The Buzz Over New Battery Technology... And The Questions Raised By Its Patents

from the aren't-patents-supposed-to-tell-you-how-these-things-work dept

The Associated Press is running a story that's getting some buzz about the venture capital-backed secretive startup EEStor, who claims to have created a technology that can replace electrochemical batteries for things like automobiles. According to the article, if the technology worked as planned, it could mean the ability to create an electric car that would need a five minute charge and could then run for 500 miles without gasoline. Impressive, right? But, the claims seem so outlandish that they certainly should raise the inner skeptic in many people. The technology could very well be real, but there should be a bit more proof before everyone just believes it. And reports of delays in getting the technology to actually work are hardly confidence boosting.

However, what's most interesting about the AP coverage is that it focuses in so much on the patent that EESTor holds on this technology. However, it does quote a few skeptics who question whether or not anyone can actually make what's described in the patent work. That's should (once again) highlight how pointless these types of patents are. People often point (mistakenly) to the benefits of patents "disclosing" new technologies -- and, indeed, the point of patent disclosure is to reveal the idea to the level that someone skilled in that field can use the patent to recreate the invention described. However, in these days of overly broad or speculative patents, it's quite rare that a patent provides the information needed to actually create what's claimed -- and that's clearly the case with EEStor's technology. Since no one, not even EEStor or its partners, seems to be able to actually make the technology do what the patent claims it can do, shouldn't that call into question the validity of the patent itself?


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    Sanguine Dream, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 9:56am

    And the reason for that...


    However, in these days of overly broad or speculative patents, it's quite rare that a patent provides the information needed to actually create what's claimed -- and that's clearly the case with EEStor's technology.


    The reason these patents are so broad is so that the patent holder can lay claim to ANYONE who uses ANY MEANS to create ANYTHING that can be even remotely related to said broad patent. Patents these days aren't about protecting your proven method of performing a task, they are about laying claim to the task itself.

     

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    Clueby4, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 9:59am

    Wait what?

    So wait I could submit a Patent on say; extracting partially digested cookies from the cookie monster and it would be granted?!?

     

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    RandomThoughts, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 10:03am

    The article focuses on the patent because the company wouldn't talk to the AP.

    Give them time, they may be on to something. Rome wasn't built in a day.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 11:50am

      Re:

      Give them time, they may be on to something.
      Well, you know what they say, "anything is possible." But there is quite a difference between "possible" and "probable". I could go panning for gold in the water fountain and it's possible I could get rich doing so. But not very probable.

      Rome wasn't built in a day.
      I've heard that the same line from perpetual motion machine "free energy" hucksters.

       

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    The infamous Joe, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 10:19am

    Tin foil hat time!

    They're not talking to anyone about it because they don't want Big Oil to find out and assassinate everyone.

    Way to go, AP. Now it's going to sit in the Big Oil technology graveyard right next to the 100mpg combustion engine. :P

     

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    John B, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 11:00am

    Actually, people are doing this..

    As teh article states: "Joseph Perry and the other researchers he oversees at Georgia Tech have used the same material to double the amount of energy a capacitor can hold." But they've encounter some other techncial problems with the strength of the materials used. I think the justification for the vagueness of the patent is born out by Perry's statement, "They're not saying a lot about how they're making these things. With these materials (described in the patent), that is a challenging process to carry out in a defect-free fashion."

    I know you're a IPphobe, Mike, but if people/companies cannot lay claim to the intellectual property they develop, they just won't spend as much money and other resources to develop it.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 12:13pm

      Re: Actually, people are doing this..

      Actually, people are doing this..

      Yeah, like the people who patented the warp drive for starships, like on Star Trek. They claim it will really work, they just have a few "technical problems" to work out.

       

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      Vincent Clement, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 1:03pm

      Re: Actually, people are doing this..

      Develop what? Writing things down on a piece of paper is not developing something. A working prototype should be a requirement of any patent application. After all, isn't the reason that people are spending money is to create something that can be sold for a profit? If not, what is the point of spending all that money?

      As to not spending money, well the fashion industry seems to spend a lot of money on new designs each year despite not having the same protections as high-tech industries. The majority of floor space in shopping malls is dedicated to clothing. Who knew you could have a competitive sector without excessive IP control.

      The fact that they encountering technical problems should be reason enough to NOT grant a vague and broad patent.

       

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    Joe Smith, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 11:12am

    Energy budget

    According to the article, if the technology worked as planned, it could mean the ability to create an electric car that would need a five minute charge and could then run for 500 miles without gasoline. Impressive, right?

    A little back of the envelope calculation tells me you need about 50 Kilowatts to run a car. Lets suppose that the car can do fifty miles per hour using that 50 kilowatts. Then it takes ten hours to do the five hundred miles. Ignoring the second law of thermodynamics to recharge the battery in 5 minutes would require a power flow during charging equal to 50 kw x 10 hours / 5 minutes = 6 mega watts. I suspect that the local power utility would be a little bit annoyed if householders starting trying to suck 6 megawatts from the grid. Bring back the second law of thermodynamics and assume an 80% efficiency in the charge and the draw would be 7.5 megawatts with 1.5 megawatts of that being dissipated as heat - the equivalent of 15,000 x 100 watt incandescent light bulbs all cramed into a space substantially smaller than a standard car. It should be quite exciting watching the neighbor plug his car into the grid - of course you would want to be a good distance away when he did it.

     

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    BillGod, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 11:17am

    Hmmmm

    Only be able to patent things that actually can exist and work.. What a novel idea!

     

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Sep 5th, 2007 @ 12:04pm

    Re #2

    With the US patent office the way it is now? Yup, you could.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 12:11pm

    B2F

    1.21 gigawatts? 1.21 gigawatts? Great Scott!

     

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    jake, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 12:31pm

    I can't even wrap my head around why this is news

    What in the hell? Who is running the patent office? What is the point? Must...make...sense...of...stup..ahrghhg

     

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    Moderation Dude, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 12:54pm

    Hey John B

    The problem is that this kind of "work in progress" patenting does nothing but HURT the innovative process. The patent holder should be the 1st one to have a FINISHED product, not an idea on how to possibly create that finished product... If 2 companies are working on a technology, the winner of the patent should be the guy that ACTUALLY MAKES SOMETHING THAT WORKS, not the fastest guy with a pen and pad... thus forcing the guy thats actually perfecting the technology to ultimately pay the paper pusher money for an idea he couldn't finish.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 1:15pm

    Energy budget revisited

    The energy budget is critically dependent on the power estimate. The linked article on delays make it clear that while still high, the energy budget is much less daunting than in the back of the envelope calculation.

    That article mentions battery cell of 15 kWh, so the average power during charge will be 15 kW * (1h / charge time) = 15 * 12 = 180 kW for the stated 5 minutes charge time. This is still too much for residential applications, but possible for industrial type applications as far as power is concerned. The limitation will probably be the current then, the charge current would be 180 kW / Battery Voltage. Assuming say 48 V for safety reason, this gives about 4 kA at the battery poles (ouch). Note that 15 kWh also means only 1.5 kW available to power the car assuming the 10 hours drive time.

     

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      Joe Smith, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 5:13pm

      Re: Energy budget revisited

      Note that 15 kWh also means only 1.5 kW available to power the car assuming the 10 hours drive time.

      We need to remember that 1.5 kw equals approximately 2 horsepower so that will be quite the car that can travel 500 miles in ten hours with a two horsepower engine.

       

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    EE, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 1:31pm

    From an Electrical Engineer

    Being an electrical engineer I was of course interested in what the article had to say. These are a few things of interest I noted:

    1. The Achilles' heel to the electric car industry has been energy storage.
    True.

    2. By all rights, this would make internal combustion engines unnecessary.
    Exaggeration alert: It might make some internal combustion engines unnecessary, but hardly all.

    3. Clifford's company bought rights to EEStor's technology in August 2005 and expects EEStor to start shipping the battery replacement later this year for use in ZENN Motor's short-range, low-speed vehicles.
    Back-pedal-on-the-details alert: "Short-range, low-speed" isn't exactly the "500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline" usage the article started off with. Existing battery technology can do "short-range, low-speed" today.

    4. "We've been trying to make this type of thing for 20 years and no one has been able to do it," said Robert Hebner, director of the University of Texas Center for Electromechanics. "Depending on who you believe, they're at or beyond the limit of what is possible."
    Real-expert alert: These people are experts in the field and practiced in the art of critical thinking and challenging unfounded assumptions. Yet they are still skeptical of these claims.

    5. The simplest capacitors found in computers and radios hold less energy but can charge or discharge instantly.
    BS alert: This is simple not true. I only wish I could find such capacitors for my designs. They just don't exist. This really raises a big red flag in my mind about anything else the article may claim.

    6. But he said nothing close to EEStor's claim exists today.
    Pie-in-the-sky alert: They basically admit that such things do not exist. If you're going to talk about things that might exist someday, what about teleportation? You wouldn't even need a car with that. BTW, what is the patent office doing nowadays, allowing people to patent things from science-fiction?

    7. For years, EEStor has tried to fly beneath the radar in the competitive industry for alternative energy,
    No-wonder alert: That helps keep knowledgeable people from noticing and taking a critical look at their claims.

    8. ZENN Motor pays EEStor for passing milestones in the production process, and chemical researchers say the strength and functionality of this material is the only thing standing between EEStor and the holy grail of energy-storage technology.
    More-back-pedaling alert: So the material does not even function as described? That seems like a pretty big admission slipped in there.

    9. "I am skeptical but I'd be very happy to be proved wrong," Perry said.
    Me too. Just don't expect to see me putting any of my money into this.

     

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    Overcast, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 1:50pm

    Can I patent a 'teleportation' device too? So if one ever gets invented, it will be MINE!!!

    rofl


    You know, they might make a few bucks with all these scams, but people laugh so hard behind their backs... lol

    They are like big pyramid marketing rich people, who own 15 BMW's, 3 Mansions and make $24,563.35 a week from selling no-name perfumes.

    And yea, excellent post EE, lot of good observations in there.

    functionality of this material is the only thing standing between EEStor and the holy grail of energy-storage technology.

    More-back-pedaling alert: So the material does not even function as described? That seems like a pretty big admission slipped in there.


    Sadly enough, functionality of my teleportation device is the only thing holding me up!!! It don't work! lol

     

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    RandomThoughts, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 2:13pm

    When Einstein came up with his theory of relativity, no one at the time really understood the actual details. Even today, probably a handful of people really understand it. Just because "experts" don't see it doesn't mean it doesn't or won't exist.

    1500 years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the Universe. 500 years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat... and 15 minutes ago, you knew people were alone on this planet. Think about what you'll know tomorrow

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 2:32pm

      Re:

      When Einstein came up with his theory of relativity, no one at the time really understood the actual details.

      There's a big difference between a "theory" and an "invention". You can't patent a "theory", at least in theory.

      Just because "experts" don't see it doesn't mean it doesn't or won't exist.

      What's the word for seeing things that don't exist? Oh yeah, "hallucinating". And I haven't seen any experts saying that such a thing could never exist someday. Anyone who thinks they have is probably having another hallucination. Or shilling.

       

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    Larry, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 2:13pm

    Time machine patent

    We will all be able to tell when mankind makes a time machine, as they will come back here, patent it, and roll in dough when they get "back".

     

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    Matt Bennett, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 2:46pm

    Ok, disclosure aside (and the current atmosphere of patent law makes this effectively impossible) this technology (if it works/exists) is exactly the sort of thing that SHOULD get a patent.

    A) It's hard (people have been trying to make a better battery for many years), and therefore assuredly non-obvious. B) I'm betting whatever makes it work is probably deceptively simple, which would make you think it's obvious, excpet it's manifestly not, since people have been trying so long. But, it might be simple to copy. Classic case of when Patent is richly deserved.

    That is, if it's not vapporware, or forward looking patent trolling. Which sure, it could be.

     

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    barren, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 10:07am

    I think a bit is being missed here....

    Ok, I can't say if this is pure bull, just a little bull, or downright workable, I don't have the technical knowledge. What I can point out is that just about every single major breakthrough in science has had this sort of thing thrown at it from it's first public sighting to it's last days before implementation. If we were to base an idea's validity on the public outcries of other "experts" then flight, computers, electricity(I could go on), and so many others would still be myths. How about we stop knee jerking and armchair analyzing really sit down and think on this. I can already see the flaws in most of the arguments against it. It'd take to much energy to fill it in five minutes and could not be done in the consumers home...ok, so we bump it to 10 mins and make "filling stations" just as we have for gas today. A 2horsepower car is quite capable of traveling 500 miles in ten hours. It's all about gearing. Just don't expect any tire squealing or pavement scorching. Just because a thing does not fit into our scope of reality does not mean it's impossible. As for me....I have no doubt that, even if these guys haven't found the answers, the answers will be found shortly.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 10:23am

      Re: I think a bit is being missed here....

      A 2horsepower car is quite capable of traveling 500 miles in ten hours. It's all about gearing.
      You are an idiot.

       

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    Ted, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:11pm

    Patent

    Does't the Patent office require a working model to be issued a patent?

    Just curious

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 3:26pm

      Re: Patent

      Does't the Patent office require a working model to be issued a patent?
      Short answer: No.

      Longer answer: The laws requires that the invention be "reducible to practice", which means that it has to something works. But the law also requires that it be non-obvious to someone practiced in the art. The problem is that the patent office these days likes to ignore the requirements of the law and unlike the situation where you or I could be punished for ignoring the law, there is no such punishment for the patent office.

       

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    barren, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:52pm

    RE: Anonymous Coward

    Thank you for that thrilling rebuttal. I have no option but to admit defeat. When a master debater such as yourself decrees I am an idiot, there can be no arguement...I am an idiot.

    Now, will a lincoln towncar with a 2hp engine reach any sort of speed.....obviously not. However, we aren't limited by size or weight here. Especially with the materials available to us today. Once again, just because you cannot wrap your obvioulsy powerful intellect around a thing does not mean that thing is impossible.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 4:53pm

      Re: RE: Anonymous Coward

      When a master debater such as yourself decrees I am an idiot, there can be no arguement...I am an idiot. Oh no, you my friend are the master debater. I am a cunning linguist.

       

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    You are still an idiot., Sep 6th, 2007 @ 3:30pm

    Now, will a lincoln towncar with a 2hp engine reach any sort of speed.....obviously not.
    Then will it complete a 500 mile trip in 10 hours? Obviously not.

    You are still an idiot.

     

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    barren, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 3:49pm

    RE: You are still an idiot.

    I am probably wasting my time here, it's most likely that you are just trying to raise tempers and garner attention. However, on the off chance that you realy do have an IQ of 90 or less I will explain a little more.

    You don't have to use a lincoln towncar as the test vehicle, in fact, you don't have to use any production vehicle at all. That means you can make the vehicle as small and lightweight as possible, while still retaining the defining characteristics of a marketable car. Or, for children, daddy bought a little car for us, isn't it cute? Now everybody strap in, we're going for a ride!

     

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    You are still an idiot., Sep 6th, 2007 @ 4:51pm

    I am probably wasting my time here,
    Until you bother to learn what you are talking about, probably so.

     

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    Casual observer, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 11:03am

    2 hp Auto 500 Miles in 10 hours

    EEStor's ceramic ultracapacitor is a 52.2 kwh device of 300 lbs 4541 cubic inches (2.63 ft³), which supposably will make a 500 mile trip in 10 hours and then be recharged in 6 min. It has been proposed that we have only 2hp available to power this vehicle on this trip. The question is can a 2hp vehicle make a 500 mile trip in 10 hours.

    Let's make this vehicle as small and efficient as possible. We have a 300lb capacitor and about 100 lb (small person) or about a 400 lb load for the vehicle that is going to make the 500 mile trip. A 2 hp electric motor will weight about 20 lb. A gearbox to provide the required torque & speed will weight at least 50 lb. Control wiring & circuitry will weigh about another 30 lb and 8x5 tire & rims (16 " tall) at 20 lb each. This means the frame & suspension system will need to accommodate 400+20+50+30 +100 (with spare) = 600 + lb. A frame & suspension system capable of supporting about 500 lb with a reasonable margin of safety at 50 mph will weight at least 500 lb. Therefore we have total weight of about 1,100 lb with out the body. We'll need an aerodynamic body in order to offset wind resistance at 50 mph. Let's consider a modern sports car shaped body 5 ft long 4 ft wide and 3 ft high made of fiberglass with drag area (CA) of around 5 to 5.5 and weighing around 100 lb = 1200 lb (1180 lb without a spare tire) of mass for the trip.

    The Energy to accelerate 1200 lb to 50 mph = 1/2 * 1200 * 502 = 600 * 50 = 30,000 lb.mi^2/hr^2 = 30,000 * 0.45359 * 5280 * 5280 /(3600 * 3600) kg.ft^2/s^2 = 29271.67 * 0.0929 kg.m^2/s^2 = 2719.3 joules. A 2 hp motor = 2 * 745.699870 Watts (J/s) = 1491.39970 (J/s). This means it will take 2hp motor (2719.3 j/1491.3997 j/s =) 1.5 seconds reach 50 mph, if there is no friction in the drive train and aerodynamic drag, but there is friction and there is drag. In fact, there is so much drag that a 2 hp motor will never reach 50 mph.

    For any object moving through air, the force of air resistance (drag) increases in proportion to the square of its speed, but the power to overcome drag increases in proportion to the cube of its speed and is given by the formula: P = 1/2 pV^3CA

    The angle = arctan(4/5) = 38.7 deg & front facing surface area is 4*sqRt (5^2+4^2) = 4*6.4 = 25.6 sq ft with an effective area of 25.6*4/5 = 20.5 sqft (rough estimate).

    p = the density of the fluid (Note that for the Earth's atmosphere, the density can be found using the barometric formula. It is 1.293 kg/m3 (0.08 lb/ft³) at 0°C and 1 atmosphere.),
    V = the speed (50mph) of the object relative to the fluid,
    C = the drag coefficient (a dimensionless constant, e.g. 0.25 to 0.45 for a car our vehicle should be around 0.25),
    A = the reference area ( 20.5 sqft),
    CA = 5.125.

    P = (.0807 lb/ft^3 * 50^3 mph *5.125 ft^2)/2
    = 25,855.625 lb.mi^3ft^2/(ft^3.hr^3)
    = 25,855.625 * 52803 lb.ft^2/hr^3
    = 3,805,895,047,680,000 lb.ft^2/hr^3.

    Watts = Joules/sec = kg.m^2/sec^2/sec; and hr^2 = 12,960,000 sec^2; and hr = 3600 sec; and 1 ft^2= 0.09290 m^2; and 1 lb = 0.45359 kg.

    Therefore P = 3,805,895,047,680,000 * 0.09290 * 0.45359/12,960,000/3600 kg.m^2/sec^2/sec
    = 3437.4 J/sec
    = 3437.4 watts --> 3.437kw
    = 3.437 * 1.3 hp

    = 4.47 hp is need to overcome drag at 50 mph

    Even if we could improve the AC factor a 3.0 the hp would still need to be more then 2.6 hp

    Note!
    --> kwh for the 10 hr trip =3437.4 * 10/1000



    = 34.374 kwh of drag energy per trip @ 50mph.

     

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