China’s Plans for an International Power Grid
We have previously discussed the fact that China is aggressively pushing for leadership in the electric vehicle (EV) market, with over 50% of EV’s globally in China. Part of that is out of necessity. If you have visited Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong, you have experienced first-hand the yellow, sulfurous haze that chokes the air for most of the year. Part of that is also a long-term plan to become the Detroit of the 21st Century.
Another expression of China’s long-term economic perspective is its plans to create an inter-continental electric power supply. The most efficient electric storage “battery” is a dam and China has been building dams through Western China and South East Asia, especially in countries like Laos. As a result, there is a glut of potential energy stored in locations far from where that power is most needed—the East Coast of China. China has been connecting dams to power users thousands of miles apart using ultra high-voltage cable technology (UHV) allowing power to be transmitted cheaply over large distances. Backed by China’s President as a national strategy, China is attempting to build an international power grid. While this is clearly designed from a commercial perspective, China also sees the soft power implications of supplying a product that is a necessity to so many people.
China’s state power company, State Grid, is leading the effort, in conjunction with other arms of the Chinese government and industry. Chinese companies have built or purchased power transmission infrastructure in 83 countries across Latin America, Africa, and Europe, totaling $102 bn. The addition of loans from Chinese companies brings the total to $123 bn. Add up all the power related investments overseas in both grid infrastructure and power plants and the total reaches $452 bn over the last five years alone. The vision of State Grid is an interconnected “internet” power grid with, for example, power generated by a hydro facility in the Congo and delivered to Europe at less than half of the cost of current domestic power generation. It is a grand vision with a number of technological, political and environmental barriers. However, China has enormous experience with large infrastructure project and project planning on a large-scale. It also has the technological lead over Western competitors with UHV transmission. It also has the backing of China’s President and access to enormous financial resources including China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China. Financial Times (subscription required: “China eyes role as world’s power supplier”.)
Solid State Batteries (a continuing story)
Moving from Chinese innovation to US innovators, we have on a few occasions discussed the potential breakthrough in battery technology represented by the promise of the solid-state battery. The indefatigable 95 year old chemist and the inventor of the lithium-ion battery, John Goodenough, whose name alone must present one of the greatest (and probably the only) ironic jokes in chemistry, published a paper in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society with the catchy title “Nontraditional, Safe, High Voltage Rechargeable Cells of Long Cycle Life. JACS (“Nontraditional, Safe, High Voltage Rechargeable Cells of Long Cycle Life”.) While the title might not be the most exciting in the world and to spare you the delight of reading the actual paper, we have summarized the main claims for their battery breakthrough:
Solid State: no liquid electrolyte which is responsible for the fire hazard of lithium-ion (i.e. why you can’t leave lithium-ion batteries in your checked luggage);
Greater Energy Density: More storage capacity and faster charging times;
No Cobalt: Necessary to liquid lithium-ion, this expensive metal has all but been cornered by the Chinese and its price has increased exponentially;
23,000 Charge cycles: vs. circa 1,000 for current rechargeable batteries. The battery would outlast the car. Interestingly, the capacity of the battery improves over cycles (the opposite of every other rechargeable battery)
Perhaps just a brief quote from the paper to whet your appetite:
"A slow motion at room temperature of the electric dipoles in the Li+-glass electrolyte increases with time the electric field across the EDLC of the anode/Li+-glass interface to where Li+ from the glass electrolyte is plated on the anode without being replenished from the cathode, which charges the Li+-glass electrolyte negative and consequently the glass side of the Li+-glass/plasticizer EDLC."
It seems that Chemists are not big into punctuation.
Of course, there a number of skeptics questioning these findings. It is unclear from the paper if the battery is able to retain its charge once unplugged (that would be a problem). The paper’s claims represent the highest ever recorded energy levels stored in a material. It also seems odd that the capacity of the battery would improve with the number of charge cycles. AXIOS (“1 big thing: Demand signal for self-driving”.)
John Goodenough, who is still revolutionizing battery storage at 95:
$1.29 bn Investment by California, New York, and New Jersey
With the EPA trying to hold back the tide, King Canute style, and boost coal production, King Coal style, many states have decided to take the initiative to move away from the internal combustion engine (“ICE”). Apart from filing various lawsuits against the EPA, California has also announced a $738 bn investment in projects that promote EV’s, including charging infrastructure. Not to be outdone, New York and New Jersey also announced a combined $550 investment program of their own in electric charging stations. CNET (“California, New York, New Jersey make a $1.29 billion investment in EVs”.)
It is likely that the inflection point for EV’s over ICE’s will come when the price for an EV, without state and federal incentives and tax breaks, falls below ICE’s—generally predicted to be around 2023-25. However, if you talk to people who own an EV, what you come away with is that they are simply a better technology. With only a few moving parts they do not require the regular trip to, and cost of, a service center. With a low center of gravity and the acceleration of a sports car, they are fun to drive. And with no engine or transmission hump, they offer designers a revolutionary design opportunity. For example, the much-anticipated Jaguar electric SUV—the I-Pace—has the external dimensions of a Porsche Macan but the interior space of Jaguar’s current largest car, the long wheelbase version of the XJ Sedan. ARS Technica (“Change like we’ve not seen in decades”—high-end auto designers go electric.)
The Jaguar I-Pace SUV:
This all leads us to see a near future where you may plug your Jaguar I-Pace into a US made charger, in part funded by the State of New Jersey, located along a German autobahn, to recharge a battery designed at the University of Texas, using a payment software written in Singapore, and drawing on electricity generated at a hydroelectric dam in Laos, which was built and financed by the Chinese government. As President Trump heads to a likely contentious G7 summit in Canada, hopefully someone is explaining to him that trade policy “can be complicated!”
We always like to end the newsletter with a bit of car bling. This week, Maserati finally announced they were jumping into the EV revolution. While the Alfieri was first announced as concept in 2014, Maserati’s CEO surprised the market with an announcement that the Alfieri would be all electric: