October 21, 2014

Once Again, Cheap Oil Threatens Electric Car Sales.

To compete with gasoline, electric vehicles need better batteries: Magnesium-ion could trump lithium-ion.

by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News

 

This has happened before: Just when drivers consider the leap to electric drive, oil plummets in price. Far fewer give a hoot about dumping gas when its price gets really low.

Already, some US markets are seeing gas under $3 a gallon. Who knows? $2.50 a gallon might be possible. So might under $20K Prii. Leafs could languish on dealer lots.

The funny thing is that if oil drops too much, then expensive unconventional oil, like shale oil and tar sands oil, will suddenly become unprofitable, and producers could close up shop. When that happens oil would again then be less plentiful and price would go up.

As I write this the benchmark world price for oil is between $80-85 a barrel. The cost of producing shale oil is between $50-100, and the cost of oil from tar sands is in the mid $60 range, according to sketchy research. (Only those in the business know the exact cost; and they're not telling.) So, as you can see, if oil keeps falling unconventional oil producers get squeezed to the point of breaking and only make a comeback when oil skyrockets again.

Oil is a roller coaster ride. It has been since the 1970's. People would be foolish to think something is different now. Think OPEC would like to see unconventional oil disappear? You bet. Saudi Arabia, literally, still has the power to control the global price of oil by a turn of the tap.

Cheap oil should be making electric car makers loose sleep at night. Batteries are the cause of their insomnia.

Without government forcing people to buy electric cars, there's no way for a mass shift to electric drive unless the cars cost the same or less than conventional ones, recharging takes only a few minutes and range is 300 miles or more, not less than 100 in most EV's. Electrics have to be the same in every way as conventional cars. Then drivers will see the light: Go electric and be done with oil.

Aside from continued fiddling with lithium-ion batteries, battery makers should be looking for other chemistries, particularly those without finicky, pricey lithium. Aluminum is a great possibility for batteries and should be researched more. So should magnesium.

One US government lab thinks the same: Below are some words from a Press Release from Berkeley Labs, entitled, "Dispelling a Misconception About Mg-Ion Batteries: Supercomputer Simulations at Berkeley Lab Provide a Path to Better Designs"

"Lithium (Li)-ion batteries serve us well, powering our laptops, tablets, cell phones and a host of other gadgets and devices. However, for future automotive applications, we will need rechargeable batteries with significant increases in energy density, reductions in cost and improvements in safety. Hence the big push in the battery industry to develop an alternative to the Li-ion technology.

"One promising alternative would be a battery based on a multivalent ion, such as magnesium (Mg). Whereas a Li-ion with a charge of +1 provides only a single electron for an electrical current, a Mg-ion has a charge of +2, which means Mg-ions, in principle, can provide twice the electrical current of Li-ions if present with the same density. Mg-ion batteries would also be safer and less expensive than Li-ion batteries. However, the additional charge on a multivalent ion creates other problems that have hampered the development of Mg-ion batteries. This situation may soon change thanks to new findings from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) as part of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub."

"David Prendergast and Liwen Wan, scientists working in the Theory of Nanostructured Materials group at the Molecular Foundry, a DOE nanoscience research facility hosted by Berkeley Lab, ran a series of computer simulations that dispelled a long-standing misconception about Mg-ions in the electrolyte that transports the ions between a battery's electrodes.

"The catch for multivalent ions is that their increased charge draws more attention to them - they become surrounded in the battery's electrolyte by other oppositely charged ions and solvent molecules - which can slow down their motion and create energetic penalties to exiting the electrolyte for the electrodes," says Prendergast. "However, we found the problem may be less dire than is widely believed."

The Press Release gets far geekier from this paragraph on so you can read the rest at your leisure here.

Keep in mind that unlike lithium, magnesium is plentiful on the planet, often extracted from brine or salt water by way of magnesium chloride. Some magnesium chloride is even extracted from the solar evaporation of seawater. Think about that for a second.

To make magnesium even more interesting, it's recyclable. It's also used in hydrogen storage. (Helpful if hydrogen fuel cells make a comeback. Which also may happen.)

Further, there's an interesting possibility for magnesium extraction other than ordinary seawater: Get it from brine discharge from desalination plants. If this were possible then not only would the problem of brine discharge pumped back into the oceans be reduced, but the cost of desalination would shrink since discharge brine would become a commodity for sale to magnesium producers.

This from the website Innovateus:

"Countless manufacturers opt for brine to extract magnesium, since brine has a high concentration of dissolved minerals, including magnesium. The amount required to extract magnesium from seawater is actually identical, although it requires the processing of a high volume of seawater for the same end amount of magnesium. Since magnesium is extremely useful, the process is worth the cost to some companies.

"Companies which extract magnesium from seawater rely on very large processing plants which are capable of handling high volumes of seawater. Since the dissolved salts in seawater only make up around 3.5 percent of the total volume, as opposed to brine, which has dissolved salts in concentrations upwards of 50%, a very large amount of seawater must be processed to make seawater production comparable to brine wells."

There's nothing set in stone saying that lithium-ion will be the battery choice for all electric cars of the future. I've said it before: I hope that Elon Musk's gigafactory will be flexible enough to build battery chemistries other than lithium-ion. To be competitive with cheap gas Musk needs another metal to store electrons.

"Dispelling a Misconception About Mg-Ion Batteries: Supercomputer Simulations at Berkeley Lab Provide a Path to Better Designs"

Innovateus: Can magnesium be extracted from seawater?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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