Next Big Thing

Three Power Breakthroughs that Will Change the Way We Live Jan 22, 2015

Whether you are taking a shower, driving to work, or reading an article about the latest advances in battery technology you are using energy that had to be generated, stored and transported.

The rise and fall of every civilization has been strongly influenced by their ability to do these three things and once a new power source is available people immediately begin to find new, innovative uses for it.

Take for example the Electric car. Electric motors are lighter, more efficient, quieter and provide more power per kg, than their gas guzzling cousins, but because they lack an efficient storage medium for the electricity, a battery, petroleum-based cars have dominated the auto industry for 100 years.

Many recent advances in battery technology may be able to break through the technology barriers of the previous century and fuel the still approaching electric revolution. Here are the 3 traditional problems plaguing battery tech and some of the advances that are shattering the walls.

1) Long recharge times

A range of 100km is enough to get you to work and back, but what happens if you have to run some extra errands or you forget to plug your car in one night? It easy to just stop in at a gas station and fill up in a gas car, but taking a 7 hour break to plug in at an electric gas station just isn’t feasible. Extremetech.com recently reported on a new lithium-ion battery being developed at Nangyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore that will charge to 70% in just 2 minutes.

The new battery uses cheap titanium dioxide nanotubes to replace the conventional anode of the battery through a process that can be easily integrated into current manufacturing processes.

Not only that, the devices they power won’t require any additional redesign as the batteries will otherwise function as regular lithium-ion batteries.

The new technology is almost ready for commercial production and is expected to be on the shelves powering your cell phones and computers within the next 2 years.

2) High upfront cost

Lithium batteries in electric cars cost about $500 per KWH to manufacture. That means that in a typical electric car anywhere from 30%-50% of the price is just for the battery.

The high upfront cost is worth it for most because the electricity that is used afterward is cheap and green.

These prices are falling quickly. Fortune magazine recently announced that Elon Musk is building a new $5 Billion battery manufacturing plant that will provide the industry with batteries for 500,000 cars per year. Simply by leveraging economies of scale he hopes to cut the price in half.

Additionally, a new initiative by Sakti3 has developed a new solid state lithium-ion battery that is manufactured in a similar way to LCD screens. If their technology pans out, they say they can drive the costs down further to under $100 per KWH.

 

3) Low energy density

It is difficult for any technology to compete with energy density of petrolium fuels. One liter of gasoline has the equivalent mechanical energy of 9.1 kWh and weighs a little under 1kg.

A 9.7 kWh battery pack for a Toyota Prius from pluginsupply.com has a reported weight of 131 kg which means that gasoline has over 100 times more energy density than today’s best production batteries .

There has been incremental improvements and major breakthroughs to energy density in battery technology in the past. Major breakthroughs tend to be quick and disruptive, such as when Sony patented the first lithium-ion batteries in 1991.

Now IBM says they have developed a technology that may replace lithium-ion technology with a lithium-air battery. Basically, the idea is to use oxygen from atmosphere to react with the lithium, eliminating the need to store it inside the battery casing, dramatically reducing the overall weight.

This could potentially provide batteries with energy densities comparable to gasoline and opens the door to not only 1000km-plus range cars and 3 month cell phone batteries, but to a huge range of new applications.

Anything from electric commercial airliners to remote sensing equipment and high-powered wearable technology is suddenly on the table. Powered boots that keep the wearer from getting tired. Mechanized prosthesis that make the disabled, super-abled. And, technology that can go inside our bodies powering us from the inside out.

Fortune magazine recently reported that the Lithium battery market is expected to grow from $17B to $76B between 2013 to 2020, representing a 20-25% annual increase, exciting to even the most prudent of investors.

Noosphere Ventures is watching this market closely as is excited about the potential to build profitable businesses. But we are also eager to witness the huge impact that these technologies will have on humanity.

History has shown us over and over again that when power is available, people take advantage of it to change their surroundings and improve their condition. The world is moving steadily closer to becoming a true Noosphere, a merging of technology and human thought.

It is relatively recent that humanity found the freedom of thought which has powered their recent spurt of creativity. With it, mankind has flown to the moon, left our solar system, built a global communication network and inspired the world over with art, music, entertainment unprecedented tolerance.

Soon they will give the same freedom to the technologies they have created allowing them to function without the restrictions of time and location that have confined them in the past.

Only as humanity and technology communicate together more closely, work together more efficiently, and live together more united, we will realize the benefits that we truly have to offer each other and build a world far beyond anything humanity has achieved alone.