Lead-acid versus EEStor

Here are a couple of pieces that appeared recently in Technology Review: one relates to EEStor’s recent announcement with Lockheed Martin and what it means for the company, while the other is a look at a new type of hybrid lead-acid battery with an integrated supercapacitor that claims to last four times longer than conventional lead-acid systems and to perform just as well as nickel-metal hydride systems — but at a fraction of the cost.

Obviously, for those watching the “EEStory”, the impact on transportation, power management, and portable electronics would be immense if the tiny company’s almost unbelievable claims prove true. In the story, EEStor CEO and founder Dick Weir hints that another announcement — this one “technical” — will be coming out soon. Meanwhile, makers of advanced lead-acid batteries, such as the “UltraBattery” discussed in the TR story, believe this new twist on 150-year-old technology (which they argue doesn’t get enough respect these days) could satisfy market demands for low-cost, high-performance hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles — at least until lithium-ion technology gets to the point where it’s cheap enough, safe enough, and reliable enough to make a difference.

Let’s not forget the recent announcement from Shai Agassi of Project Better Place and the Israeli government. It seems lithium-ion batteries (the Wall Street Journal reports that A123 will supply some of them) will be at the center of this very ambitious — and I must say exciting — experiment. All of these announcements and innovations around electric cars and batteries keep reminding me of that Eddie Grant song from 1983 called “Electric Avenue”: “Oh, we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue, and then we’ll take it higher.”

Okay, now I’m aging myself.

NOTE: While we’re on Electric Avenue, forgot to mention that Mississauga, Ontario-based battery maker Electrovaya, fresh off its joint-venture announcement with Malcolm Bricklin’s Visionary Vehicles (a hopeful electric car maker), announced Wednesday that it will soon be launching a low-speed electric vehicle called Maya-300 that will have a 120-mile range but be limited to 35 miles-per-hour. “It will be ideal for fleet operators in cities, universities and parks as well as the many households with a second or third vehicle for urban driving within a local neighborhood,” the company said in a statement. It did not disclose when the cars would be available or what the price might be, but clearly it’s targeting the same market as ZENN Motors and other low-speed EV makers aiming for the urban, second-car market. Click here to see a picture of the Maya, which will be powered by Electrovaya’s lithium-ion SuperPolymer battery technology.

Iceland: a hydrogen microcosm

Much of the investing world may be down on hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies, particularly those related to automobiles. But Iceland, the tiny volcanic country that gets most of its power from geothermal and hydroelectric energy, continues to push forward on its multi-decade plan of being a center for hydrogen innovation and deployment. It makes sense, given the country is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy resources, and rather they be the test bed for these technologies than North America. Jon Bjorn Skulason, who heads up Icelandic New Energy, predicts in this Reuters article that by 2035 most of Iceland’s road vehicles could be hydrogen-fuelled. More interesting, perhaps, is that in April the country will launch the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial vessel. The goal is to prove that hydrogen fuel cells can be used on ships and boats, and the longer-term plan is to convert Iceland’s fishing fleet to hydrogen. It makes more sense than cars, and as with stationary fuel-cell applications, there could be an actual market for fuel-cell powered ships. Kudos to Iceland for giving it a try and letting the rest of the world watch. I got a chance to visit Iceland back in 2004. Rode on one of its first hydrogen buses in Reykjavik. Toured geothermal plants. Swam in the Blue Lagoon. It was awesome. But the uniqueness of the country also means a hydrogen economy may have limited application in regions of the world that aren’t blessed with the same renewable resources.

And I can’t help think: With all that cheap, abundant renewable energy, wouldn’t it make just as much sense — if not more — to embrace electric transportation using batteries? Iceland may well become an all-hydrogen microcosm on the world stage, but being such a small market, does it risk alienating itself from the rest of the world and ultimately hurting itself economically?