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Battery hype

UK readers might recall the episode of Top Gear, when Jeremy Clarkson drove from London to Edinburgh on a single tank of fuel. Today there are claims floating round that electric cars will soon be able to achieve the same feat.

A breakthrough in electrochemistry at Cambridge university could lead the way to rechargeable super-batteries that pack five times more energy into a given space than today’s best batteries, greatly extending the range of electric vehicles and potentially transforming the economics of electricity storage.

This sounds like great stuff, although if you read further, Clare Grey, the researcher whose breakthrough this is, says that there are a lot of caveats:

We haven’t solved all the problems inherent to this chemistry. least another decade of work is likely to be required to turn it into a commercial battery

She also claims that the battery can be recharged 2000 times, which, if it can also take a car the 400 miles from London to Edinburgh on a single charge, would give it a theoretical lifetime range of 800,000 miles.

I'm not sure I'm going to hold my breath here.

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Reader Comments (127)


Lithium has one strong point- it melts above the boiling point of water, so unlike sodium and potassium , it just burns merrily, instead of providng a Guy Fawkes show.

One of the great icons of the Hurricane That Must Not Be Named in these hallowed precincts shows the melted remains of a flock of Teslas shorted out in the fully charged mode on a Newark delivery dock by the storm surge.

Oct 31, 2015 at 10:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Oh yeah! Promises promises lies and more lies.

"Scientists have developed a working laboratory demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has very high energy density, is more than 90% efficient, and, to date, can be recharged more than 2000 times, showing how several of the problems holding back the development of these devices could be solved..."

Note the reference to having 'charged' the demonstrator more than 2000 times? That is the only solid claim.

Nor are these 'charges' defined.

"...Lithium-oxygen, or lithium-air, batteries have been touted as the ‘ultimate’ battery due to their theoretical energy density, which is ten times that of a lithium-ion battery.

Such a high energy density would be comparable to that of gasoline – and would enable an electric car with a battery that is a fifth the cost and a fifth the weight of those currently on the market to drive from London to Edinburgh on a single charge..."

And Man will rise up to the moon with the early morning dew... Preachy gobsmacked claims by true believers.

"...However, as is the case with other next-generation batteries, there are several practical challenges that need to be addressed before lithium-air batteries become a viable alternative to gasoline..."

Ah yes, the ever shouted refrain of the alarmists, more research, more money!

"...Now, researchers from the University of Cambridge have demonstrated how some of these obstacles may be overcome, and developed a lab-based demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has higher capacity, increased energy efficiency and improved stability over previous attempts.

Their demonstrator relies on a highly porous, ‘fluffy’ carbon electrode made from graphene, and additives that alter the chemical reactions at work in the battery, making it more stable and more efficient. While the results, reported in the journal Science, are promising, the researchers caution that a practical lithium-air battery still remains at least a decade away."

What a magic substance graphene must be!? It makes lithium-air batteries more stable AND more efficient... What!?

I'm not sure there is a true valid statement in there anywhere.

Tesla batteries are limited life.
Charging Tesla cars requires an expensive charge station or it takes overnight and possibly longer.
Meaning Tesla owners need two Tesla cars, one for each direction.

Also, don't actually touch any of the wiring or charging circuits! High amperage DC circuits are not good for humans or other living creatures.

Imagine, the ordinary owner of cars parks their Tesla on the street and a tabby decides to stay warm on the engine. And yes, charging circuits will stay warm.
Fried cat, melted wiring, dead battery. Same goes for mice and rats and I have my suspicions about large bugs.

Nov 1, 2015 at 4:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

Not Tesla : 16 Fisker EV's and 3 Prius 30/10/2012
.. burned due to flood water causing shorts : the corp denied they exploded.

Nov 1, 2015 at 6:41 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The picures show a neat row of slag heaps on the dock--

Nov 1, 2015 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Li-O is promising, and is ultimate battery chemistry - so will eventually be developed at least for transport applications, and maybe for home storage for sunny countries to complement PV. Being poisoned by CO2, N2 H2O (all present in atmosphere) is a big issue - separating out pure O2 is not easy at small scales, though for a car or home energy storage probably doable. More difficult for small portable units.

Lithium Sulphur is more promising near term, pretty close to commercial (some products available, but still limited life) likely to double battery kW/kg storage up to 500-600Wh/kg in next 5 years. And that alone would likely give electric cars a cheaper total cost of ownership.

Nov 1, 2015 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobL


On the contrary, being poisoned by carbon dioxide, nitrogen gas and water in the atmosphere is not a big issue. Where did that come from?

Nov 1, 2015 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Post

Metallic lithium is already used in some some non-rechargeable batteries. Those who still believe in chemistry can watch videos on YouTube about how to extract it. [You should use eye protection. You can generally get way with almost any other mistake.]

Depending on how well these putative rechargeable batteries are sealed, I suspect the main danger on a large scale would still be build up of hydrogen in enclosed spaces after failure of adequate containment in humid environments, including car cashes.

Not a hazard to be take lightly.

Nov 1, 2015 at 5:36 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

...should have been "car crashes", of course.
"Car cashes" is just another word for Tesla (which I will happily buy one of, once vwoossell supplies me with sufficient turnips and Swedes).

Nov 1, 2015 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

wrt the Mitsubishi PHEV, I skimmed a road test a few days ago. It seems the car is designed to give extraordinary results in the govt tests and do just enough to qualify for zero road tax, etc.. Consequently it offers huge tax savings in terms of Benefit-in-Kind rating as well as the savings on road tax and congestion charges.
The article came up with a saving of k£11 over 3 years compared to a "normal" equivalent.
The road test concluded that it is a very ordinary vehicle which offers these major savings through its PHEV features, although its actual consumption was about 35 mpg in motorway driving.

Nov 1, 2015 at 6:01 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

mmiiccael would rather curse the Tesla headlamps than light a single turnip.

Nov 1, 2015 at 11:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Actually, vwosooell, it's the money. Sure, I'd like to buy a Tesla. I indicated so. So would many people who don't have the money. Yet Tesla sells a lot of cars to people who already have enough money but are subsidized by the state to buy a Tesla.

That indicates two things:
A) A technology that is not yet mature enough to be 'sustainable' without large subsidies;
B) An iniquitous government that takes from the poor to give to the rich.

Nov 2, 2015 at 2:39 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

A tax credit is not a subsidy any more than a reduced license fee is. And extra long-life rechargeable batteries will be highly useful regardless of climate change. No need to automatically hate every technology that comes around or you begin to sound like a neo-luddite. As long as the investment is mostly private and the sales are private there is no big deal. If you want to complain about misplaced government spending then start with HS2, Trident or the aircraft carrier with no aircraft because they were all scrapped. In any event there is no need for concern - it is 100% certain that this is yet another UK technology that will soon leave these shores thanks to typical British inertia and negativity that is displayed so well here.

Nov 2, 2015 at 8:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Tesla in trouble says Lutz:

Nov 2, 2015 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

I assume EV battery packs are recyclable, but does anyone actually do it..?

Nov 2, 2015 at 12:21 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp


"not a subsidy"

Do UK purchasers not get £5k off the purchase price of an EV? I don't know the precise mechanism, but that sounds like a subsidy to me.

I doubt that anyone here is fundamentally opposed to EV's, but we are naturally cynical and practised at spotting BS, especially the Green sort...

Nov 2, 2015 at 12:34 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

JamesG said: "No need to automatically hate every technology that comes around or you begin to sound like a neo-luddite."

I haven't seen anyone on here "hating a new technology". The consensus is that most people are sceptical of puff pieces for a technology that doesn't (yet) work in the real world or worse, is just a figment of the imagination of a non-engineer. I like technology, and it is technology that has made us rich (compared to past ages), if only we used the best of what actually works.

The luddites surely are the greens who want to "return" to a bucolic idyll that never really existed. The green ideology also needs to kill off lots of people too.

Nov 2, 2015 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterBudgie

Well Budgie ye didn't look very far*. Tesla have come in for a lot of unjustified stick hereabouts about supposed subsidies - ie tax-breaks that the same characters argue isn't a subsidy when it applies to fossil fuels or government loans that Tesla paid back. There's scepticism and then there's just knee-jerk grumpiness.
*I felt like Charlie Endell there.

If the government receives less tax then it perforce has less to spend. But if it increases the tax one year and reduces the same tax, the next is it a subsidy? Is a reduction of income tax from 50% to 40% a subsidy? Better to imagine money from government is a subsidy but less money to government is just a welcome relief from the overtaxation that is killing business. If you want to argue differently then you disappear down the same rathole that the greens use when talking about fossil fuels.

Nov 2, 2015 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG


I think we're at cross-purposes. I am describing the £5k the government donates to your friendly dealer when you buy an EV, which even they call a 'grant'.


I'm not too bothered about Elon Musk's tax affairs, although he's a clever chap and clearly knows how to work the system. You're right about the Greens and ratholes - I've yet to hear any of them mention the 50% Petroleum Revenue Tax that successive UK governments have managed to squander several times over. Of course, once they discover that it is soon to be reduced to 35% to help out the N.Sea producers, they will claim that is a subsidy, too!

Nov 2, 2015 at 5:29 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

How do you charge a battery? (I'll give you a clue, it's not with another battery) ;)

Nov 2, 2015 at 8:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterRico L

MMimical, , what you style :
"A technology that is not yet mature enough to be 'sustainable' without large subsidies"

has been powering commercially produced autos and trucks since 1884, and besides the upmarket Tesla , millions of cheap electric ggolfcharlie carts continue to buzz about to this day.

Nov 2, 2015 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Maybe we forget that Russell does not live in a liberal democracy that imposes duties on petroleum and extra taxes on petroleum extraction and VAT on gas usage.

Nov 2, 2015 at 11:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

JamesG, My comment was about technology. I didn't mention subsidies.

Now that you have ...... About 60% of the cost of each liter of petrol is tax. Shell has stated around half its turnover gets taken in tax. So I do not believe anyone who says that, overall, fossil fuels are subsidised when they are so clearly heavily taxed. The strike price regime (DECC) for "renewables" (eg £150/MWh Offshore Wind) by contrast is a subsidy, because it guarantees a selling price vastly in excess of its (taxed) competitors, such as CCGT electricity generation.

As for electric cars the government website ( states: "35% off the cost of a car, up to a maximum of £5,000; 20% off the cost of a van, up to a maximum of £8,000" - gifted by taxpayers. Then there is the Climate Change Levy (CCL, a tax) charged to businesses on their energy bills: "You pay CCL at the main rate on: electricity; gas; solid fuels - like coal, lignite, coke and petroleum coke". Need I go on?

Nov 3, 2015 at 12:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterBudgie

@JamesG is wrong : "A tax credit is not a subsidy any more than a reduced license fee is"

Yes a A tax credit is not a subsidy if it applies to your competitors equally.
But in the case of electric cars the US gov gives electric car buyers a A tax credit, but not the buyers of non-electric cars that is a subsidy.

Likewise if solar power was charged VAT, but fossil fuel was excempted we could say that fossil fuel is being subsidised at the expense of solar.

I agree with the rest of what you said .about .don't be a luddite, just validate the claims made for new tech.

Nov 3, 2015 at 4:34 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Note the media let Tesla get away with cheating ..but pounced angrily on VW

When Tesla claimed the top category of subsidy due to it being able to fast charge through battery swap
..but the factory cars weren't battery swap ready ..and the swap stations programme has been discontinued. big media outburst.

BTW here's the link @John Silver gave above
story Is Tesla Doomed? due to coming competition from Audi and expensive non-dealer system ..the author "Bob Lutz has been The Man at several car companies"

Nov 3, 2015 at 4:48 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

To avoid petroleum duties, public-spirited Diogenes can import some heavy water and convert his barrel to a CANDU reactor.

Nov 3, 2015 at 4:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Why do many US states ban direct maker-to-consumer car sales?


Nov 3, 2015 at 1:55 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

@Martin A One plausible tho not necessarily true explanation is that it is an anti-monopoly law.
In the time when there was basically only Ford or GM the way you could shop around for a good deal was by playing one Ford dealership against another.
But if Ford was allowed to sell direct ..they could charge what they wanted and the consumer would end up paying more.

Apple products might well be cheaper if their stores were not a monopoly.

Nov 5, 2015 at 3:58 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

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