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An electronic microscope image of the rod-like nanoparticles formed by the microwave production method. They perform extremely well in low discharge scenarios, but are being tweaked after disappointing performance in rapid discharge scenarios.  (Source: Arumugam Manthiram, University of Texas at Austin )
Could an affordable electronic car be in the future?

Lithium-ion batteries are in high demand, seeing strong growth in the consumer electronics, power tools, and automotive industry.  Lithium-ion batteries are prized for their outstanding energy-to-weight ratios, their lack of memory effect, and their slower charge loss rate than other battery technologies.

The technology is particularly critical to the budding electric car business.  With such companies as Dyson, GM, and Lightning Car Company using the batteries in their upcoming commercial releases the future of the electric car in the short term is riding on lithium-ion technology. 

Unfortunately, the costs of lithium-ion batteries are currently quite high.  An analyst estimated that the much-anticipated Chevy Volt's battery pack would cost nearly $10,000; about a fourth of the total projected cost.  The pressing demand from a variety of industries has fueled lithium-ion prices to rise even higher.

Fortunately relief is in sight, thanks to a processing breakthrough from University of Texas at Austin.  The researchers found a way to possibly transform the long and complicated baking process involved in one of the more common lithium-ion battery materials into a quick and easy process.

Originally, most lithium-ion batteries used lithium cobalt oxide.  Most of the computer industry still relies on this material; however, the automotive industry has turned to lithium iron phosphate, which is considered more attractive as iron is cheaper than cobalt.  It is also safer than the more fire-prone lithium cobalt oxide, and is capable of being crafted to release charge faster.  A downside is it stores slightly less charge.

Companies have invested big in developing and bringing lithium iron phosphate to the market.  A123 Systems, the Watertown, MA startup that is manufacturing the Chevy Volt's battery, has already commercially offered lithium iron phosphate batteries for power tools.  It has managed to raise $148M USD in investment capital to help fund its efforts.

With current technology, the biggest downside to the lithium iron phosphate is the manufacturing.  Currently, the process takes hours of baking at temperatures in excess of 700 °C.  The extra manpower and effort required due to this has meant that Lithium iron phosphate batteries, which should from a materials perspective be much cheaper than lithium cobalt oxide, are actually more expensive than their competitor.

Led by Professor Arumugam Manthiram, a U of T professor of materials engineering, the researchers at U of T examined how a microwave could be used to speed the cooking process.  The results were dramatic.

The team first mixed conventional materials -- lithium hydroxide, iron acetate, and phosphoric acid -- in a solvent.  They then popped the mixture in the microwave for about five minutes, which heated the mix to about 300 °C. 

The process yielded high performing rod shaped nanoparticles of lithium iron phosphate.  The best nanoparticles were found to be approximately 100 nm long and just 25 nm wide.  The small size allows the ion exchange to be performed more easily.  The finished particles were then covered with an electrically conductive polymer doped with sulfonic acid to improve performance.

The new particles performed extremely well in low-discharge scenarios.  The material achieved a capacity of 166 milliamp hours per gram, amazingly close to the 170 milliamp hours per gram theoretical capacity.  High discharge scenarios were not so friendly to the new material, but Professor Manthiram says that will be fixable.  He says new versions have already shown improvement in this metric.

It is unclear exactly how much will be saved using the new method.  With the short time higher production should be possible, and the lower temperatures will reduce energy demands, both effects that should help to lower the cost of production.  Some are skeptical, though; whether the material will save much at all.  Stanley Whittingham a professor of chemistry, materials science, and engineering at the State University of New York, at Binghamton warns that the savings may be offset by the polymer cost and the cost of the changes necessary to the production.

Professor Manthiram is also exploring other lithium ion materials and has developed two key improvements on other materials.  He is working with an Austin, TX based startup, ActaCell to commercialize his tech.  The startup has licensed some of his technology with the help of the $5.58M USD in startup funds in has raised, but declined to specify which technologies or whether the new lithium iron phosphate production technology had been licensed yet.

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By PresidentThomasJefferson on 8/1/2008 4:51:32 PM , Rating: 1

2) Even as recently as 2 yrs ago, oil company was planning to SHUT DOWN ANOTHER OIL REFINERY IN BAKERSFIELD, CALIF but Democrats intervened to stop it from shutting down (it was sold to anther buyer..oil company said it couldn't find a buyer --Democrats found a buyer in 2 days)

as for what's really causing the speculatin in oil (as well as other commodities -investors are diverting/bailing out of the housing market & stocks & into commodities like oil instead --as to why it's worse:

1) The Republicans in 2001 deregulated commodities trading.. allowingeveryone to bid on oil prices (not just people who were actually goingto use the oil).. this allows the current speculation on oil & it's 400%+ rise into $140+ dollars a barrel ..also note that 90% of Exxon'srecord $40 billion in yearly profit(over $36 billion) goes towardsbuying up their own shares to drive up share prices INSTEAD ofcapital/exploration/production/research&developme nt)The Republicans in 2001 deregulated commodities trading.. allowingeveryone to bid on oil prices (not just people who were actually goingto use the oil).. this allows the current speculation on oil & it's300%+ rise into $140+ dollars a barrel ..also note that 90% of Exxon'srecord $40 billion in yearly profit(over $36 billion) goes towardsbuying up their own shares to drive up share prices INSTEAD ofcapital/exploration/production/research&developme nt)

2) McCain's economic adviser & biggest supporter Senator Phil Gram led the legislation that deregulated &repealed the 1934 Glass-Steagull Act that previoulsy prohibited FDIC-insured commercial banks from merging with non-FDIC-insured investment banks in investing in CDOs/risky loans/bonds/derivatives/speculation, etc --the resultant mess & bailouts will cost taxpayers hundreds of billions..while their Republican CEO's still make millions.

ALL OF WHICH ARE FAILED REPUBLICAN/DEREGULATION POLICIES THAT BENEFIT WEALTHY WALLST SPECULATORS/INVESTORS/CEO but let's middle-America & the taxpayers footing the bill & their multimillions in profit & salary ion

Senate Curbs Oil Speculation
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July 22nd, 2008
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Submitted by Staff— Congressional Democrats who want to lower gas prices by curbingspeculation in oil futures saw their legislation survive a key vote inthe Senate. GOP lawmakers are seeking a vote on lifting a longstandingmoratorium on oil and gas exploration in the U.S. outer-continentalshelf.

Speculation in the oil futures markets has exploded over thepast few years, ever since a Republican-led Congress changed the rules so anyone could buy oil futures — not just those who actually intended to use that oil. As a result, the number of futures contracts hasincreased nearly 12-fold since 2001. Democrats cite estimates thatspeculation is responsible for between 20 and 50 percent of the recentspike in oil prices.

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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