Montag, 30. Mai 2016

Serious Problem: Battery and Automotive Industry

Lithium Ion drives the Future

The basic innovation LiIon battery, driven by the company Sony, has surprising, but that is common in innovation, enabled the development of electric cars. 

Previously there were only ugly batteries, some were extremely heavy, lead-acid battery, extremely toxic, nickel cadmium, or other drawbacks why they were not suitable for an energy storage device in a car. This has seduced the automotive industry to believe everything would stay the same and no special attention was given to the development of batteries. 

With the successful development of the Tesla S, an all electric car, everything has changed fundamentally, so I will report here about the importance of battery technology in the automotive industry.

The value Chain in the Car Industry (today)

Four things make the value of a car:
  1. the glider, a vehicle without power train and energy storage
  2. the engine with storage (tank or battery)
  3. the image of the brand (mostly through advertising)
  4. the amount of energy consumed by the car in his life
The glider is now a product of the OEM, headlights, bumper, seats or wheels and tires, almost everything visible to the driver is not produced in the car factory. Only the steel welding of the body remains in most car factories, with high automation done by robots.

The engine remains us to the 19th century. An internal combustion engine with a mean efficiency of about 20 percent, emitting significant amounts of particulate matter and other unhealthy substances, accelerates the car more or less rapidly to cruising speed and keeps on this pace. Thousands of engineers try to optimize this technology with legally or illegal means.

The image of cars of different brands developed by massive advertising budgets [1]. Through product placement in movies and elaborate sales centers, a high value of the car is suggested, although all the cars stuck in traffic driving at the same speed. For many people, the car is next to the house, the most expensive product that is purchased for own appreciation.

The fuel that a car burns in the course of its operational phase of approximately 200,000 miles, may sum up to $ 30,000 (depending on local tax) and is often more expensive as the whole car. In addition, no one knows at the time of car purchase how the gas price will develop. The money end up in the pockets of the oil companies and oil states, not in the automotive industry!

Summarized, the major car makers only have the ability to manufacture engines, the rest of the value chain is lost.

The electric car value chain

Electric cars have a significantly different distribution to the above points 1 to 4

The glider remains essentially the same, interestingly, the weight saving is less important than with previous cars, because by recuperation (recovery of braking energy). The energy to accelerate and the energy to go uphill is not used for heating the brake disk, as in conventional cars.

The use of non-rusting aluminum is useful because the life of an electric motor is considerably higher than that of an internal combustion engine. And who wants a rusty electric car that still has a good engine and a working battery.

The value of the electric motor is far below of an internal combustion engine, which consists of 6000 moving precision parts. Electric motors are simple, some copper wire winding and an aluminum cylinder which rotates. Rare earths are not necessary, which can only be found in hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius (46kg!).

There is no fuel in the electric car. But we need a battery and electric power to drive the car.The batteries are by far the most expensive part in an electric car and remarkably similar in price compared to the fuel costs of a conventional car.

Amazingly, this was not noticed neither by the big oil companies nor the major car companies. Exception: Tesla builds a Gigafactory, a battery factory which can supply batteries for about 500,000 electric cars a year, thus making the company independent from other suppliers.

Only the German company Volkswagen has announced that it is considering $ to invest in the construction of a battery company (GAS2) Unfortunately, I have heard such announcements in the area of e-mobility by automotive companies several times. Actual, so far nothing was created.

The "fuel" power would actually be a clear claim for the utilities or oil companies. Here there is complete silence.

The problem of everyday usefulness

If you want to use an electric car just like your previous car, it must be reliable cover about 60 miles a day, but it has also to master the holiday trip or extended business trips.

For daily demand the socket in the garage is sufficient for overnight charging. resulting in a very limited contact to a gas station. Except perhaps refill the windshield wiper fluid and visit the car wash.

On longer trips every car must refuel new energy. At the gas station this is done within five minutes. To charge an electric car during the trip should not substantial extend the duration of the trip. So it is imperative that there is a network of fast-charging stations. 

At this point I'm amazed to read that the policy in Germany will subsidize 10,000 charging stations (per charging station $ 70.000 tax money). However they do not demand the fast charging ability.

Only charging stations, where you can charge more than 200 miles range in 30 minutes (supercharger) lead to everyday practicality of electric cars.
No other company than Tesla operates or plans to operate a supercharger network. A network that could be owned by automaker or other organization. I think oil companies, motorway service areas or  power companies, should be interested to roll out a fast charging network,
Ending up in a monopoly situation, anyone who is interested in a everyday useful car can now only buy a car from Tesla, all other manufacturers have virtually no usable electric car on offer.

The fairytale "battery problem"

The common theme in the discussion about electric cars is the battery problem. It involves at least three subjects
  1. battery price
  2. lifespan
  3. raw materials
Prices of batteries are in free fall. On the picture you can see a slide that has been shown on the Menasol 2016 Energy Conference in Dubai. Compared to the drop in solar cell price, the price of LiIon batteries appear to move even more quickly down.
Development of battery prices, when the market doubles the volume, the price drops by 26%

If the price of batteries is at $ 250 per kWh and a car needs for the daily use about 80 kWh, the battery will cost $ 20,000. Counting the cost of electricity results in less than the fuel costs of a conventional car.

The service life for batteries depends on the charging cycles, and some other factors, such as temperature decreases. Thousand charging cycles required can be delivered by virtually all the batteries, even a lead battery. But this means 200,000 miles (1,000 times 200 miles per charge) is easy reachable by a battery and beyond the life span of the vehicles. Moreover, it seems to be that although there is a slight decrease in capacity, a second life of the battery is possible. For example to use the battery in a PV system for overnight storage.

The raw material lithium (60ppm [2]) is much more common than lead (18 ppm in the earth's crust [3]) to be found. Thus there is no problem of raw materials, even if it could lead to bottlenecks due to slow expansion of mining activity. Unlike oil, lithium is not consumed in the car but can be 100% reused. Lithium is also non-toxic, who spices his soup with sea salt, is eating lithium salt, which in large quantities is part of the sea(salt).

Old industry fails in innovation

Although the facts about electric cars are easy to understand, you wonder why the auto industry is doing almost nothing. The problem is more than a century grown structures. Virtually all automakers are over 100 years old, except for Volkswagen, a company which was established on 28 May 1937 by Hitler.
In these companies, there is extremely much knowledge about internal combustion engines. ignition and oxygen supply, exhaust and catalyst are investigated by expensive and complex means. The technological elite in the automotive industry understands the combustion engine, studied and graduated on that topic.

Battery technology, lithium ion and electrolytes they have heard about in the media. It is not their core competency. How to go about developing the technology? The natural reaction is waiting and building seven-speed transmission and hybrid engines or even worse hydrogen engines.

At the same time a startup, Tesla Motors, succeeded to be about five years ahead the pack. Installed thousands of supercharger stations and without expensive advertising build a brand image that fits to a clean environment with renewable energy.

It would not be new in the history of innovation that industry do not survive the change in technology. No sailing Shipyard has built steamboats, short before bankruptcy they tried with seven master sail and "hybrid" (Sail plus steam engine).
No mail order retailer could defeat amazon or ebay.
No telephone company, Siemens, Motorola nor Nokia, plays an important role in the smartphone league.

We will have to accept that some companies VW / BMW / Daimler are in ten years only a brand name but no longer large employers. 
Peter Schumpeter described this with the words
 "Creative destruction"
And he probably has once again right.

(I tried hard to translate this from my first German blog article "Lithium Ionen treiben die Zukunft an", should you find any flaws, tell me)

Further comments:

[1] Volkswagen spent more than $ 110 million in Germany for advertising in the months Jannuary till  April 2016, source: Nielsen / Statista.
[2] ppm stands for "parts per million", which means you take a ton of average rock, then 60 grams of lithium and 18 grams of lead are contained therein.
[3] The mass fraction concealed, that a kg of lead can only store about a factor of 50 less energy than a kg of lithium. Viewed from this condition, you need less lithium for all cars (if they are electric) than lead is used today for starter batteries in petrol and diesel cars. 

Sonntag, 8. November 2015

Intercontinental Energy Grid

The Vision of China State Grid

The energy production in the future will be based on wind an solar power. Even in a carbon rich power production country, like China there is no doubt about this long term development.
At the Dii conference 2015 in Dubai, I learned in the presentation given by Han Jun, Senior Vice President, State Grid Company of China, that a global energy grid can solve the problem of intermittent power production.
State Grid China, vision of a global electricity balance

  Is a global grid possible

The idea, to have a global grid is simple, but the physical hurdles are hard to overcome. The best solution would be, we take a high temperature superconductor and span the globe with this type of grid. The only remaining problem is, we don't have the technology, and although "high temperature superconducters" (Working at -130°C not high in everyday experience) have been discovered 1986 by Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Müller at the IBM laboratory. Till today it was not possible to construct a power line on the base of this very brittle material.

Knowing this, the only path in reality is the use of high voltage direct current connections. And it has been shown by Chinese engineering, that the power connection between the three gorges dam and the 2,600 km distant city of Shanghai works to transport 7.2 GW of electricity.

Knowing this, we can try to calculate the necessary equipment to transport the power of wind and solar energy around the globe by conventional technology. 

How much power?

The first question concerns the amount of power that has to be delivered to far apart regions and continents. Today, a conventional power fleet of 5300 GW produces electricity where the consumers live. In a renewable future, this will still be true in some part for solar and wind, but it might be necessary to transmit 10% over very far distances. This would require a power line, able to transport about 600 GW and with a length of 10,000 km. 

This assumptions are very rough, but it is helpful to start with a plausible range, additional demands are then simple multiplications of the result. If we assume that the power line has a voltage of one million Volts, the current through this line is 600,000 Ampere and we don't want to loose more than 20% of the energy within the line. 

With these assumptions, the resistance of the line has to be in the range of R=U/I = 200kV/600kA = 0,3 Ohm. Knowing this, we can lookup in the table of material properties the necessary material demand. Only cooper and aluminium seem to be sufficient, aluminium is much cheaper, so we take aluminium. The electrical resist of aluminium is 28.2 nΩ·m. The diameter of the 10,000,000 m wire has therefor 1 m², quite thick, but able to transport a significant amount of our global electricity demand on a intercontinental distance.
Sources of electricity in the year 2050, estimated by China State Grid.

How expensive is that cable?

To get an idea of the price, we have to know the raw material price of aluminium. At the moment, aluminium sells for 2000 $/t, with limited deviations from that value. Our power line needs 27.000.000 tons of aluminium, because the density is 2700kg/m³. The pricetag is 14 G$, not that bad, if we consider the impact to the global power supply.
A real cable will be at last ten times as expensive as this first assumption, because we have to include an isolation, that can keep one million Volt, but even a price of 140 Billion $ is small compared to the equipment, that is necessary to produce the power.

To produce 600 GW of power, even the cheapest wind power converter at the best suitable places around the arctic circle would cost 600 Billion $.

Impact of a global Grid

A global grid would be a tremendous step to a reliable energy supply. We can compare the solution with the alternative path of large scale storage. The necessary storage for 600 GW over 10 hours needs a capacity of 6000 GWh. This could be done by ultra cheap Lithium Batteries with a price tag of 300$/kWh or 1,800 Billion $ for the required amount. Using the Hydraulic Rock Storage HRS technology, the price could be reduced to 600 G$.

A global grid would use the oceans to wire the continents. The ocean floors are a relatively save place to wire the world, as we already know from the internet fiber optic cables. Another advantage is the international law, the floor of the ocean is not under the same dispute as the land surface and it seems much easier to get a permit to roll out the cables there.

When a country like China takes the lead to interconnect the continents with electric cables, this would change the way, we think about local generation of power. But keep in mind, today, our energy supply system is intercontinental over the ocean, the supertankers distribute comparable amounts of energy over the ocean. 

Freitag, 10. Juli 2015

The End of Fire

The End of the Fire Era

About half a million years ago, mankind started to manage the energy of fire. The first use of open fire was for heat production and cooking. Since three thousand years fire could be kept in a stove to use the energy more efficient. During the 17 Century, the incredible story of mechanical energy production by the use of fire within steam engines and internal combustion machines began.
This glorious historical period will come to an end, very soon!

What is wrong with fire

There are at least three big problems when we use fire to generate useful energy.
  1. The fuel is expensive and not sustainable
  2. The conversion into useful energy is dirty and has high losses
  3. The atmosphere can't absorb infinite amounts of carbon
All these disadvantages are a good reason to extinguish the fire for ever. But is this possible and is this part of a long term trend?

Have a look into the flames. 

To ignite a fire without tools is one of the most demanding tasks man can solve and only very few of us did this ever complete. On the other side, it is the process that happen more often than any medium scale process we can think about. After some calculation* we find:

 mankind ignites 7 Billion  fires every second 

With other words, for every person on the planet earth we ignite every second a fire and extinguish it within a fraction of a second again. And none of this fires is seen because it happens within the engines of our cars.
Other fires burn in large power plants and in the heating system of our home, we don't see them even. Fire has lost its visibility. And this might be a first signal, that fire is disappearing.
Another place where flames appeared was the ignition of cigarettes, even this type of fire seems to disappear, no smoking in restaurants, in office building, in airplanes and only some lost desperadoes at the entrance of some buildings remind us of the old days.

Why fire

All the little and large fires in our engines have only one reason, they should generate mechanical energy and this energy is sometimes converted to electrical energy. This is possible due to the thermodynamic law of physics. But this law tell us, that the efficiency is always low and needs always a cold reservoir like a river or fresh air. This is the reason, that most of the energy is lost in heat, leaving the car through the exhaust pipe or the radiator. The situation in large conventional power plants is similar.
The famous Durango Silverton narrow gauge steam train.
Since Benjamin Franklins work in the 19. Century, we are aware, that electricity is the ultimate useful medium for energy. We can convert electricity in just any service we can imagine. About 60% of the electrical energy ends up in an electric motor to move people, cool air, transport stuff and cut wood.
Not one of this tasks requests a fire, but we had no other solution till now, so we used a fire to solve the problem.

Fire is Unhealthy

There is just no single technology that produces as much unhealthy substances as fire. There exist people who inhale the smoke intentional, but most of us try hard to avoid the smoke. We have this smoke detectors on the ceiling and we have different filters in our cars and in coal power plants.
Smoke detector, we try to avoid smoke
When we look to China, a day in Peking is like smoking a packet of cigarettes. But even if we live in modern industrialized countries we have to inhale nano particles of all kind due to the burning of gas, oil and coal. To give an exact value of lost live due to fire is very difficult, but it surpasses nuclear power by many orders of magnitude.

No fire no harm

If we extinguish all the fires and even the nuclear type of fire that feeds less than three percent of our global energy demand, we can save the planet and the people.
World energy consumption
World energy consumption, only hydro and renewable
don't burn and generate smoke of different kinds. Source Wikimedia

Although it seems impossible to expand the small renewable branch in the picture above, it could get reality, because this branch is growing exponential:
growth of PV
The blue dots show the installed PV in the world, the dotted line is a 25% growth
Exponential means, the growth rate is constant and the growth rate of PV is about 25% per year. If this continues for another 15 years, the whole earth can be powered by solar energy. Today we have installed 5000 GW of fire powered power stations, within 20 years we have more than 10000 GW of PV on earth. Read this: Is 100% PV possible?

A second trend is, that electricity is stored in batteries. We are used to mobile phones which need every night a charging. Many of our appliances like screw driver and tooth brush use batteries.
The next big step is the electric car, the definite way to extinguish fire. The visionary Elon Musk buildt a car with batteries from the laptop. Today TESLA sells the model S on a ever growing rate.
More batteries will come. As far as I know no other factory type expands faster than the battery production plants with the Giga Factory on top. Read also: Storage Maters.
Largest production site ever for a small product! Source TESLA
More than 50 GWh of batteries should leave the Giga Factory every year. But this is not sufficient to meet the demand of 90 000 GWh of storage for a clean future. Complete new technologies like the Hydraulic Rock Storage are invented, which can store many GWh in one site with very low environmental impact.

Will fire stay  

We will never extinguish fire for ever, because people like fire.
We love fire

But hidden fire for old machinery invented in the 19. Century will go forever, even hydrogen. It was a funny time of smoking stem engines and high factory chimneys. A world of dark snow in the winter and dirty ash.

Have a clean time.

Samstag, 16. Mai 2015

Is 100% Photovoltaic possible?

The World powered by the Sun

Today, photovoltaic electricity is only a small fraction of the global electricity production. The volume seems to be one percent in the year 2015. If we do a very simple extrapolation and imagine, that all these PV modules were installed in 2014 and we continue this installation speed, than we need another 99 years, to have a 100% emission free PV world. But this is simply not the way the world goes round.
I will try to extrapolate the situation, based on data from the MIT report "The Future of Solar Energy" [1]

Analyse the past of Photovoltaic

If we wont to understand the future, it is very useful, to look into the past, not only to understand the development, but also to understand the error which occurred by predicting the future. 
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) predict since 10 years the global PV installations in a published outlook. The first outlook from 2006 predicted for the year 2030 a global installation of 100 GW. This volume was already matched in the year 2011, only five years after the report was published! Ok, one wrong shot can be excused.
In the year 2011, the EIA predicted 150 GW until 2020. Again a failure, already in 2014 we have reached 180 GW of solar. 
The MIT analysed all predictions and compiled them to a very nice picture:
Figure 1: Different predictions and the reality, source MIT [1] page 137
In the early time, the predictions of the IEA had an exponential growth, that is a good guess, because most of the time, new products grow in that type. The only problem was at that time, the growth factor was to small, for example see IEA 2008 prediction in figure 1. Today things have gone worse with the prediction from the IEA. Not only is the factor to small, the prediction includes a reduction of the production of PV itself. This seems hard to understand.(An in depth analysis was done by Christian Breyer, paper PDF)
Things go even more strange, when we look at the price predictions of PV. The EIA predicted the development of the PV price till the year 2030. It should be mentioned, that it is a very difficult task to predict a price of any product for more than 20 years. But this failure is very illuminating.
Figure 2: Price prediction by EIA IEO 2009 of PV and observed results. [1] page 137
The EIA IEO 2009 outlook predicted, that the capital cost of PV in the year 2030 will drop to 4$/W.
Actually, the price even for residential systems dropped to this value already in the year 2014. It should be noted, that the price for residential PV systems in Germany was at the same time at 2$/W.
The price for utility PV systems reached only two years after the report was published the predicted value for 2030, 4$/W. 
All this information should be available to the EIA today. It irritates me, why the EIA does not change the prediction about the deployment of PV although they can observe the rapid price drop obviously. (I am thankful for any helpful hint)

Is there enough material for a large roll out of PV 

One possible reason, to be pessimistic about the global roll out of PV might be the scare elements used in PV systems. Today almost all PV systems use Silicon to convert sunlight into electricity. The MIT analysed the production of different raw materials, essential for the production of SI-PV-modules. 
To set up a PV system we need concrete and steel to mount the panel in the direction of the sun. Glass, aluminium and plastic are necessary to protect the silicon cell, cooper and more plastic is necessary to transport the power away.
Figure 3: Commodity materials required for PV. [1] page 131
Today, all these commodity are produced in a volume, that no real bottle neck will occur. In figure 3, we can see, that the steel production of 9 days is sufficient, to mount all PV panels for 5% of the global electricity production, within half a year, the steel production is sufficient for a 100% conversion to PV.
The least available material in this consideration is glass. For a 100% PV world, we need the glass production of 20 years. But glass production is in no way a limiting factor. The necessary raw material is sand, an endless resource.
The solar cell itself consists of a silicon waver and some silver, are they rare?
Figure 4: The annual production and requirement for a solar future. [1] page 135
In figure 4 we see, that silver might get a little problem, because we need an amount of silver that is produced within 30 years. It should be mentioned that new technologies of production can reduce the necessary mass of silver very strong. Other elements, like Ga are only necessary if we would use GsAs cells in our PV systems what is not widely the case. 
We conclude, the raw material is no show stopper for a PV future.

My prediction of PV growth

Compiling all this information, I come to a quite different prediction than the IEA. My simple, but till today best guess is, that the exponential growth will continue, but at a lower rate. 
Figure 5: Long term trend of PV installation.
In figure 5 we see the global installation of PV shown as a black curve in this logarithmic plot. In the year 1992, we had only 100 MW of PV installed, ten years later, 2002 it was 1000 MW, Today it is about 200 000 MW!
If the growth rate continues at 25%, as seen within the last three years, we will reach 100% PV not long after the year 2030. Remember, today we have a global power plant pool of 5300 000 MW, sufficient to power half the world. Even if we expect, that the future is fair to all people, we need "only" 10 000 000 MW to bring electricity in every home on this planet, long before 2050.  

One problem remains: Storage

Without an affordable storage system, PV can only bring electricity during sunny daytime. For a complete conversion, we need about 90 000 GWh of storage [2].
One solution for residential systems may be the power wall from Tesla, but I am not convinced, that this makes sense on a large scale. For large scale, I recommend the Hydraulic Rock Storage!


[1] The Future of Solar Energy, 2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ISBN (978-0-928008-9-8)
[2] Elon Musk predicts (minute 18) during the presentation of the power wall 90 000 GWh of required storage.

Samstag, 28. Februar 2015

PV Price in the Future

Massive Price Drop in PV Systems

The future will be solar, if the price of photostatic (PV) systems drops. There is a new research result about the future pf the PV price online, done by Fraunhofer ISE [1], that gives surprising insights. I will discuss the results in this blogpost.

Learning from past experience

The first silicon PV cell date back to 1950s and since the 1980s there is a global market and production worth mentioning. Since then, the price of PV cells was constantly dropping. The interesting thing is, there is a mathematical law, that describes this drop. To keep it short, this law tells us, that every time, the production of PV doubled, the price felt about 20%. 

The actual development is shown in the graphic:

Developement of PV module price since 1980 [1]

To understand this plot, be aware, the right axis is the accumulated produced capacity of PW measured in GW. It starts with 0.001 GW (=1 MW) and ends with 100.000 GW. To cover this very wide range, the scale is logarithmic. The first price tag dates back to 1980, were we had to pay more than 20 € per watt. The price is adjusted for inflation to the level of 2014, an exchange rate of  one Euro gives 1.25 $ is in use. The last price tag is for 2014 and is in the range of 0.5 € to 0.7 € for large scale PV power plants. 

Learning Curve

It is not surprising, that the actual price in different years is not always precise on the long term trend curve, that shows a drop of 20,9% per year, due to market effects. 

The big question is, how will this learning curve develop in the future? There are three scenarios, a very conservative one, that tells us, only 19% drop with another doubling of the installed PV base, a medium scenario with 20.9% drop and a progressive one with 23%. However, the result will always be a sharp drop of the PV panel price, if the installed base grows in the future. 

Below a price of 0.2 €/W, there seems to be another limitation by the pure raw material cost. To me´, this limitation seems a little bit artificial, because the price of this raw materials, like silicon or glass, could also drop if the production volume grows far beyond todays volume. 

It should be mentioned, that a capacity of 100.000 GW PV installation is equivalent to a surface of one million square kilometers, this is the size of a country like Egypt or Texas and California combined!

How expensive is electricity in the future?

The price of a PV panel is not the only part of the cost drivers in solar power. To break the price down to a kWh of electricity at the grid feed in, we have to include other cost drivers. 

Price of different elements for real world PV grid-scale sites. [1]

The first surprising thing is, that the PV-modules are no longer the main cost driver, as shown in the figure above. The cost of mounting, connecting and planning top already this cost. The paper from ISE does not cover "Red tape", this will hopefully drop in the future, but nobody knows.

Another significant part of the cost drivers are the inverter, they produce AC current from the DC current, generated by the PV cell. The price of this inverter follows a similar law of price drop by market volume as the PV panels.

Price per kWh

To calculate the price of a kWh of electricity itself, we have to take the solar radiation and the capital cost into account. There is a calculation method, the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE). It includes capital cost and maintenance of the PV power site. If you are a geek, you can do the math with the following formula:

Calculation of the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE). [1]

The interesting result is, that one of the main factors for electricity from PV is not only the sun, but the interest or discount rate. Today, we live in a world with very different interest rates. A strange effect is, if we look at the globe, the countries with high insolation have often very high interest rates. For example, Germany has a low insolation but also a low interest rate, Spain has a relative high insolation but a significant higher interest rate. The result is, the price of PV energy is much more similar as we first guess.

PV power price depends on cost of capital. [1]

Long term development

To look into the future beyond 2020 is very difficult, but the gathered information gives us some hints. The first thing is, PV electricity price will drop due to the learning effect resulting from the growing market. The market is growing, because PV electricity gets cheaper and is competitive to all other electric power sources. The long term price in the scenario of ISE is in the range of  2 ct/kWh. 
The share of the market will be beyond 30% in 2050. 

But there is a obstacle on the path to solar. The sun shines only at daytime and only if there are no clouds. This results in a strong request for energy storage. One solution is the new concept of Hydraulic Rock Storage (HRS) as developed by the Heindl Energy in Germany. 

Energy storage using the Hydraulic Rock Storage. [2]

Combining a cheap storage with a storage price of 3 ct/kWh and PV in the range of 2 ct/kWh gives a long term price for electricity over the whole day, only a fraction is stored, for less than 5 ct/kWh in most regions of the world.


[1] Fraunhofer ISE (2015): Current and Future Cost of Photovoltaics. Long-term Scenarios for Market Development, System Prices and LCOE of Utility-Scale PV Systems. Study on behalf of Agora Energiewende.
[2] Heindl Energy, Hydraulic Rock Storage, 

Samstag, 27. Dezember 2014

Is the Hydrogen age rising?

Hydrogen or Electricity

Hydrogen seems to be the perfect energy carrier. Everything from heating, moving with a car and chemical processing should be powered by hydrogen. The idea of the hydrogen age is quite old and dates back to 19th century, when the great science fiction writer Jule Verne published 1874 the idea, that in the future, hydrogen will power everything we need.
"And what will they burn instead of coal?"
"Water," replied Harding.
"Water!" cried Pencroft, "water as fuel for steamers and engines! water to heat water!"
"Yes, but water decomposed into its primitive elements," replied Cyrus Harding, " Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island , 1874 [1]
Hydrogen was used for the first time to fill balloons (Source: Wikipedia)

Why are we still in the electricity age?

Electricity seems to be one of the greatest innovations, mankind ever made. Electricity has some advantages, which other technologies do not even come close to. Let me list some of them:
  • Speed of light: Electricity travels with the speed of light, and can be transmitted theoretically within a tenth of a second around the globe
  • No mass transportation involved: To transport electricity, we don't need to build trucks, railways or ships, because there is no mass during transportation present
  • Almost no conversion loss: To convert electricity into mechanical energy there is almost no loss, the efficiency in a modern electric motor is significantly higher than 90%
  • Multiple applications: Motion, light, information processing, heat, chemical reaction, sound, and unlimited other applications can be driven by electricity
  • No emission: This is a statement about electricity itself, not about the production of electricity.
  • Simple distribution even to the smallest applications with simple wires
  • No risk of explosion
Although the list of advantages is impressive, there is a hard problem remaining with electricity, and this is storage!

We have seen 100 years of research, but only a limited number of efficient storage concepts for electricity are available. Bulk storage is covered by pumped hydro systems, converting electrical energy into gravitational potential energy with a high efficiency of 80% during a roundtrip. Pumped hydro is therefore the absolutely preferred technology, when large amounts (GWh) of grid power have to be stored, in simple words 99% of grid storage is pumped hydro based. 

Small amounts of electricity in mobile devices from smartphone up to electric vehicles are powered by batteries of different types, preferred Li-Ion batteries.

Here comes Hydrogen

Every new concept of energy carrier needs at least some advantages over the previous one. Hydrogen has a big advantage, it is a storage concept for energy by itself. 

One kilogram of hydrogen contains 33 kWh of energy, if it is converted to water and we use the oxygen of the air and don't count the weight of the air. This number is the highest for any chemical, this is three times more energy than one liter diesel contains. But there is a problem, hydrogen is the gas with the least density, useful for balloons and Zeppelins. One liter of hydrogen at normal pressure contains only 0,003 kWh of energy and this is, without any discussion, insufficient for any application.

There are three ways to enhance the energy density of hydrogen per volume:
  • Pressurize: Typical modern storage systems have 700 Bar pressure (1,5 kWh/l)
  • Liquidity: At a temperature of -252 °C hydrogen gets liquid (2,8 kWh/l)
  • Hide in metals: some metals suck up hydrogen in their crystal grid 
All these techniques ad some significant weight and cost to the hydrogen and in addition it costs some energy to reach the dense state of the hydrogen. Typical loss is about 10% of the energy by the pressurizatio or cooling process.

In summary, storage of hydrogen is expensive but not prohibitively expensive.

Conversion to Hydrogen 

Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source as often cited. There is just no significant amount of free hydrogen on earth, so hydrogen has to be produced. The standard process of hydrogen production is steam reforming, using natural gas to produce hydrogen. This is by no means a sustainable solution.

To produce hydrogen for a sustainable energy future, it has to be produced with electricity from wind or solar sources. This is possible, but expensive. The core problem is, an electrolytic process, that disintegrates water molecules to hydrogen and oxygen by its very nature produces oxygen. We like oxygen for breathing, but metals don't, they imitatively corrode if oxygen and water are present. To get rid of this problem, we have to use noble metals like platinum or palladium and they are expensive.
Modern electrolytic cell for hydrogen production (Source: Wikipedia)
Another big problem is, the conversion of electricity energy into hydrogen comes not without losses. Depending on the details of the process, we end up at 20-30% loss of energy, a significant problem.

Distribution of Hydrogen

Transportation of hydrogen is preferably done by gas pipelines. A well known technology from natural gas, although not with the same efficiency, due to the very low density of the energy in even compressed hydrogen gas. Another problem is, hydrogen is a very small molecule that can travel even trough metal grids, so special care is necessary to use the right materials. 

Today, no country has a large hydrogen pipeline grid, resulting in the problem, it has to be built from scratch. And a pipeline grid is very expensive!

Using Hydrogen

At the end of the pipe, hydrogen has to be used in power consuming applications. The simple way to use it, is to burn hydrogen. It generates clean heat, only water is emitted into the air. Sounds perfect, but it doesn't make any sense, because using the electricity that generated the hydrogen could have been used in a radiator, this would be not only more energy efficient, it is also less dangerous.

Hydrogen engine in a BMW (source Wiki

Cars can use hydrogen as clean fuel. A slightly modified combustion engine can burn hydrogen, emitting water and some toxic nitrogen oxides, therefore we still need a catalyst at the exhaust pipe.
Another problem is the very low efficiency of a combustion engine, somewhere at 25% of the energy in the hydrogen reaches the road to accelerate the car. Resulting in a very low overall efficiency if we start with electricity. Compare this result to a Li-Ion battery, where about 90% of the energy reaches the road and as a bonus, we can reuse the energy when we brake to charge the battery again!

Another idea is, to convert the hydrogen back to electricity, whenever needed. This is possible, using a fuel cell. The sad thing about this part is, it comes again with high cost due to the expensive precious metals and with more loss of energy during conversion.

Is Hydrogen the Future?

Summing up all this points, today, an electric grid in combination with pumped hydro and batteries in mobile applications seems to be the better solution for the rising age of the renewable energy world.
But there is always research and no one can predict, if there is a breakthrough in technology. But this is not only true for hydrogen technologies, it is also true for batteries, pumped storage, e.g. the Hydraulic Rock Storage seems to be one, and many other technologies.  

Comment by Elon Musk to hydrogen

Confusing Hydrogen and Hydrogen

It should be mentioned, that there is a technology of nuclear fusion, using hydrogen to produce nuclear power. This path of research was not very promising till today, although a new interesting path, low energy nuclear reaction, commonly known as cold fusion might be a very disruptive technology, but this is another story.


[1] Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island, part 2, chapter 11, 1874

Freitag, 27. Juni 2014

Cold Fusion fake or fact

Cold Fusion  Fact or Fiction?

Cold Fusion (LENR) as a scientific problem

In 1989, there was next to the revolutions in Eastern Europe, an observation of Pones and Fleischmann that could extend far beyond the date. Excess heat at a palladium cathode was created and interpreted as a sign of the energy release resulting from the fusion of deuterium. This observation was announced on March 23, 1989 in a press conference. 

Why is this observation of such importance

At least since the droppings of the atomic bombs everyone knows that nuclear energy can release extremely large amounts of energy and can also be destructive. In the "Atoms for Peace" speech by President D.D. Eisenhower, a research program was initiated to construct nuclear reactors to produce energy from uranium in large quantities. Ultimately, this technology has significant side effects, particularly long-lasting results, radioactive substances (final storage), the reactor may melt (worst case scenario) and the technology is suitable in principle for the development of nuclear weapons (proliferation). Therefore, the development of nuclear energy in the version of nuclear fission has come to an almost complete stop.
Wendelstein 7 experiment in Germany using temperatures above 10 million °C to analyse "hot" fusion.
The energy of the atomic nuclei can also by fusing of hydrogen, specifically deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, release extraordinarily much energy. The waste product is helium, a completely harmless gas. Science is trying hard to produce nuclear fusion for over fifty years, unfortunately so far without visible success. The main problems lie in the extremely high temperature, several 10 million degrees Celsius, the elaborate reactor construction with considerable problems by neutrons and thus radioactivity as well as problems of energy, if it ever occurs, because the dissipate process is far from easy.
The absolute silver bullet would be a catalyst that merges two deuterium atoms into helium, thereby releasing heat energy, but not emitting radioactive radiation. Just that would be cold nuclear fusion, the perfect power source. Since deuterium is present in very larger amounts in normal water, there are no resource problems, no waste problems, no size limitation of the reactors. A range from a few watts to gigawatts could be possible, thus the perfect power source!
With such a power source all the classic energy sources from coal to oil as well as wind and solar energy would no longer be necessary. Including the infrastructure such as power grids, gas stations, storage and the like. 

The observation problem

Modern science is based on a simple principle, someone makes a discovery, publishes this discovery, others reconstruct the experiment and confirm or refute the observation. In the case of cold fusion, the sequence is unfortunately difficult. This is due to a fact that scientists Pones and Fleischmann did not take the traditional route to publication, they have chosen the path of a press conference. That did leave the taste of dubious at least.
In the second phase, the experiment was even by Pones and Fleischmann not direct reproducible. There is a lack of, at least at that time, the expected neutron radiation and in particular the generation of heat. Within a few months the topic was done and could actually disappear in the archives of science.
A particular problem was, that the Department of Energy (DOE) described in a report [in the fall of 1989, 1]
" Others, however, report excess heat production and either no fusion products or fusion products at a level well below that implied by reported heat production."  
The interesting part of that sentence is, that heat production was found, but the theoretical explanation was not possible, suggesting, that the fact of heat production did not exist. This is a curious situation in science, that some experiments, not aligned with the current theory are rejected simply by the result! 
The DOE continues with "... Hence, we recommend against the establishment of special programs or research centers to develop cold fusion...", sorry, the results are against the current theory, we don't fund such stuff.
It is a deep problem of science, on the one hand one can never disprove an experiment, due to open problems in using the exact same material and procedure, it can only be show that it is reproduce able in the best case. This corresponds, in a modification, to the Popper's principle, that, while falsify is simple, verification is in theory impossible.

Why Cold Fusion should be impossible

The nuclear physics and solid state physics, both based on quantum mechanics, are well-developed theories of physics. 
The following facts play an important role for the evaluation of cold nuclear fusion.
  1. Atomic nuclei are positively charged and therefore repel each other. For a fusion these rejection needs to be overcome, using a energy corresponding to a temperature of about 100 million degrees. 
  2. With the fusion of deuterium to helium energy of 27 MeV, emitted as a gamma ray, should be visible. Such a radiation has never been observed.
  3. Chemical catalysts can lower the energy barrier, but the changes are in the range of chemical bonding forces, these are a million times smaller than the nuclear forces.
The behavior of matter, especially in crystals, is anything but easy to understand. Again and again, effects that are not expected surprise physicists. As two examples out of many, I will introduce the Mössbauer effect and the discovery of high-temperature superconductor. In the Mössbauer effect, a gamma decay of the atomic nucleus happens, the momentum is directly released into the crystal lattice, one would have expected that the atomic nucleus flies away, taking the momentum with it. Rudolf Mössbauer, the discoverer of the effect, found a theoretical description that explains the effect. 
High temperature superconductors are far above the temperature, described by the theoretical limit of the well known BCS theory, without electrical resistance. The exact reason is unfortunately still not fully understood.

Observed facts

helium development

Notably, the observation of cold fusion begins in 1926! The German scientist Fritz Paneth and Kurt Peters report on the transformation of hydrogen with the aid of a palladium catalyst to form helium [3].They go very well into the questions of possible error sources and also calculate the heat.
The first observation of cold fusion back in the year 1926 [3]
They also investigate whether there is radioactive radiation which is not proved successfully. It should be noted that this was done prior to the establishment of the quantum mechanics. Due to the small amount of helium, 10E-7 cc, economical conversion to helium production is not pursued. This article is so far harmless, since he obviously has no interests other than purely scientific reporting.


Leaving the experiment of pones and Fleischmann first unconsidered, we found in the literature numerous indications where palladium cathodes together with deuterium release a surprising excess heat. I quote from the report of the European Commission: "The main task was to demonstrate, on the basis of signals well above the measurement uncertainties and with a cross check, the existence of the excess of heat production during electrochemical loading of deuterium in palladium cathodes. The target was achieved and the existence of the effect is no longer in doubt." [2] emphasis added by author. This statement is very remarkable, in particular it is clear that there is definitely an excess of heat. The source of the heat, due to the amount far beyond any known chemical reaction, can only be from nuclear origin.

material ejection

The occurrence of material ejection in palladium, which is loaded with deuterium, is another strange observation [4]. An examination under the electron microscope of a palladium cathode, as Jacques Ruer has analysed when it came to unusual heat, shows clearly small craters. See picture.
Five micrometer crater in palladium, what generated this artefact? [4]

How do these craters exactly develop is unclear, an estimate in his article suggests selective high heat up to temperatures beyond 20,000 °C. It is very difficult to imagine an effect that is based on chemical reaction to produce such a local high energy density. 


The observation of neutrons is a notoriously difficult problem, because neutrons are neutral and therefore do not cause ionization. To observe neutrons, one must observe a nuclear reaction of neutrons. For example, a carbon-12 nucleus decays into three alpha particles by capture of a neutron. There are special detector substances, such as CR-39 doing this.
Detected neutrons in a cold fusion experiment. Source: P.A. Mosier Boss [5]

PA Mosier-Boss has a CR-39 detector mounted on a palladium cathode and observed after two weeks, several neutrons with an energy above 9.6 MeV [5]. This can be seen in the graph above: You always see a point, from where three "lobes" emerge, these are the three alpha-particles. The two left columns are from an experiment of cold nuclear fusion, the two right-hand columns show the same detector substance as measured in a well known neutron source. Obviously no difference can be seen between cold fusion neutrons and "normal" neutrons. However, the neutron flux is extremely low, this can only be a sub-branch of the reaction.

Problems for physics

Following the previous observations, and I find it very difficult to stamp all those experiments with the simple word "fraud", there is obviously a phenomenon that is not understood to date.
This is by no means unusual in physics, as already indicated, the high-temperature superconductivity (HTSC), or the exact way in which a lithium battery works, are not fully understood. Noteworthy is the surprising resistance of scientists over this discovery. Why accept the reference magazines nature and science no paper which report cold nuclear fusion experiments and deliver positive results? Negative results are regularly adopted.
For a research program, it would be important to clarify the key question, how are the reaction details of cold fusion. With today's technical resources, it was possible to prove the Higgs particle, I find it very hard to believe that this could not quickly succeed in the area of cold fusion, if sufficient resources are provided. 
There are now some good theoretical approaches, such as Peter Hagelstein at MIT who tried to clarify the energy transfer of 27 MeV in the crystal lattice. Those who are interested, view MIT Colloquium ColdFusion / LENR IAP  online (Note the list of speakers).


After a review of the raw material prices, I noticed that the palladium price increases regardless of the gold and platinum prices for some time. As an explanation, I suggest, the reason could be that some hard facts for cold nuclear fusion were encountered. Refer to blog post (German).
The price of palladium, red line, is now decoupled from gold and platin prices. source: 

Being a very skeptical scientist, I read some papers on the subject available to me and I am now convinced that the phenomenon of low temperature nuclear reaction (LTNR) exists. 
However, this means that the global power supply can potentially take a completely different direction in the near future, as we all have previously believed. 
I want to take this opportunity deliberately not to spread too much euphoria, since many aspects are unclear:

  • Is it possible to build inexpensive palladium reactors?
  • If the catalyst is so rapidly destroyed (cratering) that a deployment is ultimately uneconomical?
  • Are there companies aware of the development and try to slow down the cold fusion developement? 
Obviously there is a massive need for research, as many questions remain unanswered and the potential benefit in the success would be almost immeasurable. 

Notice: Who holds the opposite opinion, can read the contribution of publicly funded Germany Radio. You can find the article here . There are surprisingly many informations from the year 1989, although it was presented in 2014, why did they not address the current state of research, this remains a mystery to me.


[2] European Comission, Materials for Emerging  Energy Technologies , 2012, page 23
[3] Fritz Paneth and Kurt Peters (1926). " About the transformation of hydrogen into helium . " Natural Sciences 14 (43): 956-962.
[4] Jacques Ruer,  Simulation of Crater Formation on Surfaces LENR Cathodes , J. Condensed Matter Nucl. Sci. 12 (2013) 54-68