My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Lithium-Ion vs Hydrogen Fuel Cell - The Living Daylights

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lithium-Ion vs Hydrogen Fuel Cell - The Living Daylights

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star!
How I wonder what you are,
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky!

Ann Taylor, The Star

Before writing this ditty, I was listening to my favorite Iron Maiden album The Final Frontier. Might I add it is karaoke Night in Milk River, Clarendon, and as per usual, everybody is now a Rising Star hopeful. Yes, America, I, a Jamaican, am a VERY big Iron Maiden fan.

Its sci-fi Rock and Roll music and I like it, so there! Although I am a “country person” as the snobbish Kingstonians will call me, I picked up my liking for Rock and Roll music comes from interacting with the Canadian Engineers from Nortel while working at C&W (2001 to 2004).

I copied their working habits (working from manuals, keeping notes), designing solutions to problems and sketching them on a small notepad (first inklings of my ideas for the Apple iPad?), writing computer programs to solve complex mathematical problems using MatLab 5 (that was back then; Matlab 6.7 is now on my PC!), observing them using their Palm Pilots PDA (Personal Data Assistants) to organize themselves (source of my ideas for the Apple iPhone, believe it or not!) and yes, listening to their music, hence my love for Iron Maiden.

Please don’t get me started on my Beatles Anthology, Kiss, Abba Gold and Guns n’ Roses collection either; I am already strange enough in the eyes of my fellow Milk River People. Throw in my love for muscle cars (dreaming of a 2011 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500!) and I would be ok.


So that last bit should make people wonder why I am about to write yet another article on All-Electric Vehicles. The reason is that after reading my previous articles about Rare Earth Metals and Lithium–ion Batteries, I realize that recycling and resuscitating Batteries will be a very important task.

GM (General Motors) already realizes this, and as such has filed patents for technology to do the same as stated in the article “GM envisions refreshing EV Batteries”, published November 8, 2010 7:37 AM PST, by Martin LaMonica, CNET News - Green Tech.

Curiously enough it was not long ago that GM announced its intention of produce the Chevy Volt All-Electric Vehicle using the then cheapest, lightest and highest charge density battery technology, Lithium-Ion as stated in the article “Lithium Batteries for Hybrid Cars”, published January 2007 By JOHN VOELCKER, GREEN TECH - ADVANCED CARS, IEEE, beating out NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) Battery Technology.

Guess GM never full foresaw the now important necessity of recycling Rare Earth Metals as stated in the article “Rare-Earth Metal recycling needed to power Green Tech”, published May 17, 2010 7:31 AM PDT by Martin LaMonica, CNET News - Green Tech.

Maybe they did not foresee the People’s Republic of China, holders of nearly 97% of the world’s Rare Earth Metal deposits as stated in the article “China clean tech's Rare-earth advantage”, published August 12, 2010 5:37 AM PDT by Reuters, CNET News - Green Tech.

They blocked exports to Japan and threatening a possibly supply Crunch by 2012 as stated in the article “Traders: China halts Rare earth exports to Japan”, published Friday 24 September, 2010 by Associated Press, forcing Japan to team up with Vietnam to ensure continuous supply of Rare Earth Metals as stated in the article “Vietnam and Japan to mine Rare Earths together”, published Sunday October 31 2010 by Reuters.

Japan is also recycling of Gold from their Industrial areas as stated in the article “Japan's sewers paved with gold”, published 2:59AM GMT 02 Feb 2009 by Danielle Demetriou in Tokyo, The UK Telegraph.

EU and the US of A thrown in a tizzy as stated in the article “U.S. and E.U. grapple with crunch in Rare Earth supplies”, published October 26, 2010 2:33 PM PDT by Reuters as Afghanistan lies a literal stumbled-upon godsend for the Silicon Valley pees to also ensure supplies in conjunction with the Europeans as stated in the article “U.S. identifies vast mineral riches in Afghanistan”, Published June 13, 2010 By JAMES RISEN, The New York Times.

Bolivia, neighbor to Chile, the world’s No. 1 producer of Lithium, stands poised to benefit from this shift towards All-Electric Vehicles as they are currently exploring making Lithium-ion Batteries as stated in the article “Bolivia to make Lithium Batteries 'with or without' foreign partner”, published Thursday October 28, 2010, The Jamaica Gleaner. So goes the news roundup from Reuters and other citations galore.

This recent announcement from GM also fits into their previous announcements of plans to reuse Lithium-Ion Batteries, possibly as a form of backup Storage for the Local Power Utility Grid, designed to have a lifespan of eight (8) years of one hundred thousand miles (100,000 mi), whichever comes first as stated in the article “GM eyeing ways to reuse Chevy volt Batteries”, published September 21, 2010 10:23 AM PDT by Lance Whitney, CNET News - Green Tech.

The All-Electric Vehicle, albeit setting a statement about oneself as being “progressive” as the ultimate second ride as stated in the article “The Electric car might be the perfect Second ride”, published  August 3, 2010, 4:35PM EST By Ed Wallace, WALLACE'S WORLD, BusinessWeek, is still for all intents and purposes no different from a mobile phone.

The Lithium-Ion Batteries have the advantage of not suffering from a phenomenon that plagues NiMH Batteries in mobile smart phones and all devices, that being the Memory Effect. The Memory Effect is where a battery is recharged when it is not fully empty or discharged and thus “remembers” its previous charge level, and so gradually holds less and less charge.

Other advantages of Lithium-Ion Batteries relevant to motor vehicles include being moldable into any shape necessary and lightweight as weight is the main enemy of All-Electric Vehicles.

The main disadvantage of Lithium-Ion Batteries is that they can explode if overcharged as stated in the article “Lithium-Ion battery”, viewed Wednesday November 10 2010 by Wikipedia and supported by the article “Will Lithium-ion Batteries power cars?”, viewed Wednesday November 10 2010 by Cristen Conger, How Stuff Works.

Using Hydrogen fuel cells instead of Lithium-Ion Batteries, with the Hydrogen for the Fuel cells being sourced from Fossil Fuels i.e. Diesel, E85, Kerosene, etc as stated in the article “Volvo developing a hybrid hydrogen-electric vehicle”, published November 5, 2010 10:01 AM PDT by Liane Yvkoff, CNET News - The Car Tech blog is also a viable version of the Range Extender concept being pursued by carmaker Volvo.

Despite this combination with Lithium-Ion Batteries, Fuel cells still use exotic metals such as platinum as the electrode as well as they suffer from durability problems that may cause the fuel cell membranes to fracture while the vehicle is driving as stated in the article “Fuel Cell Vehicle”, viewed Wednesday November 10 2010 by Wikipedia a well as in the article “How fuel Cells Work”, viewed Wednesday November 10 2010 by Karim Nice and Jonathan Strickland, How Stuff Works.

 So we are stuck. No matter what the Technology, Rare Earth Metals are needed, a simple non-technical inescapable fact. Until then, plans to recycle Lithium-Ion Batteries and extracting Lithium from countries friendly to American interests are the only hope of the United States of America making the transition to All-Electric Vehicles feasible for the long term.

Until suitable technology can be found to replace the use of Lithium, the preserve of some bright Physics Student, I will continue to listen to my Iron Maiden and imagine I am driving my 2011 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 James Bond Style like the movie The Living Daylights (1987).
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