Battery Innovation in Portland

Battery technology is important because wind and solar can’t store energy like dams, or generate electricity on demand like gas powered electric utility generators. With decent (200-300 mile) range, electric cars become more practical. But first battery prices must come down and capacity must go up.

The top three battery makers for electric cars today are Panasonic, AESC, and LG Chem. Panasonic sells largely to Tesla, AESC is a joint venture half-owned by Nissan, while LG sells its cells to more carmakers than any other battery company.

EV pioneer Tesla Motors plans to produce more lithium ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013 with a groundbreaking new battery factory in Nevada that will produce batteries for 500,000 vehicles by 2020.

Construction will start in 2014, with production beginning in 2017. The battery storage industry—a key part of the plan if wind and solar power are to ever dominate the grid—is less than a decade old and still relatively small. Until recently, batteries were many times more expensive than natural gas “peaker” plants that fire up to meet surging demand in the evening and morning hours.


But prices for lithium-ion batteries have fallen fast—by almost half just since 2014. Electric cars are largely responsible, increasing demand and requiring a new scale of manufacturing for the same battery cells used in grid storage.


Lithium battery competition comes from A123 Systems, Ener1, Dow Kokam and LG Chem, which has set a goal of 25% global battery market share. The Volt’s battery cells are produced by LG Chem in South Korea.

Today, many battery packs, such as Tesla’s, are made from small cells, about the size of a large “D” cell, in order to make them safer. The Prius Plug in and Hybrid uses NiMH batteries while the The Nissan Leaf uses a 24 kW/hr lithium-ion battery of their own design.

Battery technology could be the next big thing. Or not. Today, Lithium Air, the “dream” battery is (mostly) a science project.

The latest round of ARPA-E funding addresses energy storage technologies, and Portland’s Energy Storage Systems won funding with its All-Iron Flow Battery (IFB), distinguished from other energy storage technologies by its affordability.

A flow battery is an easily rechargeable system that stores its electrolyte—the material that provides energy—as a liquid in external tanks.

ReVolt[187], with headquarters in Portland, developed a Zinc-Air battery[188]. But ReVolt, a German-based company with North American headquarters in Portland, couldn’t make its technology work properly, reports the Oregonian.

Zinc-Air Battery from ReVolt

The Board of Directors of ReVolt has thus decided to file for bankruptcy. Portland and the state of Oregon had committed $6.8 million to ReVolt, which also landed a $5 million federal grant. ReVolt was one of the riskier ventures backed by the Portland Development Commission, according to Patrick Quinton, the city agency’s executive director. Quinton calculates that the city and state lost $4.2 million out of the $6.8 million ultimately committed. ReVolt had not taken out roughly $2 million of its loan from the state and $1 million of its loan from PDC, meaning Oregon government entities are owed $3.5 million. Recovering money will likely be difficult.

Eugene-based electric car company, Arcimoto, is partnering with the Oregon Institute of Technology’s Energy Storage Laboratory to develop a cheaper electric vehicle battery with a longer battery life. The prototypes will be manufactured by Cascade Systems Technology, a Hillsboro company.

Nanotech, say researchers, is an important component of advanced batteries since the magic happens at the atomic level. The Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), collaborates with Oregon universities, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, industry, and the investment community.

In a semi-solid flow cell battery, the cathodes and anodes are composed of particles suspended in a liquid electrolyte. These two different suspensions are pumped through systems separated by a filter, such as a thin porous membrane. The new design should make it possible to reduce the size and the cost of a complete battery system to about half the current levels. The MIT developed technology is being licensed to a company called 24M Technologies.

Hybrid-powered Streetcar

The Energy Storage Association says each technology has some inherent limitations.

Beaverton-based Polaris Battery Labs, a new manufacturing and testing lab, might even the playing field for U.S. battery companies, reports the Oregonian. The lab aims to help clients commercialize batteries by eliminating the cost of building their own laboratories to develop prototypes. Battery companies like A123 Systems in Massachusetts struggled because they invested in construction and equipment before building a market, says Polaris, who is backed by some serious investors.

A Portland-based battery developer, EnerSol Energy Systems, is putting lithium titanate batteries to the test, reports Sustainable Business Oregon, with a focus on grid storage and electric vehicles. The three-man company focuses on consulting and product development in batteries and energy systems for electric vehicles, grid storage, and portable devices. Entek International, based in Lebanon, Oregon, is a world leader in microporous battery separator material.

Electric vehicles are anticipated to have a range of 200 to 500 miles in the foreseeable future. Researchers say it may take ten or more years to deliver 5 to 10 times the energy density of today’s lithium batteries (if it happens at all). Lithium-air[189] is said to be the dream battery. Cost/effective batteries, with 2-5 times the present capacity, may largely resolve many range anxiety issues by allowing all day driving with overnight charging. If cost/effective, new battery technology could profoundly change transportation, world-wide.

IBM's Lithium Air Battery

IBMs ‘Battery 500’ project hopes to produce a battery for family-sized electric cars that delivers a 500 mile (800 km) range. It works by absorbing oxygen from the air, the reaction of this with the lithium-ion generates electricity, considerably more than a typical lithium-ion battery.

The overall market for energy storage technologies that power electric vehicles is set to grow from $13 billion in 2011 to $30 billion in 2016, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18%. But, while prominent plug-in passenger cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf grab most of the headlines, the bulk of future growth will be driven by more humble vehicles, such as e-bikes and micro-hybrids, according to a new report from Lux Research.

Build Your Dream (BYD) is one of China’s largest companies and has expanded globally. As the world’s largest manufacturer of rechargeable batteries, their mission to create safer and more environmentally friendly battery technologies has led to the development of the BYD Iron Phosphate (or “Fe”) Battery.

Portland’s Tri-Met is testing them out. The agency recently submitted a grant proposal to the Federal Transit Administration for $5.6 million, with a $5.3 million TriMet match, to purchase a total of nine electric buses and charging stations next year. The nine electric buses would reduce TriMet’s diesel consumption by about 89,000 gallons annually.

At an average cost of $3.15 per gallon, when purchased in bulk, TriMet would save more than $280,000 in diesel fuel costs annually. Of course, the savings would be offset by the cost of electricity (ranging from $90,000 to $120,000 annually) used to recharge the buses, reports The Oregonian.

TOSA is a battery powered electric bus that is flash charged in 15 seconds at overhead wires above bus stops. . The fast charge is enough to get the bus to the next charging station, usually located at every few stops It was built by ABB, a Zurich-based corporation known for power and automation technologies. Geneva is the first city expected to adopt a TOSA bus line as part of its regular service, with a start date sometime in 2017.

Seattle’s Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel requires hybrid buses that combine a conventional internal combustion engine with an electric propulsion system.

Hybrid-powered Streetcar

Seattle’s Sound Transit ordered 62 electric streetcars from Kinkisharyo. Their new LFX-300 ‘hybrid’ streetcar runs on batteries. It charges while running on overhead catenary power, but switches to internal 42K watt Lithium Ion batteries in feeder lines that eliminate expensive and ugly overhead power lines. Kinkisharyo’s low-floor streetcar can be charged while running on catenary power and when braking. In battery mode it operate at full performance for up to five miles.

Hybrid-powered Streetcar diagram

Ameritram says a 5 mile streetcar system, utilizing a fleet of 7 of their hybrid-powered streetcars, could save about $36 Million over the 30 year life of the system. Proterra manufactures battery powered transit buses, and raised $30 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and others. Their FastFill charging station charges a bus in 10 minutes.

Portland's United Streetcar

Perhaps United Streetcar, a spin-off of Oregon Iron Works, might utilize advanced battery technology for a made in USA solution. Some advocates expect a green transformation for mass transit – faster, quieter, cheaper and more attractive. Google’s driver-less cars and electric-drive mass transit point the way. Johnny Cab.

Battery powered electric cab

Excluding the $7,500 federal tax credit, the Volt and the Leaf, currently cost $41,000 and $32,780, respectively (both vehicles lease for $349 a month).

EV Costs

A 2010 Deloitte report, found that more than half of the US consumers would not be willing to pay more for an electric vehicle.

However, batteries are expected to get cheaper and longer range as gas gets more expensive. Energy Secretary Chu believes that before the end of the decade EVs will be “one-third the cost of today’s batteries with at least three times the range. Deloitte found that 70% of drivers surveyed wanted 300 mile range before purchasing one.

DriveOregon.org and the WestCoastGreenHighway[190] has the latest on charging stations. The Oregon Electric Vehicle Association has a Facebook page, Twitter Feed and Weekly Newspaper.

The mission of the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium is to develop electrochemical energy storage technologies which support commercialization of fuel cell, hybrid, and electric vehicles. Here’s everything you wanted to know about EV batteries.

Rare Earth Elements

A discovery of rare earths in international waters near Hawaii, reportedly contains 80 to 100 billion metric tons of rare earths, almost surpassing China’s 110 billion tons of proven reserves. For the electric vehicle industry, the consequences of this discovery are considerable. On average, each electric vehicle, be it plug-in or hybrid, contains 11 kg of rare earths, in particular neodymium, according to research by the New York Times. But developing the offshore bounty could take decades and cost billions, making it little more than a pipe dream, analysts say. Maybe James Cameron, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt will mine nearby asteroids.

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