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Alevo: The Apple of energy storage?

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 00:56 -- Editor
Alevo business development VP Chris Christiansen

Picture the scene. Six hundred invited guests are attending the launch of an unknown Swiss firm boldly claiming to be ‘redefining energy’ in a virtually empty and rather shabby former cigarette factory in North Carolina.

The Governor of North Carolina is present, so is the local Congressman. So too are the state Commerce Secretary and a host of other luminaries. Spirits are high, music is pumping.

After a few pleasantries, the curtain goes up and a steel shipping container painted white, emblazoned with the corporate logo and the words ‘GridBank’ is revealed. What is in the box? Lithium-ion battery modules, which will be made there in Concord.

The luminaries are dazzled. This is going to create thousands of jobs. This is going to save the planet. “This is the best place in the world,” says Governor Pat McCrory, getting a little too high on his own bonhomie.

In short, this is energy storage hype writ large. It is as if the late Steve Jobs is launching Apple’s latest, ‘game-changing’ technology in Cupertino.

Except, in this case, the tech is not all that exciting or, indeed, game-changing. But anyway, much of the audience doesn’t really understand the tech or even really care about the tech, as long as it brings much-needed jobs.

Who is Alevo’s Steve Jobs? One Jostein Eikeland, a reasonably succcessful Norwegian Internet entrepreneur and Alevo’s CEO, who decided it would be a good idea to take a novel inorganic electrolyte made in Switzerland and make lithium iron phosphate cells with it.

Inorganic electrolyte is desirable because it is inherently safer than organic electrolytes - think thermal runaway - and reduces performance degradation.

Alevo's cells are claimed to have achieved an impressive 43,500 cycles in the lab at 100% discharge. Orginally made by Fortu Powercell, a German battery research company Alevo fully acquired last year, the cells have a stable power rate but suffer from a 50% drop capacity fade after 10,000 cycles. Less impressive is the energy density, which is a measly 41.28Wh/kg, less than one-fifth, for example, of the 18650 cells in a Tesla S. 

From July 2015, Alevo, which paid $67.5m for the 2,000 acres former Philip Morris site, will make their own cells & modules and put them into 2MW/1MWh GridBank energy storage systems in standard-issue 40-feet containers. The initial capacity of the plant will be 12,000 cells/two GridBanks per day, but its business plan is to churn out 200,000 cells/two GridBanks per hour within three years.

But this is not just another battery factory and Alevo doesn’t want to be just another battery manufacturer. The idea is to be a vertically-integrated energy storage service provider.

That means doing what AES, S&C Electric and others do, but with their own batteries, rather than buying them in from Samsung SDI, LG Chem, Kokam, BYD et al.

Alevo’s business development VP Chris Christiansen, another Norwegian and a dead ringer for Brian O’Driscoll*, explained one of its potential business models is similar to mobile phone contracts where handsets are given away or at a low upfront cost, and the customer is tied into a two-year plan.

For Alevo, read 20 years of monthly or annual fees based on energy usage.

But it doesn’t stop there. Alevo has created Alevo Analytics, an IT division which allows it to identify potentially valuable sites for ‘GridBanks’ within a grid network. To do this, and also be able to calculate the knock-on effects of having an energy storage system on other assets on a grid, requires crunching enormous volumes of data.

Soon it will take delivery of a supercomputer with the ability to perform 3 petaflops - or 3,000 trillion calculations - per second. The supercomputer will also be able to perform predictive analysis of weather, grid demand etc. in order to optimize discharge/charging of the batteries - all of which will form part of Alevo’s energy storage service provision.

It all sounded very impressive, but this author couldn’t help wondering if Alevo really knows what it’s doing. Starting a huge battery manufacturing capability and complex IT operation from scratch is a challenge for anyone, no matter how optimistic.

Despite the Silicon Valley-style glitz and glamour, this is not an iPhone, or any other consumer product. This is an unknown firm attempting to sell an untried battery and untested service provision to a conservative, risk-averse and slow-moving sector. Has Alevo put the cart before the horse?

But Alevo is nothing if not ambitious. Within five years it wants to install 16GW of GridBanks worldwide – a colossal amount when you consider California’s world-leading energy storage mandate is 1.325 GW by 2020.

Having raised $350m in private equity funding from anonymous Swiss investors, Alevo is seeking $1bn to make good on its ambition. Aim for the stars or stay in the gutter? Let’s see what happens.

 

*Brian O’Driscoll is a recently retired rugby union great, who made a world record 141 international appearances for Ireland and the British & Irish Lions. Chris Christiansen sportingly bought the press troupe at the drinks party a round of Guinness.

 

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Energy storage: Not ready for prime time (yet)

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 14:57 -- Editor
duck curve

For obvious reasons, BEST is a keen supporter of energy storage. All the predictions are for installations of grid and domestic energy storage to experience huge growth over the next decade – read any of those rather tiresome reports by Frost & Sullivan, Navigant et al for more detailed crystal ball-gazing.

But there’s good reason to believe energy storage is not ready for prime time. Not yet.

That’s not so say there is no need for energy storage. In California, this is neatly illustrated by the so-called ‘duck curve’ above. The neck of the duck is the increasing ramp rate of peaking power plants as backup for the ever-deeper penetration of variable wind and solar power.

The belly of the duck is excess generation as solar and other renewables grows; the bigger the excess, the fatter the duck. Energy storage could flatten the curve and make use of some of that excess solar power and other renewable energy.

As yet, however, the numbers aren’t working. The arbitrage opportunities arising from the ‘duck curve’ – storing power when cheap to be used at peak times – are much less anticipated and the difference is too small to finance storage.

In general, there is not yet a market for energy storage. This comes down purely to costs. Where storage does make sense now is on islands with limited grid infrastructure, like Hawaii, or the US Virgin Islands, where the retail electricity price is an astronomical $0.52/kWh.

In mainland USA, storage works for frequency response in markets such as the New York ISO, where a recent change in regulation rewards the inherent advantages of storage, i.e. response in milliseconds rather than minutes as for gas-fired peaker plants. However, it has been noted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) that the frequency response market for energy storage is in danger of becoming saturated over the next five years.

And the costs of energy storage, of course, are not just down to the battery. Power electronics and the balance-of-plant account for up to 60% of the system cost. Concrete pads to park battery storage systems can be surprisingly expensive, as too can the permitting process.

Moreover, the industry does not yet have the reliability desired by financiers to be bankable. Just because a battery may come with a warranty, developers cannot be 100% sure that the batteries will perform as they should, when they should. Cycle life data of ‘real world’ energy storage data is very limited for systems deployed in the field.

Getting utilities interested in grid storage will be a challenge. Utilities tend to think in decades of operation, rather than years, when it comes to investing in components. Furthermore, energy storage is seen as having relatively poor ROI and utilities are said to be worried about ‘hidden costs’.

In most cases, an energy storage system needs to cost $350/kWh to be in the money, according to EPRI. The average system cost of $1000/KWh, not to mention an operations & maintenance cost of $200/kWh, suggests this may some time away from being viable without subsidies, mandates with regulated returns etc. 

And the ‘operating systems’ of energy storage systems are where computers were 30 years ago. They are currently in a pre-Windows world, not particularly user-friendly, not plug ‘n’ play, with few standards and codes for utilities to be comfortable with connecting an energy storage system into, for example, a transformer.

Furthermore, the so-called ‘value stack’ of energy storage for utilities – frequency response, network investment deferral, arbitrage, voltage regulation, peak shaving and so on – is great in theory but in practice, no-one yet knows the capex cost, or indeed, if a battery system is up to the task of such multi-functionality.

Of course, energy storage developers will be armed with performance guarantees from battery manufacturers, but for 10 years plus? 20 years? Not yet.

Undoubtedly there will be growth in energy storage. Much like EVs, however, the hype will not be borne out by reality.

Read the Summer 2014 edition of BEST for show reports of the annual US Energy Storage Association conference, the International Flow Battery Forum and much, much more.

Trouble ahead for lead?

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 16:28 -- Editor

To say the lead-acid battery R&D is not the best funded sector of the electrochemistry industry is a great understatement. For those not aware, the Advanced Lead Acid Battery Consortium (ALABC) is one of the leading (perhaps only) driving forces for lead-acid battery industry research.

For the automotive sector of lead-acid batteries, there is one man at ALABC who takes upon it himself to promote lead-acid batteries as the low-cost way to power 48V micro/mild hybrid cars and reduce carbon emissions: septuagenarian Brit Allan Cooper.

Cooper made a presentation at this year’s Battery Council International in San Diego to update delegates on ALABC’s progress with 48V micro/mild hybrid cars. On the face of it, things are going well.

Working with Controlled Power Technologies (CPT), AVL and academic institutions, the ALABC has taken a 1.4 litre petrol Volkswagen Passat, added an electric supercharger, an ISG, a DC-DC converter and seven 6V Exide Orbital deep cycling lead carbon batteries. With all this kit, the ‘LC Super Hybrid’ car has reduced carbon emissions by around 13% versus the standard 1.4 litre Passat.

Whether all this gear is worth the expense that would have to be borne by consumers versus, say, a diesel, is questionable. Indeed, ALABC is working on a Kia diesel with an electric drivetrain that dispenses with the supercharger, which will be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in September. The car will use a 6.5kW ISG powered by East Penn Ultrabatteries.

Incidentally, ALABC has put a call out to its members for a new battery for its ADEPT project with Ford, Ricardo and CPT because they need more power and improved charged acceptance for regenerative capability.

The LC Super Hybrid has had problems, says Cooper. During a test, the driver managed to pull off the front of the crankshaft. This did at least prove the batteries had power.

But, accidents aside, Cooper is concerned that the lead-acid versus lithium-ion battle may already be lost.

“We are reaching a tipping point with 48V," he said. " A lot of the German premium manufacturers have already written in lithium-ion. If lithium gets a significant foothold in 48V I see a political threat to lead-acid because the only reason lead is in a car at all is by way of the exemption from the End of Life Vehicle Directive.

“A lot of the technical issues with lithium-ion may go away, at the moment there is no real alternative to the 12V lead-acid battery but things can change. Getting the exemption beyond 2020 may become a lot more difficult.

“The threat is real and near-term. The lead-acid industry has to convince car companies this is the way to go and get them behind us in fighting the End of Life Vehicle legislation.”

Of course, this could be read as merely a cry for cash for ALABC coffers. Developing and demonstrating lead-acid 48V cars around the world must be an expensive business, and it is true the ALABC needs new members and new sources of funding.

Even so, lead-acid industry faces an uphill battle if it is to succeed if the brave new world of 48V cars materializes. The humble 12V SLI will be around for a good while yet, but, in Europe at least, is the writing on the wall?

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It’s easy as AABC

Fri, 02/14/2014 - 16:21 -- Editor

Britain is currently experiencing its worst floods for 60 years after the wettest January on record and naturally, being human, the hunt is on for scapegoats.

Politicians, of course, have been under fire for the country being under water.

Why hasn’t more money been spent on flood defences?

Why hasn’t more money been spent on dredging rivers?

Why hasn’t more money been spent on sandbags?

And so it goes on.

Deeper thinkers look to the bigger picture. This seems to happening more often, doesn’t it? Is this what the dreaded climate change looks like: warmer and very wet winters?

Having installed a climate change sceptic as a Secretary of State for the Environment, Prime Minister David Cameron – who only a few months reportedly described his own government’s energy policies as “green crap” – has put climate change is back on the agenda.

And when climate change is back on the agenda, people look to ways of preventing it with renewable energy and energy storage. As we know, finding a better way to store electrical energy is perhaps the single biggest breakthrough needed to tackle climate change to decarbonize the power and transport sectors.

For now, however, the industry is pretty much stuck with lithium batteries. And lithium is currently very expensive and too impractical for Mr & Mrs Smith to afford/desire an electric vehicle, which is a bit of a pisser for the polar bears.

The author visited Atlanta for the 14th Advanced Automotive Battery Conference (AABC). If the EV industry hasn’t quite taken off as hoped, AABC remains a conference with clout on the cultural calendar, attracting C-level speakers and most of the right companies.

But it is noteworthy AABC will hold its first conference in Asia in May, in the Japanese city of Kyoto. The Japanese may have already won the lithium battery war, despite efforts from Germany and the US.

Toyota, Panasonic, NEDC et al are years ahead in both lithium batteries and EVs. Asia, perhaps more than ever, seems the natural place for an advanced automotive battery show.

It’s also pretty telling that AABC Europe in Mainz, Germany next January and AABC 2015 will both include “two to three sessions” concerning stationary battery applications.

This is a sign AABC is either running out of idea or delegates, or both. Attendees were down roughly 100 on 2013 at AABC 14. Is this merely due to being held in Atlanta rather than California or Florida?

Next year’s AABC will be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which may well be picturesque but is not exactly a metropolis. BEST hopes AABC is not, unlike Britain, slowly drowning.

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Behind-the-meter energy storage: A new scheme?

Thu, 01/23/2014 - 15:00 -- Editor

Batteries & Energy Storage Technology visited San Diego for NAATBatt 2014 (National Alliance for Advanced Technology Batteries).

I have found NAATBatt to be an agreeable conference. Maybe it’s due to leaving the soggy shores of England for the sunny, warm climes of Southern California, or maybe it was just the warm optimism emanating from the more idealistic delegates who want to play their part in changing the world.

Yet despite this optimism about renewable energy storage - particularly in California - there was a faint hint of bitterness in the air. The good times/bad times of the Federal stimulus in the aftermath of the big crash are over.

Having suckled at the taxpayer teat for the past few years, some battery firms are not in great financial health, particularly the type with a ‘Great White Hope’ chemistry. Since A123 went to the wall, which ultimately resulted in taxpayer-funded factories and expertise being bailed out by the Chinese for a song, battery companies are no longer flavour of the month.

The firms that may have bagged finance in the bad/good old days are struggling to raise capital. NAATBatt attracts exactly this type of start-up.

And why not? There are plenty of large battery companies to sell out to, not forgetting utility companies to tap up for energy storage projects, safe in the knowledge their returns are regulated.

California is the world leader in such energy storage schemes. In October 2013, California Public Utilities Commission mandated 1.325 GW of energy storage by 2020 and utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric (SGDE) are exploring how they should go about it.

Hitherto, SDGE has installed a few megawatts as technology demonstrations. By the summer it will have installed a further 5 MW/14 MWh, including network investment deferments rather than mere technology demonstrations.

But to get to 1.325 GW, it may take more than a few containers of lithium battery packs dotted around the state. SDGE and other utilities are exploring ‘behind-the-meter’ storage, i.e. in the home.

SolarCity already rents used Tesla car battery packs to be used as storage for domestic solar PV for $10/month, but utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE) are looking at installing them too.

Domestic energy storage could be useful to utilities to soak up surplus PV storage, but there is also an inherent advantage to storage in its fast ramping capability to balance the grid by reducing inefficient usage of polluting fossil fuel plant as spinning reserve.

The great thing about behind-the-meter storage is it competes with the retail price rather than the wholesale price, potentially making it an attractive option to the hundreds of thousands of Californians with solar PV. With dynamic tariffs, consumers could charge their batteries at off-peak times to discharge at peak load and make significant savings.

Before we get carried away, a significant caveat is California has ‘net metering’, which requires utilities like SDGE to pay retail rates when solar PV production exceeds on-site demand. This somewhat quells the desire for storage; so, too, does the cost of lithium-ion battery packs, especially when compared to a generator.

But one day net metering will disappear; and utilities like SDGE will have to cope with ever more (unwanted) solar PV.

Cynics may view battery storage as the ultimate solution for avaricious energy firms. Not only could consumers be charged more for stored power but, armed with batteries, utilities could potentially control how much they use and when they use it (or face the financial consequences). Whether this could get past the regulators is less certain.

One must remember that electricity markets are not really about getting power to the consumer as efficiently as possible but about getting as much money from the consumer as possible. This maxim will also apply to storage, however well intentioned.

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The future is electric but is it 48V?

Thu, 11/14/2013 - 14:16 -- Editor

Changing the voltage level of electrical systems in cars is not an easy task. In fact, it is a real pain in the backside.

The last time there was a major upshift in car voltage levels was in the 1950s, when many manufacturers switched from 6V to 12V. Despite all the positive noises at the Automotive 48V Power Supply Systems conference in Frankfurt on 11-13 November, this author is not at all convinced the car world will quite yet take the huge undertaking of converting to 48V.

There is no question about the attractiveness of a 48V powertrain. Lower CO2 emissions and improved fuel consumption coupled with more low-end grunt for faster acceleration via the benefit of electric motors in a ‘mild’ hybrid application is a sexy prospect.

An analyst from market intelligence firm Frost & Sullivan who was obviously keen to sell his reports spoke animatedly about a ‘tipping point’ where car manufacturers, driven by European Union (EU) emissions regulations and ever-increasing loads on components, will be forced to go to 48V, and he expected 2m 48V vehicles on the road by 2020.

Others were even more optimistic. Bosch projected 3.5m 48V vehicles on the road by 2020, that magic year when so many targets in so many sectors will or will not be hit.

And yet. And yet. There are many reasons to believe these targets may in time to be seen as wildly optimistic. One reason is the EU CO2 emissions limits themselves, which are a moveable feast, meaning that perhaps the strongest argument for developing 48V is built on shaky foundations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, believed to be under pressure from BMW, Audi and Daimler, has pressed the European Commission to delay and water down regulations to set an average limit for new cars’ emissions of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2020. Elsewhere, emissions regulations are not seen as sufficient to drive development of 48V, not least in the USA, which is perhaps a decade behind Europe.

Other reasons to doubt the introduction of 48V this side of 2020 include electromagnetic safety issues, weight problems, footprint, not to mention the lack of suppliers and technical standards. All of which add to the cost, which is of course the primary drawback for any car manufacturer.

And let’s be clear. While Tier 1 equipment suppliers like Bosch think 48V is a great idea, the car manufacturers are understandably not so keen given the costs and logistical challenge. BMW, for one, was quite open about this in Frankfurt, as was Peugeot-Citroen, even though these two manufacturers have semi-committed to develop 48V vehicles.

As one delegate told me, “Now is the right time to start to think about 48V cars, if not make 48V cars”. I believe he is right.

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UK energy storage competition: Far too little, far too late

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 15:40 -- Editor

After months of delay, the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) finally announced the winners of its Energy Storage Technology Demonstration Competition on 4 November.

The two winners are:

·      REDT, which plans to install a 1.2 MWh vanadium redox flow battery and connect it to a wind turbine in the Scottish island of Gigha (£3.6m/US$5.7m funding);

·      Moixa Technology, which has developed small lithium iron phosphate battery storage units to be installed into homes (£1.5m funding).

Three other projects received research grants:

·      Kiwa GASTEC at CRE, to investigate safety issues surrounding the use of hydrogen as an energy storage vector (£400,000);

·      Sharp Laboratories to develop and scale up a new battery technology for residential and community energy storage systems (£396,541);

·      EA Technology to develop a Good Practice Guide on electrical energy storage for use in the UK electricity networks (£104,325).

BEST calculates the total allocation of all projects in DECC’s energy storage competition (including Phase I) is £8.2m, less than half the £20m available for the scheme. Compared to what other advanced nations are spending on energy storage, the sums being spent on this UK competition are derisory.

More importantly, however, the winning technologies are old hat. The keener-eyed among you will notice that neither vanadium redox flow batteries nor domestic lithium iron phosphate battery storage units are particularly novel developments.

Vanadium redox flow was patented in 1986, although DECC says the application of a flow battery to a wind is innovative. Well, that may be the case in the UK, but several such projects have been installed around the world in the past decade.

It’s a similar story for Moixa Technology’s scheme to install 1 MWh of energy storage in 750 locations. Lithium iron phosphate batteries in a cabinet are commercially available in many nations, including the UK.

Anthony Price, director of the UK Electricity Storage Network, is not happy. He took to Twitter to vent his spleen:

“With proper #electricitystorage renewables can move forward even further.  Time to support a market mechanism for #2gw2020,” he wrote.

“Without giving #electricitystorage its own market category, we'll pay £120m more per year for our energy by 2020 #2gw2020,” was another Tweet.

At least this time around the UK did not claim, as it so often does, to be a world leader in energy storage. It likes to call itself a world leader in offshore wind on the grounds of largest capacity installed, yet almost all the manufacturers involved are non-British.

The plain truth is the UK is never going to be a ‘world leader’ in energy storage and neither should it try. It is highly questionable whether DECC should implement a subsidy regime for storage because, as with offshore wind, the benefits to UK manufacturers would be very limited indeed.

True, a subsidy regime may be of benefit to project developers such as S&C Electric, which has its European headquarters in the Welsh city of Swansea. But not even S&C Electric is asking for subsidies.

What it is asking for is a change in the regulatory regime that, just as has occurred with FERC Orders 784 and 755 in the United States, rewards participation in the grid balancing market. Sadly this is nowhere to be seen in the UK.

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Energy storage – regulation, regulation, regulation

Wed, 10/16/2013 - 22:24 -- Editor

 

BEST has been in Amsterdam for the European Utility Week conference & exhibition. Until 2012, the show was known as Metering & Billing Europe and, frankly, was not worthy of the short hop across the North Sea from BESTmag Towers.

Renaming it ‘European Utility Week’ is a masterstroke, as while it still heavily features the world of metering and billing, there are now several conference streams focused on grid infrastructure, integrating renewables and what brought BEST to Amsterdam: energy storage.

Marketing itself as a transmission & distribution (T&D) show rather than just metering/billing has boosted prestige and interest - attendance is now around 8,000. Best of all, utilities – a large chunk of the hoped-for customer base of energy storage - attend the event. And because of this, we get to see which side of the bread upon the energy storage butter is spread.

In great contrast to dedicated energy storage and battery events, for the most part European Utility Week was pretty down on batteries and energy storage, despite the achingly trendy 'Energy Experience' hall with its gleaming Tesla S and have-a-go-on-an-ebike circuit.

Phrases like “too expensive”, “no business case”, "not needed", “unreliable batteries" were bandied about with regularity.

Perhaps this is not so surprising in an industry event financially supported by huge transmission and distribution equipment OEMs like Siemens, GE, Alstom and Schneider Electric who are very happy selling transformers, switchgear, power cables and a whole host of other expensive wares with which battery storage systems may compete.

In fairness, some of the same companies also proudly displayed energy storage products, often pride of place. But nobody is fooled that these are anything other than tokenistic gift-wrapping, packaging other companies’ energy storage systems with an Alstom, Siemens etc. logo on the side of the container.

For the time being, however, this pessimism is warranted in Europe. Time and again delegates were told the design of European electricity markets has to change if energy storage is to stand a chance.

Whether it’s DNO/DSO regulation that effectively prevents grid companies investing in storage to provide ancillary services, direct incentives for energy storage capacity or a cut/curtailment of solar PV and renewable feed-in tariffs, without change the economics of battery storage are very hard to stack up at today’s prices.

Yet the necessary changes are seemingly out of reach for now. And this is why - aside from the plethora of largely tokenistic demonstration sites across the continent - the real energy storage action will largely take place not in Europe, but across the Atlantic in the United States and East Asia. 

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Germany aims for unlikely fuel cell domination

Mon, 09/30/2013 - 22:04 -- Editor

 

Not content with being the world’s leading exporter of cars many people lust after – be they Mercedes, BMW or Audi - Germany now wants to be an exportweltmeister in fuel cell cars and fuel cells.

At the F-Cell/Batteries+Storage conference in Stuttgart, Daimler, which launched an electric van powered by an 860kg battery pack in 1972 – the LC306 (pictured) – has been showing off its Mercedes B-Class F-Cell car.

The B-Class F-Cell has a range of around 500km, does 0-60 miles per hour in 7.9 seconds, and has zero carbon emissions. The drawback, of course, is the price. The car is not on the market, but with comparable vehicles costing €80,000 ($108,000), it’s not the kind of car you’d buy for your wife or your son/daughter for their 18th birthday present.

Yet Daimler appears to be serious. Well, semi-serious. In conjunction with Air Liquide, Linde, OMV, Shell and Total, it has developed an ‘action plan’ to install 400 hydrogen refilling stations in Germany by 2023, up from 15 now.

This plan will cost €350m and will go a long way to making fuel cell dreams a bit less dreamy. Simultaneously, the state of Baden-Württemberg unveiled its ‘Fuel Cell Cluster’ - an attempt to make Stuttgart a global centre of hydrogen excellence like Ulsan in Korea or Vancouver in Canada.

Daimler is headquartered in Stuttgart, so this makes sense. What is not clear is whether Stuttgart can be a centre for fuel cell production.

As Daimler’s Chief Environmental Officer Professor Herbert Kohler acknowledged, Germany has some catching up to do with Korea, the USA and Canada, which have been investing (and subsidising) in fuel cells for many years.

What seems more likely is that Germany becomes a world leader in the manufacturer of machinery and fuel cell production techniques. The author has visited fuel cell production facilities and was struck by the ‘potting shed’ nature of some firms’ operations.

Germany is always looking for new markets to be a ‘world leader’ and developing high-tech production techniques for fuel cells may be one such opportunity. The same may also be true for Germany's lithium-ion ambitions.

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The aging beauty and the younger woman

Wed, 09/18/2013 - 13:18 -- Editor

If there was a tagline for the 15th Asian Battery Conference (ABC15) in Singapore, it could only have been 'Lead Ain't Dead'.  Yes, it's a tired cliche but the lead-acid battery industry is feeling just a little bit touchy these days.

ABC15 is, of course, very much a lead-acid battery show but it didn’t stop many speakers disparaging lithium-ion by highlighting its shortcomings compared to lead-acid, be it higher cost, thermal runaway issues or the perceived problems of recycling.

The relationship between lead-acid and lithium-ion is that of between a slightly aging actress and young starlet. The younger woman gets most of the attention – Electric vehicles! iPhones! Laptops! Power tools! – and the aging beauty looks on with not a little envy and bitterness.

“What has she got that I haven’t?,” she thinks. “I’ve got efficiency. Longevity. Cost-effectiveness. Low discharge. And I don’t suffer from thermal runaway like her.”

The ‘aging beauty’ is right, of course. She has a lot going for her and she probably always will do. While she may have a few more wrinkles than the younger woman she is, after all, beautiful. And she's still a great actress.

What’s more, carbon additives – the Botox of lead-acid batteries - are prolonging her beauty. ABC15 was at its best when exploring the latest methods to improve cycling rates and dynamic charge acceptance with carbon.

But lithium-ion can’t be ignored. Lead-acid cells will never appear in an iPad or pure electric vehicles and so to pretend it’s the answer for everything or lithium-ion won’t amount to a hill of beans is wrong-headed. Both are beautiful in their own ways.

Read the full ABC15 show report in the Autumn 2013 edition of Batteries & Energy Storage Technology Magazine, published in October.

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