Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Don't Be Fooled By Lithium

The hype is that investing in lithium battery companies will make you rich. We received this ad in our inbox today. It's pretty impressive---until you look under the covers.

Yes, it's true that the current generation of electric cars use lithium batteries. And, it's also true that most laptops run on lithium batteries. But, lithium batteries are going to soon be obsolete. Here's what the US Dept of Energy says about the subject:

The widespread deployment of electric vehicles has been prevented to date by their limited range and high upfront capital costs due to the limitations of currently available battery technologies. Currently available high performance Lithium-ion battery technologies are limited to system level energy densities of ~100-120 Wh/kg, costs of $800-$1200/kWh, and short cycle life, resulting in unacceptably short driving range for the vast majority of consumers and un-economically high lifetime costs for electric vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Vehicle Technologies (OVT) and the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) have provided critical support for the development of advanced Lithium-ion batteries to enable widespread cost-effective deployment of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), with a 2010 goal to enable high performance Lithium-ion HEV power batteries at $20/kW. With this impressive goal nearly accomplished, these U.S. battery R&D funding organizations are now turning their focus toward their 2014 goal of increasing the energy density and decreasing the cost of Lithium-ion batteries for PHEVs to enable battery systems with energy densities of 140 Wh/kg to provide 40 miles of all electric range (PHEV-40) at a total battery cost of $3,400 or less (<$300/kWh). With this ambitious 6 year PHEV-40 program, the DOE OVT and USABC are pushing up against the fundamental energy density limits of traditional Lithium-ion based batteries.

There are strong doubts in the battery community as to whether the energy density of Lithium-ion batteries will be able to be pushed to the 200+ Wh/kg system level energy densities required for widespread deployment of all-electric vehicles. Furthermore, with current HEV battery production and Lithium-ion battery production dominated by Japan, South Korea, and to a growing extent China, there are doubts as to whether traditional Lithium-ion based battery production for electrified vehicles offers an opportunity for the U.S. to assert domestic technology and manufacturing leadership within the context of the existing Lithium-ion based battery technology platform. For these reasons, and given the strong existing focus of the DOE Office of Vehicle Technologies and the USABC on Lithium-ion battery technologies, ARPA-E has strong interest in supporting the development of new high energy, low cost battery technology approaches beyond traditional Lithium-ion batteries.

Consequently, investors are being asked to put their hard-earned investment dollars into a dead-end technology (once again). If you read the fine print, you'll see where the real money is being made---by the promoter:

[The promoter] has received and managed a total production budget of $475,000 for this online advertising effort and will retain any amounts over and above the cost of production, copywriting services, mailing and other distribution expenses, as a fee for its services. Untapped Wealth is paid $3,000 as an editorial fee from CFM and also expects to receive new subscriber revenue as a result of this advertising effort.

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