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Jack Lifton  

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  • 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
  • Lithium Ion Batteries and GEVs: False Gods for the New Millennium [View article]


    On Nov 29 07:27 PM jimp wrote:

    > Jack Lifton,
    > Do you have a source regarding Eestor and Ford?
    Nov 30, 2009. 07:46 AM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Lithium Ion Batteries and GEVs: False Gods for the New Millennium [View article]

    Didn't Ballard go bankrupt earlier this year and didn't GM disband its 500 person fuel cell R&D facility at Lockport New York in the last year? The best current fuel cell technologies use 1-3 ounces of platinum for a cell large enough to power a car. Such a device is both price and resource limited.

    What about Estor? I have been told that a Ford ranger with an Estor supercapacitor will be shown to the press after Xmas.

    On Nov 29 05:37 PM John Petersen wrote:

    > Advill, NiMH is a wonderful chemistry but there are huge concerns
    > over the availability of lanthanum, the "M" in NiMH. Those resource
    > constraints have been a primary reason for the big push in lithium
    > chemistries. The OEMs that already have NiMH supply chains will use
    > those batteries for the foreseeable future. The OEMs that don't will
    > be forced to use something else.
    > The forest we need to look at with respect to GEVs is technology
    > agnostic and while substituting chemistry in our hypothetical battery
    > manufacturing plant would change the cost numbers it wouldn't have
    > any impact on the relative macro economic benefits of BEVs, PHEVs
    > and HEVs. The only configuration that makes optimal use of the batteries
    > is a Prius class HEV. Everything with a plug is grossly counterproductive
    > because it wastes batteries, wastes gasoline and increases pollution.
    > Since NiMH and lead-acid battery producers are not out there beating
    > the drum for GEVs, using them as an example would have been unfair.
    > Ballard is in the fuel cell business and years from a commercial
    > product. Maxwell makes supercapacitors that they hope to use in conjunction
    > with lead-acid batteries for the stop-start market. The car companies
    > are not yet betting their futures on anything. They're testing the
    > solutions and each of them will make a decision based on their own
    > product development plans.
    > The GE battery is being built for hybrid locomotives and while there
    > is talk about potential use in vehicles, that does not seem to be
    > a big priority for them at this minute.
    > The horses are on the track and running, but the clubhouse turn is
    > still a way's off. Time will tell.
    Nov 29, 2009. 06:00 PM | 5 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Lithium Ion Batteries and GEVs: False Gods for the New Millennium [View article]
    John, Don

    The Toxco beta recycling plant in British Columbia at a TECK Cominco site, I believe, was destroyed by a fire two weeks ago. The local fire brigade decided just to let it burn out, because it was believed that lithium was involved and the on site emergency response people told the fire department, correctly if metallic lithium were involved, that water would expand such a fire not contain it.

    I wouldn't therefore call the TOXCO " recycling technology acceptable at this time. TOXCO has a lot of explaining to do. I was in Toronto when the story broke, and it was big news there. I don't know if it even played in the US media.

    Two years ago I was told by SQM of Chile that the cost of recycling lithium from batteries was far more than the cost of producing new lithium, so that SQM did not then wish to be in that business as it was not economical.

    So, where is this recyclability of lithium meme coming from?

    Jack Lifton

    On Nov 29 02:50 PM John Petersen wrote:

    > Don, I'm waiting to see what happens with the rumored Tesla IPO.
    > Since it's pretty hard to convince me that cars with plugs are not
    > wasters of batteries, wasters of gasoline and profligate polluters,
    > I don't figure I'll have much good to say, but I'll probably try
    > to keep my opinions to myself.
    > GroovyGeek, 20% of new car registrations in Italy are now NG powered.
    > It's an entirely new but vastly powerful phenomenon. My real hope
    > is that we see a surge in HEVs while GEV technology matures and by
    > the time we get to a point where HEV is standard equipment the GEVs
    > will be ready to take us to the next level. For me it's just one
    > sensible baby step at a time instead of a giant leap where there's
    > a grave risk of breaking something.
    > Dialectical, the nice thing about this analysis is it doesn't focus
    > on cost at the consumer level at all. It takes an economic resource,
    > a battery factory, and looks at the alternative ways you can use
    > the batteries it produces. In a macro economic context, which is
    > the only sound basis for government policy, the GEV options only
    > achieve a fraction of the benefit offered by the HEV option in terms
    > of (a) total economic activity, (b) gasoline savings, and (c) C02
    > reductions. Moreover the differences are not small, they're a full
    > order of magnitude. It's always critical to question your assumptions
    > and in this case the fundamental assumptions underlying GEVs appear
    > to be false. I think it's time to hit the reset button.
    > EVNow, regardless of what the real price of oil is the highest and
    > best use of batteries is to use 1.3 kWh each to get to a 40% savings
    > in as many cars as possible. Any other choice effectively wastes
    > batteries, wastes gasoline and increases pollution. There is a fundamental
    > logical fallacy in the push for GEVs and the numbers prove it.<br/>
    > Don, annual sales of lithium ion batteries are on the order of $7
    > billion. The only outfit in the world with any ability to recycle
    > lithium batteries is Toxco and their capacity is very limited. Moreover,
    > the recycling allocations were the only ARRA battery grant category
    > that went unfilled (e.g. there were no takers for the free money).
    > For now at least, lithium batteries are a one-way resource. If and
    > when recycling technology is fully developed and infrastructure is
    > built that may change, but there is a big difference between what
    > is and what may be.
    Nov 29, 2009. 05:55 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Rapid Transition to Grid Enabled Vehicles Not Possible or Desirable [View article]

    To paraphrase John Milton "Logical analysis is a dangerous thing, drink deep or drink naught of the logical spring"

    I want everyone to print the following paragraph by you and read and understand it:

    "Batteries are commodities, as are all of the raw materials that are used to make the batteries, motors and other components required for a GEV. The roadmap assumes away critical issues of raw materials availability by proving that the elements exist in nature and then ignoring fundamental natural resource development issues like location, economics, environmental impacts and the difference between known mineral resources and developed mineral reserves. It also assumes that recycling issues will resolve themselves despite the fact that the only class of ARRA battery manufacturing grants that went begging was battery recycling."

    As usual you have zeroed in on the two key points of logical absurdity in this latest set of directions on how governments should spend taxpayer money for private interest:

    1. This group does not understand the difference between "present in the earth's crust" and "available for use by mankind," and

    2. There is no safe, economical, recycling method for recovering the lithium from lithium-ion batteries.

    Unelected, poorly educated bureaucrats, throw money at nice presentations such as this one. The money has been allocated to their use by elected, poorly educated, politicians whose advisors are agenda ridden interest groups. In government speak this process is called "investing in science and technology."

    We're watching just another lobby being born. This will be the infrastructure spending for electrification lobby. It's an interest group not an agenda.
    Nov 20, 2009. 06:49 AM | 13 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Rare Earth Metals: A China Price [View article]
    And wouldn't a two tier price system for iron-ore be such a violation? It all depends on what diplomatic language, smoke, and mirrors are provided as cover, so long as anyone who matters cares about the WTO. China has told us in no uncertain terms that it is under no obligation to sell us its domestic natural resources simply on "price." AVAILABILITY is the issue, and China can and simply will say that all such resources have been sold to its domestic companies as "off-takes."

    Jack Lifton
    Nov 16, 2009. 09:31 AM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • The Rare Earth Metals, Uranium, and Thorium: All Commonly Found Together; And All Desired By China [View instapost]
    Dear Dr. Hatch,

    Thank you for identifying and bringing the data in Dr. Mariano's 1989 paper to my attention to resolve this issue. Dr. Mariano and I both presented papers at the rare earth seminar at the 2009 Society for Mining Exploration and Engineering (SME) annual meeting in Denver this year, and I remembered discussing the thorium content of the bastnaesite at Mountain Pass with him, but I could not find my copy of his paper to quote.

    Your diligence and attention to detail is much appreciated.

    Thorium is now on its way to becoming a valuable technology metal, and, like uranium, it can be safely recovered with modern mining technology.

    On Nov 15 09:33 PM Gareth Hatch wrote:

    > "There is no thorium at Mountain Pass in California, for example,
    > where the REO is bastnaesite, another mineral."
    > According to Anthony Mariano, in his January 1989 paper in 'Reviews
    > in Mineralogy and Geochemistry', the bastnasite at Mountain Pass
    > contains approximately 0.1% thorium.
    > While this is a pretty low initial concentration, it still has to
    > be dealt with. In 1998, the California EPA suspended chemical processing
    > at Mountain Pass, after a radioactive waste water spillage incident.
    > While I don't have specific data to hand, one might surmise that
    > the radioactivity in that waste water, resulted from the presence
    > of thorium.
    Nov 15, 2009. 10:02 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment