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Jack Lifton  

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  • Vehicle Electrification: An Emotionally Charged Topic [View article]

    Once again you have gotten to the heart of the matter using hard numerical data and logic. I need to tell you that the following quote by you is a perfect and concise political and sociological explanation of America's unreadiness to accept reality:

    "America has always had an abundance of everything and American's by and large can't comprehend the meaning of the word shortage. I can guarantee you that it's a lesson you'll learn well over the next decade or two."

    The problem is, as you frequently say, there is a disconnect between the hype believing public and the (few) engineers who are charged with making practical whatever they can make practical economically and in the face of limited resources. America is living now at the end of an abundance and a wasteful consumerist cycle that the world never before saw and will never see again.

    I think the future is going to be one of resource allocation to maximize economic value for the many. This is not redistribution of wealth; it is the creation of a common-sense expectation by everyone in the world about what they can and can't have. Americans have never before faced this limit, and they are reacting badly to its implementation.
    Jan 27, 2010. 12:16 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Death of the Electric Car: Li-ion Batteries Too Valuable for Plug-In Vehicles [View article]
    The Sunday Telegraph (UK) also reports that the Chinese member of the committee of developing nations formed afrter Copenhagen has just thrown a monkey-wrench into the gears of global warming champions by stating that his government is not convinced that carbon dioxide atmospheric concentarion is as important to climate change, if it is important at all, compared to "natural" climate fluctuations. The other delegates from the "developing nations" such as India and the Phillipines are saying they don't think the Chinese representative meant what he said. What if he did??
    Jan 24, 2010. 06:47 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Death of the Electric Car: Li-ion Batteries Too Valuable for Plug-In Vehicles [View article]
    If you pay off the barbarians instead of using the taxes to raise and train armies the result is, you guessed it, the modern world-after a thousand year hiatus of ruthless barbarism. So now when faced with the demand for the extension of our comfortable lifestyle to those who have less and for those whom we say we care about we begin to make science fiction and fantasy moves ( and movies ) to tell our populace that everyone can live in nirvana without sacrifice and without regard to the finite ability of humans to produce critical resources. No free market capitalist will refuse a subsidy if such refusal will give competitive disadvantage, so all are in the game and are wasting time and irreplaceable resources to make expensive toys to satisfy economically ignorant politicians. How does it end other than with a sharply defined world of haves and have nots? This is the problem, and it is one that Americans believed would never come.
    We destroy wealth and waste resources, and we call it progress.
    Maybe you're right, John, maybe capitalism will triumph through all of it. I sure hope so for the sake of the future. I'm sick of hearing about new technologies and new economics.
    Its no mystery to me why escapist fantasies such as Avatar are luddite tracts following the story of the destruction of a "better" simpler culture to get supplies of rare "unobtanium." In fact this was the nineteenth century pre-occupation by Europe and America. Now the worm has turned.
    Jan 23, 2010. 11:18 AM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Death of the Electric Car: Li-ion Batteries Too Valuable for Plug-In Vehicles [View article]

    I know you enjoy participating in your comment streams, but I must say that the most common response to your articles is an appeal to emotion, one of the classic errors in logic. You consistently use logical argument based on third-party generated hard data and your conclusions are thus logically unassailable. I, of course, agree with your data and your conclusions drawn from them. Having said all that I want to point out that the global reserves of lithium that could be processed economically are in the 30,000,000 net metric ton, calculated as metal, range. One kilowatt hour of battery capacity with today's lithium-ion chemistries requires one kilogram of lithium carbonate, which contains 172 grams (.172 kg) of lithium. Assuming that all of the lithium recovered were used for batteries then the human race could produce 174,000,000,000 billion kilowatt hours of storage battery capacity with today's technologies for lithium-ion batteries.
    Of course the fact that the demand for additional lithium production is not growing even as fast as the current supply means that additional supply will drive down the price of lithium even further than today's USD$6/kilogram of lithium carbonate. One can see that not only is the price of lithium low but that it may well go lower. Even if the price of lithium were to go up though it would hardly at all impact the cost or price of the large battery packs necessary for vehicular propulsion. The critical issue for such batteries is the cost of engineering durability, reliability, and safety into them. These costs or whether or not they can be reduced from today's levels cannot be calculated today because we do not have enough experience with them to do so. All such calculations are speculation, and I have noted that most of the speculators are financiers not battery engineers or economic historians familiar with similar data from the history of other batteries.
    Toyota is not a company to play cards with; they hold their cards close to their chests. Toyota through its trading companies has been scouring the globe to insure its security of supply for many critical materials such as the rare earth metals, lithium, platinum, rhodium, and copper.Toyota plans for the long term. It will not have a flow of rare earths from Viet Nam until 2016-18; it will not have any lithium from Argentina until perhaps later than that; but it will be assured of a supply of both.
    Toyota is NOT obligated to sell its cars in North America; it does so because today the region is a good market.
    America may well end up driving only gasoline, kerosene, and LNG ICE powered vehicles, because we have those fuels and the raw materials for making those power trains. America simply cannot afford trillions of dollars to create a national GEV "space." We no longer have the financial resources and we chose a different path fifty and one hundred years ago for transportation.
    America cannot borrow its way to success, because the rest of the world wants to keep the wealth it creates. A lower standard of living means that we will want to pay less for our transportation than we do now or keep our personal cars for much longer. The combination of both trends is deadly to the growth of our domestic OEM vehicle industry, but the trends are clearly there already.
    Jan 22, 2010. 01:19 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Toyota Takes Additional Steps To Secure Critical Metal Supplies [View instapost]

    I also think there's more going on here than meets the eye. Great Western is, I believe, going forward in South Africa with its Steenkampskraal project in Cape Province. This project, as I said late last year, may well become the first heavy rare earth commercial production level site-outside of China- before the end of 2011. Great Western's discoveries at both the Benjamin and Douglas Rivers sites in northern Saskatchewan, the ones that Toyota is interested in, are longer term developments but also involve strikingly rich deposits of rare earths with substantial heavy rare earth content. I wonder if Toyota isn't looking to take a broader position in GW than meets the eye? It wouldn't surprise me at all, although I have never discussed it with any employee of GW. GW would be a very good investment for Toyota, and Toyota is not known for passing by too many good deals.
    Jan 20, 2010. 10:39 AM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Toyota: Toward the 21st Century Electric Car [View article]

    Thank you for this piece of intelligence. I am not aware that there is or has ever been commercial rare earth mining in Japan, which is one of the world's most resource poor countries. This of course doesn't mean that it didn't happen. I am assembling a master list of rare earth mining ventures outside of China, and I will investigate your information. The results of my work will be put up on my web site,

    Thanks again,

    Jan 20, 2010. 08:21 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • The Rare Earth Crisis of The Second Decade of the Twenty-First Century. A Threat or an Opportunity? [View instapost]

    The time of the 1973 oil crisis may well have been the beginning of the great myopia. Its got to end soon or the ability to affect that ending will be taken out of our hands.

    Thanks very much for reading and commenting on my articles,

    Jan 13, 2010. 08:24 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Plug-In Vehicles: Unconscionable Waste and Pollution Masquerading as Conservation [View article]

    Your comment about cell phone batteries never lasting more than 2 or 3 years at most made me think philosophically (Full disclosure-I have been a full member of the Philosophy of Science Association for nearly 50 years) about the subject.

    In thinking about Moore's law I realized that the real limitation is not size but complexity. There is an obvious limit to using devices based on the arrangements and conductivity among atoms and molecules, but the charge management devices of our brains, the neurons, are also interconnected in a far higher degree of complexity than any human being has ever understood. It is not only being able to store electric charge but being able to usefully control its release and recharge that make a useful battery, or a circuit element, or a brain cell. We use batteries based on chemical reactions themselves not well understood today as gross reservoirs and we are a long way from being able to engineer even small batteries with perfect operations or interconnectedness that are completely controllable economically. Yet we talk about "advanced" batteries as if they exist as Platonic ideals waiting for us to make them manifest.
    The scientists aren't sure, the engineers are frazzled by inconsistencies in operation, but the bureaucrats, politicians, and bankers they see it all as a money problem.
    Its like watching a monkey type with the goal to let it continue until it has written Shakespeare's Hamlet; it will probably take forever but its theoretically possible.
    Jan 12, 2010. 01:57 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Lithium-Ion Batteries and Electric Vehicles: Upgrading the Storm Watch to Storm Warning [View article]

    Once again you have exactly defined the issue when you say:

    "To the extent that China produces more REEs than it can use at home, those REEs will be available to the world."

    My friend Gareth Hatch, the editor in chief of the Rare Metal Blog,, has informed me that Nissan has lately filed a flurry of patents for permanent magnet motors, which will use either less of or none of the HREEs for high temperature performance.He will be writing an article on this topic within a day or two on the RMB. The interesting part of this is that Nissan is doing this work on permanent magnet motors as it works to bring its first mass produced EV, the Leaf, to market. It is clear that those who plan to actually mass produce EVs are committed to permanent magnet motors rather than the alternative types. I say again that this is due to the fact that the market place for rare earths is predicting by its actions that the world supply of the light rare earths will be augmented in the early part of this decade by operations in Australia and the USA, while it is not clear that enough heavy rare earths will be produced even to satisfy Chinese domestic demand. I do not doubt that GWMG and Avalon will produce heavy rare earths within two to five years, but I wonder when their new production will be able to do more than maintain the current world supply as Chinese supply diminishes due to ore body depletion.

    To those of your readers who talk about alternative technologies and new battery chemistries I want to point out again that the global OEM automotive industry absolutely demands the lowest weight, highest efficiency, components. And such components must be durable, reliable, thoroughly tested under all possible conditions in real time, and economical.

    Just apply the metric in the above last sentence to any motive technology, before you invest for the short term.

    Jack Lifton
    Jan 4, 2010. 12:09 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Another Reality Check for Energy Storage Investors [View article]

    Lead is one of the least wasted, because it is among the most recycled, base metals. Some 85+% of the U.S. lead demand (almost all of it for lead-acid batteries) is met by recycling. This allows the world's largest single national market demand for lead-The USA domestic market, to need only mine enough "new" lead or import enough annually to fill in the gap. I don't think that new car production requires much of the lead, by the way, since the lifetime of a SLI battery in ordinary use is about 3 years this means we need 100,000,000 replacement batteries each year just for our existing vehicles. Its amazing to me with this conservation system in place that so-called environmentalists think that the energy costs of a vast expansion of the lithium mining industry can just be ignored in their calculations of a green economy.

    At the Lithium markets 2009 conference in Santiago, Chile, earlier this year the 6 large lithium producers were asked what they could do to increase lithium production. The answer was that by 2020 there could be 100,000 tons/annually of new lithium (measured as metal) produced if the investment were there. Now I notice that the price of the wannabe lithium battery for vehicles manufacturers has gone through the roof, but what of Foote Minerals, Rockwood, SQM, and Atantis? Does the market think that the manufacturers conjure up the metal? Why are not these miners in a category of their own, divorced from base metals, soaring like eagles?

    Jack Lifton

    On Dec 27 08:48 AM longoil wrote:

    > John,
    > Your EIA chart is very interesting.
    > I would have expected 2035 to be dominated by NGVs, Hybrids and PHEVs
    > with ICE vehicles taking only a small slice of the pie. Your EIA
    > chart shows the exact opposite.
    > The Washington policy makers seem to think crude production will
    > be plentiful into 2035 and that flex fuels will be the key solution
    > to peak oil.
    > In terms of lithium versus lead batteries. I would think the environmentalists
    > would be pro-lead. Incredible environmental damage is done extracting
    > lithium by flooding underground caverns containing lithium salts
    > and the associated drying ponds. Plenty of lead can be recycled from
    > scrap yards via old automotive batteries, electronics and plumbing.
    Dec 27, 2009. 01:32 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • GM's Nightmare Before Christmas [View instapost]

    The continuation of the Chevrolet Volt project tells us a lot about our society's obsession with "progress."

    I couldn't help but think of the "cargo cults ' created during World War II when objects from destroyed cargo vessels washed up on the beaches of remote, but inhabited, south seas islands, and the locals upon seeing aircraft, or parts of them, and such types of wonders that they had never before seen or even dreamed of, simply fell to worshiping them as gifts from,the gods. Perhaps some future anthropologist viewing this tape will think that the object of the dance is to make the gift from the gods come to life. It will take more than that I'm afraid.

    Dec 26, 2009. 07:30 AM | 4 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Grid-Enabled Vehicles Are Not Ready for Prime Time [View article]
    A friend of mine, a retired Ford automotive manufacturing manager, called me last night to relate the following story about the Ford Fusion Hybrid. His neighbor, in Plymouth, Michigan, also a retired Ford manager, bought a Ford Fusion Hybrid late last week and on the way home from the dealership was focusing on the dashboard display and ran into a car stopped in front of him at 25 MPH. The airbags deployed, and no one was injured.

    The car had cost the new owner about $30,000.00; the dealer would not lease-finance so the car had to be purchased; the collision damage repair bill came to $17,000.00; the insurance on the Fusion Hybrid for a man with a good driving record in his 60s was $2250/year with a $500 deductible; the same car with an ICE would have been insurable with the same limits for $1250.

    When I see calculations of the time it will take to recover the additional costs of an electrified power train I'm not sure I see the additonal insurance in the calculation, and, even more importantly, I don't think anyone has even asked what the insurance premium might be for a PHEV pr ERPHEV such as the Chevrolet Volt.

    I know the above story is anecdotal, but I am now asking the readers if anyone has figures or has seen figures for insurance rates for HEVs other than those I quote above.

    I cannot imagine how an underwriter will go about calculating the risk premiums for such vehicles. If such a vehicle is damaged for how long will the customer need to wait for repairs? In such cases what will the cost of a "loaner" or rental car be? I have personally known of cases where owners of low volume cars waited months for repair parts, and I have to believe that severe damage to an EV will require not just mechanical repairs but also a literal recertification of the restored power train.

    What, so far ignored, overlooked, or hidden costs like these will the first buyers be facing?

    The public does not understand the cost containmnet offered by mass produced reliable vehicles when it comes to maintenance and repair.

    Its a jungle out there.
    Dec 22, 2009. 03:55 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Grid-Enabled Vehicles Are Not Ready for Prime Time [View article]


    I couldn't agree more with both you and Dr. Franklin.


    On Dec 21 11:27 AM John Petersen wrote:

    > Thanks for finally weighing in Jack. In come respects my views are
    > a bit less cynical than yours, but not much more. Utopian world views
    > have been with us since the beginning and will plague us into eternity.
    > The dismal and highly inconvenient truth is that most preachers of
    > a better way are basically selling a way that gives them more power
    > and us less liberty. At times like these, I think we'd all do well
    > to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin:
    > "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
    > safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
    Dec 21, 2009. 11:53 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Grid-Enabled Vehicles Are Not Ready for Prime Time [View article]

    Your view of GW as a needless science experiment is far too sanguine; it, the emphasis on GW as a problem rather than as a natural phenomenon to be addressed by habit changes as in the past in ancient Rome and in medieval and 18-19th century Europe,is a phenomenon that needs study not a call to economically ruin our civilization. We have a new class of ignorant hypocritical luddites among us. While enjoying the fruits of technology they use it to excess in private jets, huge and multiple homes, and in the conspicuous consumption of positional goods requiring vast amounts of energy and labor to produce in small quantities (so-called precious objects). No sacrifice by the rest of us is too great for their good. I am heartily sick of this new aristocracy of consumptives (pun intended) who eat my children's future lunch for a snack.

    I am not a socialist, and I cannot be bought off by "entitlements," because they are in fact just leftovers.

    Coal, oil, and gas are the best hopes for continuing global economic growth without disrupting what we in the west already have. Fission based power plants are necessary, but fusion power is the only hope for sufficient energy to create and maintain an American energy life style for the world. If we don't use the billions being wasted, for example, on battery development (to store increasingly expensive energy) to accelerate research on cheap and sustainable production of energy we invite a cold future.

    Jack Lifton

    On Dec 21 09:23 AM NorthernPiker wrote:

    > John,
    > The fundamental conclusion of the report is that GEVs may be technically
    > feasible but the economics might make sense around the same time
    > fusion power is promised to becomes viable. This is far too pessimistic.
    > Your focus on economics is correct. The expected return on the greater
    > investment in the purchase of a PHEV, rather than a HEV, is too low
    > without substantial subsidies - negative return in NA and marginally
    > positive in Europe, with its $7 gas. Such an investment requires
    > a high return, to compensate for the risks inherent in a new technology
    > (li-ion batteries, power electronics et al.)
    > As for GW, I am not as sanguine as yourself. I view GW as a needless
    > science experiment since there are enough other reasons to warrant
    > our move away from fossil fuels, especially oil, in an expeditious
    > manner.
    Dec 21, 2009. 11:11 AM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Grid-Enabled Vehicles Are Not Ready for Prime Time [View article]

    I look upon the whole mantra that lithium-ion batteries are the solution to all of the ills of excessive oil usage, and emissions from that, as irrational exuberance by a public scared witless by the doom-mongering political classes. I do not believe in conspiracy theories, but it is an inconvenient truth that the ones most likely to benefit from the wasting of billions or trillions to try and alter the outcome of the economics of the situation are those in charge of the lending banks, the sale (not ownership) of the securities, and the politicians who are bought and paid for by the first two classes with other people's money. It reminds me of trying to spend one's way out of debt, which only ever works when you are spending money that is not yours and do not ever have to pay it back.

    Pity the poor "developing" countries as they struggle and pollute to provide us with the minerals and metals to sustain our technologies while we bask in the self-righteousness of being "green." Don't forget to make your (alms) payment to those forced to stay poor, so you can have a cell phone, a flat screen TV, and, lest we foget, an electrified personal private vehicle .

    Merry Christmas to all of the living Saints of a green economy.

    Jack Lifton

    On Dec 21 09:16 AM John Petersen wrote:

    > Northernpiker, I've been expressing the same rather dour view of
    > battery costs for about 18 months. Sales of lithium-ion batteries
    > are already in the $7 billion per year range, the process is a capital
    > intensive wonder of automation and the principal manufacturers are
    > companies like Sony who are extremely good at quality control and
    > wringing the last penny out of their operations. The idea that a
    > start up will be a better manufacturer than Sony from the get-go
    > is tough for me to swallow.
    > The storage sector is dealing with brute chemistry - a far different
    > science than the physics and miniaturization that drove IT. If there
    > is one area where expectations are wholly irrational it is battery
    > costs. The best we can hope for is consistent gains of ~5% per year
    > if everything goes right. If we have a mixture of successes and failures
    > like we see in every other human endeavor, the ~5% number may be
    > tough to reach on a consistent basis.
    > People are criticizing the NRC report because it takes a hard look
    > at the underlying assumptions and questions whether they're reasonable
    > in light of human experience. There's always a chance that things
    > will work out better than the NRC expects them to. There's also a
    > chance that they'll work out worse. Paying a big premium on an investment
    > that will only pay if things work out spectacularly well is dangerous.
    Dec 21, 2009. 10:44 AM | 4 Likes Like |Link to Comment