DailyDirt: Better Batteries

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Storing lots of energy conveniently is one of the world’s greatest challenges. Batteries have improved a lot over the years, but not quite at the same rate as the electronics they power. There are a number of battery research projects, and here are just a few.

As always, StumbleUpon can also recommend some good Techdirt articles, too.

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Comments on “DailyDirt: Better Batteries”

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Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Water Scoops and Thinking Outside the Box.

The battery problem is basically a problem for electric cars. People talking about electric cars seem to have gotten fixated on batteries in a very narrow way.

I don’t know if anyone here will have heard of railroad troughs. Back in the days of steam engines, an engine not only needed a supply of coal, but also a still larger supply of water to make steam. For example, the Union Pacific “Big Boy” locomotive (4-8-8-4), of 560 tons and 6000 horsepower, had tender capacity of 28 tons of coal, and 25,000 gallons of water (106 tons), which gave it a couple of hours running time.

In some places, railroad tracks were fitted with water troughs between the rails. Water was let into these troughs, and flowed downhill for a mile or two, like an artificial brook. When an engine passed over one of these troughs, at a speed of forty or sixty miles an hour, the engineer would move a lever to lower a scoop into the trough, and water would be pumped up into the engine’s tanks, thousands of gallons of it. Of course, the engineer had to be sure to retract the scoop before reaching the end of the trough, or else there would be a bit of a bang, and an expensive repair job (there are some funny stories… ). The intelligent use of troughs could reduce the need for fueling by a factor of four or five.

The analogy to take away from this is the necessity of finding ways to make an electric car automatically hook up to a supply of electricity, whenever one is available. The point is not to find a perfect battery, but to create a system which is very good at gobbling up bits and pieces of electricity where it finds them. _That_ is within the scope of Moore’s Law– it works out to things like robot arms which reach out to plug in, or perhaps to put a trolley pole on an overhead wire, or something like that.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Water Scoops and Thinking Outside the Box.

Well, perhaps not just for electric cars, but they do tend to present the most difficult problems.

Here is an example I heard about. In Bordeaux, France, they have installed a new kind of streetcar. Instead of having an overhead wire, its track has a “third rail,” set flush into the pavement between the other two rails, and running at 700 V. Sections of this rail are switched on by individual electronic controls, only when the rail-car is on top of them, and the rail-car has metal skirts designed to keep anyone or anything from getting too close to a “hot” segment. So far (knock wood), it seems to work. I assume that the streetcar has a battery, allowing the “third-rail” to be made discontinuous for reasonable distances. There is no need to push one’s luck by running the third-rail across crosswalks, for example. The same would apply to street intersections.

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