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Can Nanotechnology Improve Lithium-ion Batteries to Make a Difference for Electric Vehicles?

NRC report indicates that the life-cycle costs to health and the environment of EVs may be just as high as those of gas-powered vehicles well into the future

2 min read
Can Nanotechnology Improve Lithium-ion Batteries to Make a Difference for Electric Vehicles?

I have carefully followed the nanotechnology-related developments for improving Li-ion batteries for use in mobile phones and other gadgets. However, I have been less enthusiastic about the prospects of nanotechnology in improving Li-ion batteries for use in electric vehicles (EVs).

My skepticism was initially tickled by John Petersen over at Alt Energy Stocks, whom I have referred to before in this blog, and who has new ammunition in his running doubt on the future of Li-ion batteries in EVs

It seems Mr. Petersen has never been convinced that EVs powered by Li-ion batteries, nano-enabled or otherwise, were really the wave of the future. He got further confirmation of his doubts when he came across a free 2010 report from the National Research Council entitled “Hidden Costs of Energy, Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use.” 

According to Petersen, the report takes a life-cycle approach to looking at the total cost of 13 different methods of powering vehicles, ranging from the internal combustion engine to Li-ion battery powered cars.

It turns out when you look at the full life cycle they’re all about the same in terms of “health, climate and other unpriced damages that arise from the use of various energy sources for electricity, transportation, and heat.” And this is not just for now but for 20 years into the future, when the technologies for things like Li-ion batteries are supposed to improve dramatically.

Petersen’s article is targeted for investors and as such discusses some of the ideas that have been investment darlings at one time or another in the Li-ion battery technology sweepstakes, such as Ener1, A123 Systems, Altair Nanotechnologies, and Valence Technologies (VLNC). He goes further to warn of dark days for the EV manufacturer Tesla:

“Lithium-ion battery developers have already taken it on the chin, and there's no question in my mind that Tesla will be the next domino to fall. Its demise is every bit as predictable and certain as Ener1's was.” 

Just so it’s clear, I am all in favor of EVs and for having them replace vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, but it just is not clear that Li-ion batteries with incremental improvements brought on by nanotechnology will be the power source for them.

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3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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