Batteries
Daily Energy Environment Repost Urban Environmentalist

Boats, Cars, and Zero Emissions

An electric future on land and the open water

Electric cars have been on the rise for over a decade now, and it was inevitable the trend would engulf other modes of transportation. Imagine a double-decker catamaran carting tourist on daily excursions up a river gorge—batteries recharged with one hundred percent clean hydroelectric generated power. Now stop imagining and get yourself to Niagara Gorge, where you can book a ticket on the Maid of the Mist. 

About 3,500 miles away, on the other side of America, Washington state is working on a project electrifying its ferry fleet. The age of energy-efficient boating is on the way. But let’s be clear, this only makes sense when the electricity you need for recharging is clean. Clean energy is a subset of renewable energy and relies on power generation from emission-free sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric.

Washington State and the Niagara area are both suited to the task. In the case of Niagara, clean electricity is readily delivered through the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant in Lewiston, New York. Hydroelectric generation at this site started in 1874 when the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company completed its main powerhouse. 

Washington State is well positioned to provide relatively clean electricity since it obtains over 70 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric generation, so recharging of vehicles is not wholly emissions free, but close to it.

New battery technologies coming of age

Electric vehicles have appeared at the edge of our commercial markets for years but they are rapidly approaching some thresholds where they can move from the periphery to center stage. Improvements in battery technology and planned changes in infrastructure will drive this rise of electric vehicles. But cars, boats, and more will need batteries of the future to make the next leap forward.

Lithium-ion batters have been the standard-bearer for many years, but another step forward is required. Needed advances in car batteries include the ability to charge quickly—think of the time to fill a gas tank—and provide sufficient power for longer range journeys. 

 One technology on the drawing boards is an Ultra Fast Carbon Electrode. These batteries use a vertically aligned carbon nanotube (VACNT) design to boost battery power, increase total energy storage, and improve the battery lifespan. This technology’s end-result goal is single-charge travel of up to 550 miles and a five minute charging time to achieve an 80 percent recharge level. 

Another technology in the works is graphene batteries. The company Graphenano is developing a product aimed at 500 miles per charge and several minutes charging time. These batteries have other advantages over lithium-ion, including an energy density of 1000 Wh/kg, five times greater than the lithium-ion. The graphene batteries can also discharge over 30 times faster, delivering power more quickly to the vehicle.

Another interesting development is the aluminum-air battery, which has already managed to power a car for 1,100 miles on a single charge. The battery uses oxygen from the air, making it far lighter than its liquid-filled lithium-ion cousin. Its downside is, it must be swapped out every few months.

These are just a few of the new technologies under development. Read about the full range of battery innovation at Future batteries, coming soon: Charge in seconds, last months and power over the air (By Chris Hall; Pocket-lint).

Infrastructure and power generation

Long-range, fast-charging batteries will change the future of electric vehicles. Once this happens, the development of a network of charging stations will follow. The Biden administration has already highlighted this infrastructure as a priority. 

But the move to electric vehicles will only be a move to clean energy if power generation is clean. The USA still has a wide range of power supply plants ranging from coal-powered West Virginia to the hydro-powered Pacific Northwest. Along the east and west coasts of the country, offshore wind power is a promising new technology, and in a north-south strip through the middle of the country, onshore wind power is already replacing fossil fuels. The future is looking electric.


Sources:

A new era in maritime travel: Electric boats (By Justin Sondel; The Washington Post) – https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2020/10/29/climate-change-electric-boats/?arc404=true

Future batteries, coming soon: Charge in seconds, last months and power over the air (By Chris Hall; Pocket-lint) – https://www.pocket-lint.com/gadgets/news/130380-future-batteries-coming-soon-charge-in-seconds-last-months-and-power-over-the-air

Scientists Develop a Better Graphene Battery (By Jelor Gallego; Future Society) – https://futurism.com/scientists-develop-better-battery-thanks-graphene

Electric car, with light aluminium-air battery, travels 1,100 miles on a single charge, take note Tesla (By Luke Edwards; Pocket-lint) – https://www.pocket-lint.com/cars/news/tesla/129419-electric-car-with-light-aluminium-air-battery-travels-1-100-miles-on-a-single-charge-take-note-tesla

Feature Image: Maid of the Mist (Modified by ArcheanWeb) – Electric Boats By Bona1858 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95833884

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.