The EV future conundrum
IBM's Big Green Innovations Program is sponsoring a new endeavor: the Battery 500 Project. The project focuses on increasing the power range of batteries by increasing battery density (and not adding to the battery's weight).
Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - 10:16
IBM's Big Green Innovations Program is sponsoring a new endeavor: the Battery 500 Project. The project focuses on increasing the power range of batteries by increasing battery density (and not adding to the battery's weight). How? By using oxygen as the cathode. Essentially, if you increase the energy density, you increase the battery's power capabilities. Couple that with the bonus of reduced battery weight, and you have quite a convenient and viable energy resource for Electric Vehicles (EVs).
Some say that EVs are not going to save the planet. As much as environmentalists rail against this (and they should), there may be something to keep in mind. EVs are starting to become viable options for an increasing number of Americans and with the battery technology above, there is a real possibility that long-distance EVs may be in the foreseeable future. However, they do have one drawback: many EVs will get plugged into to standard electricity grids, which in a significant portion of the country, are still carbon-based.
Ed Begley, Jr., has proudly proclaimed and demonstrated since the mid-90s that he can run his EV on zero-carbon energy alone, whether created himself or in combination with energy purchased from a green energy distributor. This presents an interesting point. Almost everything Americans own either needs to be charged or plugged in to operate. According to the Energy Information Administration (the data keepers for the Department of Energy), American residential energy consumption has increased by nearly 4.5 Quadrillion Btus since 1950. Even taking immigration and general population growth into account, that is still a significant shift upwards in overall consumption. It becomes particularly stark when considering the improvements in energy efficiency that has been made widely available and utilized since that time. In the transportation sector, the increase has been even more dramatic, going from about 5 Quadrillion Btus in 1950 to nearly 30 Quadrillion Btus today. Add several fleets of EV cars to the mix, most of which will be plugged into conventional energy grids, and an uncomfortable question arises of how quickly the curve regarding our overall energy consumption will increase at that point in time.
The obvious solution would be to get moving on more green energy projects. However, this is when yet another problem arises: where do we build these fields of green dreams? Even if green energy systems are initially established on already converted lands, there are still areas that need to be cleared for transmission lines. As a result, Americans may need to sacrifice conservation lands for energy transmission, reducing the range of movement and settlement of native flora and fauna populations. The failure to do so, however, may result in other losses, such as persistent or increased acid rain problems, air pollution and increased climate impacts stemming from static or increased carbon output.
These questions aren't meant to discourage green energy development. They must be invested in for an energy stable future to occur. They are only meant to serve as a reminder that no actions can, or should be, taken singly. A "no action" option, which many right-wing pundits would have Americans believe is correct and necessary, only further inflames the energy problems this nation faces. The ultra conservative faction would rather have a significant percentage of America remain reliant on their carbon resources, saying that shifting over to a coal/natural gas system would encourage American fuel independence by reducing our consumption of foreign oil and stabilize a still recovering economy. America may be less reliant on others, but more to blame for global catastrophe that will follow if carbon emissions are not curbed. Republican rigidity aside, America will need to step into the future with balance in mind. Full throttle may be the desire, but patience and forward thinking will win the race, so long as action accompanies them.
America has preferred to be on the leading edge, rather than a wallflower. However, any failure to act on carbon reduction would pull America out of the running for innovation and progress, two words all political parties prefer to see attached to American names and projects. IBM's endorsement of the Battery 500 Project is exactly what could keep America near or at the top of the future technology game. The project's commitment to finding a way to make existing energy resources more efficient, reliable and realistic for Americans' transportation needs and habits is exactly what needs to continue occurring.
A green energy future is inevitable. A light but powerful battery could help transform America's vehicle fleet without taking away the elements Americans hold dear: independence, freedom of the open road and the right to have a car of one's own. Isn't that what the green revolution is really about? It's not about taxes, or hurting an economy, or forcing people away from what they love. It's about finding a way to help people keep the ideas they cherish, while acknowledging that habits are often vices in need of change. It will be interesting to see how IBM and the Battery project help give this future to America. Hopefully, the country will be waiting with open arms.