- Long Shelf Life: The shelf life of batteries affects the whole supply chain, so it is important that batteries can be usable many years after being manufactured.
There are many pros and cons to consider in choosing a battery type. The more pros that a given battery technology can check off the above list, the more likely it is to be commercially viable.
Now that you know what batteries can and cannot do, we will now look at the rechargeable battery market in Part 3 of the Battery Series.
Animation: The Entire History of Tesla in 5 Minutes
Everything you need to know about the history of Tesla, including Elon Musk’s vision for the future of the iconic electric car company.
How did Tesla accelerate from 0-60 mph in such a short period of time?
Today’s five-minute-long animation is presented in association with Global Energy Metals, and it tells you everything you need to know about the history of Tesla, including Elon Musk’s vision for the future of the iconic electric car company.
Watch the video:
The video primarily keys in on Tesla’s successes and the setbacks the company has faced along the way – it also shows that Tesla was able to pass Ford in market value just seven years after the company’s IPO.
The Rise of Tesla Series
The above video is the culmination of our Rise of Tesla Series, which also includes three full-length infographics that tell a more in-depth story about the history of Tesla, and what the company aspires to:
1. Tesla’s Origin Story (View infographic)
- What was the vision behind the founding of Tesla?
- Early hurdles faced by the company, including its near escape from the brink of bankruptcy
- Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, and the dramatic actions taken to keep it alive
- A timeline showing the development of the Roadster, and why this first car matters
2. Tesla’s Journey: How it Passed Ford in Value (View Infographic)
- The company’s plan to parlay the Roadster’s success into a viable long-term company strategy
- Introducing the Tesla Model S and Model X
- How the company would use the Gigafactory concept to bring economies of scale to battery production
- Other milestones: Powerwall, Autopilot, and Tesla’s growing Supercharger network
- The announcement of the Model 3
3. Elon Musk’s Vision for the Future of Tesla (View Infographic)
- Detailing Tesla’s ambitions for the future, including how it plans to productize the factory
- Other vehicles Tesla plans to release, including the Tesla Semi and a future ultra low cost model
- How Tesla plans to combine fully autonomous cars with the future sharing economy
- Exploding demand for lithium-ion batteries, and why Tesla is planning on building additional Gigafactories
How Much Copper is in an Electric Vehicle?
Have you ever wondered how much copper is in an electric vehicle? This infographic shows the metal’s properties as well as the quantity of copper used.
How Much Copper is in an Electric Vehicle?
Copper’s special relationship with electricity has been apparent since ship designers first regularly began installing copper to protect the masts of wooden ships from lightning in the early 19th century.
Today, of course, you might be more used to seeing copper’s electrical applications through the use of power lines, telephone wires, and wiring in practically every major home appliance you own.
Millions of tons get used for these applications every year, but it is still early days for copper’s use in electrification. That’s because copper will continue to be a critical component of the green energy revolution, thanks to the rising adoption of battery-powered vehicles.
Today’s visualization comes to us from Canadian Platinum Corp., and it focuses on showing how much copper is in an electric vehicle, along with the properties that make it the ideal choice for an EV-powered future.
Here is why copper is a crucial component to vehicle manufacturers:
Copper costs roughly $0.20 per ounce, compared to silver ($15/oz) and gold ($1200/oz), making it by far the cheapest option for electrical wire.
Copper is nearly as conductive as silver – the most conductive metal – but comes at a fraction of the cost.
Copper can easily be shaped into wire, which is important for most electrical applications.
It’s also important to note that temperature does not affect copper’s conductivity, which makes the metal ideal for automobiles in all climates.
Copper in Gas vs. Electric Vehicles
The UBS Evidence Lab tore apart a traditional gas-powered vehicle as well as an EV to compare the different quantities of raw materials used.
What they found was crucial: there is 80% more copper in a Chevrolet Bolt, in comparison to a similar-sized Volkswagen Golf.
The major reason for this is that at the heart of every EV is an electric motor, which is built with copper, steel, and permanent magnets (rare earths). Electric motors tend to be much simpler than gas-powered engines, which have hundreds of moving parts.
Incredibly, in an electric motor, there can be more than a mile of copper wiring inside the stator.
The More Electric, the More Copper
According to Copper.org, along the scale from gas-powered cars to fully electrical vehicles, copper use increases dramatically.
Conventional gas-powered cars contain 18 to 49 lbs. of copper while a battery-powered EV contains 183 lbs. Meanwhile, for a fully electrical bus, a whopping 814 lbs. of copper is needed.
With the rapidly increasing adoption of electric vehicles, copper will be an essential material for the coming electrification of all forms of ground transport.
Copper is at the heart of the electric vehicle and the world will need more. By 2027, copper demand stemming from EVs is expected to increase by 1.7 million tonnes, which is a number just shy of China’s entire copper production in 2017.
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