Sunday, November 22, 2009

Battery breakthroughs II

We've gotten a bit of feedback from readers of our previous battery storage story, arguing that, gosh, there really are big breakthrough battery technologies out there.

(Image: A solar cell at RaisingIslands' testing laboratory—still looking for the right battery.)

And other feedback suggesting that startups announcing massive strides often fail to meet their promises, and in the meantime are sucking the life and the cash out of legitimate research.

Said one correspondent: "Unfortunately, yes, weeds keep growing. And, the weeds suck up more nutrients than what the crop needs to grow - which is endangering the field and the market potential.”

One reader, who chose to remain anonymous, wrote in response to our story: “The author has apparently not heard of Altairnano's lithium titinate(sp) battery.”

Suggesting, one supposes, that we missed this particular technology, which breaks the mold—that it's got all the important stuff: cheap, compact, lightweight, non-toxic, fast-rechargeable and capable of being discharged and recharged thousands of times.

That would be exciting. RaisingIslands could actually use such a battery to store power from our photovoltaic panels. We respond, where can we buy one, and what does it cost?

Well, there's the rub. It appears they're not on the shelf anywhere convenient, and there's no price list.

Altair's battery is lithium-titanate oxide. You can read about it at Altair's website.

The company claims an array of important features in a battery, although inexpensive isn't one of them: “Altairnano is the first company to replace traditional graphite materials used in conventional lithium-ion batteries with a proprietary, nano-structured lithium titanate a process that delivers distinctive performance attributes, including power, fast charge/discharge rates, high round-trip efficiencies, long cycle life, safety, and ability to operate under extreme temperatures.”

The company last month outfitted an electric bus in Washington DC and let politicians drive it around. But Altair's batteries still aren't mainstream. One problem, the bus costs $1 million.

The company claims its technology is applicable to both mobile and stationary applications. You could, arguably, set up a battery bank next to a windmill or solar array, and use it to provide power when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine. The company has had a utility-scale (2 megawatt) battery system tested successfully. And the company has a couple of defense contracts, which are outlined on its website.

So far, the big pieces missing in Altair's literature seem to be price, availability and a real world track record. We'd be happy at RaisingIslands to test it and report our results, but we don't have one, and aside from the KEMA report above, it's not clear who else has been able to independently test this technology.

In its third-quarter financial reports, company president/CEO Terry Copeland is quoted: "We have experienced an increased level of customer requests for quotes in the past couple of months. In addition, we anticipate that potential order activity will begin to gain traction as we enter into 2010. Given the importance of establishing this revenue stream and having referenceable customers for other prospects to speak with, we need to be able to move expeditiously once we have these initial firm orders."

That's good news, but as with the EEStor battery system in the previous article, this firm may be on the verge of big success or big failure, but right now, it's hard to tell which. We wish them both well, because this is important stuff.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

1 comment:

Laurel Brook Jewelry said...

Toshiba in Japan and Enerdel in the U.S.A. are using Titinate material. You might try contacting these companies for your solar application.