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Surge in Battery Research Fuels Hope for Cheaper Electric Cars

Revelations in lithium battery technology could mean cheaper batteries and less sticker shock for electric cars

Matt Beardsley

Stanford scientists Mike Toney and Johanna Nelson inspect a transmission X-ray microscope, a powerful device that takes nano-scale images of chemical reactions in batteries while they are running.

Imagine if Tesla, Nissan and GM could cut the price of their electric cars by 25%. That electric dream may be a wee bit closer than you think, thanks to researchers at Stanford University.

Recently a team from Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory announced a new method to analyze and potentially improve rechargeable battery technology in a radical way. A cheap, reliable rechargeable battery is the holy grail for electric carmakers that rely on costly lithium ion batteries for power. Instead of the usual pairing of a lithium compound with graphite, the study examined lithium-sulfur batteries, which in theory can store five times more energy at a significantly lower cost.

“Sulfur is an earth-abundant element and offers the greatest potential to reduce cost,” said research co-author Michael Toney, head of the Materials Sciences Division at SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource.

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Can Better Batteries Shrink California’s Carbon Footprint?

Jump-starting the Bay Area’s battery research could yield answers beyond 2020

By Thibault Worth

Lawrence Berkeley Nat'l Lab

Tommy Conry loading a lithium coin cell for testing at LBNL's battery lab.

We’ve reported extensively about AB 32, California’s 2006 greenhouse gas reductions law that calls for 1990-level carbon emissions by 2020.

But what happens to carbon reduction efforts beyond that date?

A less publicized, yet more aggressive 2050 target calls for slashing carbon emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by mid-century.  That goal was established by an Executive Order by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005. Achieving such an ambitious target will require a range of initiatives, including building better batteries.

AB 32 calls for 33% of California’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. But while solar and wind energy produce zero carbon, they also fluctuate. The current solution is to balance those fluctuations with fast-ramping natural gas-fired power plants. And they produce carbon aplenty. Continue reading

Tesla and SolarCity Collaborate on Clean Energy Storage

The companies’ founders don’t just share business interests: they’re also family

Tesla Motors

Elon Musk is the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and supported the creation of SolarCity.

Elon Musk is well-known in Silicon Valley as the founder of the luxury electric vehicle company Tesla Motors, and of SpaceX, the private space transport company.

What’s less well-known is Musk’s contribution to SolarCity, the solar installer and energy efficiency auditor. Musk inspired–and helped fund–the creation of the San Mateo-based solar company. And Tesla is working closely with SolarCity on a clean energy storage solution that would combine Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries with SolarCity’s rooftop solar arrays. The collaboration makes sense: not only is Musk the chairman of SolarCity, but the founders of the company, brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive, are his first cousins.

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