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Jack Lifton

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  • How Growing HEV Markets Will Impact Battery Manufacturing Revenues [View article]

    Let's look at your favorite explaining operator, economics. Toyota has built, is operating, and is expanding a nickel metal-hydride battery r&d and manufacturing plant in Japan. The plant is currently ahead of schedule in ramp-up from 1,000 Prius power train sized batteries a day to the 3,000 per day scheduled originally for 2011. Just yesterday Toyota announced that the plant had reached a production rate of more than 50,000 batteries a month. I know this is "more" because the announcement was that Prius production had now reached 50,000 per month, and the Prius is not the only Toyota car model using a NiMH battery. In addition Toyota, the world's largest maker of lift-trucks, has announced a hybbrid lift-truck "for sale" that uses a "large" NiMH battery.

    Toyota has a long and expensively established supply chain for Chjinese sourced rare earths, lanthanum for batteries, and neodymium and praseodymium for permanent magnets, for electric motors, and batteries. Toyota has committed to the joint development with the Viet Namese Government of a substantial new mine to produce rare earths. This development will take between 3 and 7 years to bring to full production (as would any new mine anywhere), and it will cost at least $250,000,000 before the first gram of rare earth is extracted, separated, and refined after which it would be sent to the costly operation to make the battery cathode alloy or the magnet alloy powder after which it would go to the electrode or magnet fabricator after which it would go to the battery or motor fabricator. Almost every step I just enumerated is done or to be done directly by Toyota or a subsidiary or a joint venture partner (e.g., Panasonic). No one else in the OEM automotive industry is so vertically integrated in a supply and value chain for specific products. NO ONE.

    Toyota has made more than $25,000,000,000 of NiMH using products. Toyota plans to produce that same amount of product EVERY YEAR beginning in 2011!

    When do you think the new CEO of Toyota, the grand-nephew of the last commanding admiral of the Imperial Japanese Combined Fleet (i.e, the CNO) is going to say "Oops, we made a mistake. We should dump all of that, take a loss, and see if we can stay in business."

    It's much more likely that Toyota will emphasize all of the negatives of lithium-ion batteries and EVs using them and grab all of the mid-range, mid-performance market share that it can with NiMH using hybrids. Toyota will at the same time produce small gasoline and diesel engine cars (as well as large ones for the wealthy), and, I think, a line of lead(carbon)acid cars including pure EVs and hybrids with range, performance, and emissions that can only be bettered by their NiMH lines.

    It's too late for anyone else to get into the mass production of hybrids using NiMH batteries, because the supply chain takes a DECADE to establish and refine.

    Toyota has invested, I'm guessing, more than $10,000,000,000 so far in the NiMH based powertrain. Unlike American companies Japanese companies like to make a return on capital, and they think long and hard before they invest.

    Just to keep throwing money at a technology without any regard for the probability of return on the investment or the cost and time frame of the necesary infrastructure to support a technology if it looks practical is a Western way of doing business. It is stupid, wasteful, and short sighted, and it is why we are so far behind in the mass production of PRACTICAL technologies.

    Jack Lifton
    Jun 18 04:09 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • How Growing HEV Markets Will Impact Battery Manufacturing Revenues [View article]

    I was reacting to the word "prototype," which I have been using in Detroit for many years to deflate pompous car executives.

    I'd like to make some comments in the form of an educational rant:

    1. In the period 1963-64 Stan Ovshinsky, the founder of what was to become Energy Conversion Devices, Inc (ENER) discovered reproducible electronic switching and memory "effects" in amorphous "alloys" of germanium, arsenic, and tellurium. I was the team member assigned by Stan to find a method of making electrical contact to thin films of the alloys, which thin films I was also responsible for producing. The rest is a chapter in the long history of the development of a technology. Recordable cds and then dvds using what had become known as "phase-change" technology hit the market around 15 years later, as I recall. These products had been licensed as "prototypes" by Energy Conversion to, I believe, Sanyo and SONY, among others. Phase change memories are NOW hitting the market MORE THAN 45 YEARS AFTER I SAW THE PHENOMENON IN A LABORATORY! The development of these mass produced devices as practical items of commerce was done, not by their discoverer or early developer, but by those electronics companies with massive revenues in place using profits from existing product lines to pay for the r&d of new products.

    My point is that lithium ion batteries are still in development at this point in time. On a physical small scale basis their properties have been successfully tamed and are reproducible on a commercial, economical, scale.The problem with physical scale-up is that so far it has consisted only of making packs of reproducible small cells, and this has not managed yet to be tamed into a commercial device.

    The two best modern NiMH batteries were developed not by Energy Conversion Devices (AGAIN!), the inventor of this battery type, but by Toyota-Panasonic and Ford-Sanyo IN-HOUSE!!!! These giants of profitable mass production chose to develop the technology on the run-they began producing it while they were improving it and could do so without betting their company's future on the outcome, because they maintained and also developed their traditional product lines simultaneously.

    I have heard all of this promotional nonsense before. Not only in my own story of the phase change "memory," which started out in life as an electronic switch, but also in many other dead end developments ALL OF WHICH FAILED FOR LACK OF ATTENTION TO ECONOMICS.

    The lithium game so far, in America, has involved the American OEM car makers letting the small r&d companies duke it out and then picking a couple of survivors and marrying them to one of the lead-acid manufacturers that has the mass production engineering skills, which will be needed in case a technology works out. The Europeans have done the same.

    Everything being talked about endlessly in these pages is about betting on which of the lithium r&d houses has the flavor of the week. One week it is electrochemistry, and the next week it is anode or cathode chemistry, and once in a while it is charging time technology.

    John Petersen has absolutely convinced me that the economics and politics of the "greening' of the OEM automotive industry have made the choice of lead-acid, at least in the near term, inevitable for the mass electrification of cars..

    NiMH battery technology will grow until it has reached the maximum utilization possible of the yearly available supply of the rare earth metal lanthanum. I suspect that point will be reached during the next decade. Lithium ion battery development is in process, as it has been now for several decades. If the end point of that process is an economical safe durable reliable long lived automotive propulsion battery then we aren't there yet, and no one, NO ONE, can predict if or when we will be there. The existing lithium miners are hedging their bets and are not planning any increases in production anywhere near large enough to satisy the projected automotive "demand" until and unless they are capitalized specifically to do so. No company, consortium of companies, or sovereign sate has yet offered to do any such thing!!!

    The market is functioning perfectly; it is the politicians who have screwed the lithium pooch. I think that they have they have set back the development of a lithium ion propusion battery by at least a decade by causing a severe dilution of the limited supply of battery r&d talent all working at cross-purposes. If dead ends were allowed to die then the talent pool available to the survivors would grow. Instead the economic ignoramuses in Washington subsidize the dead companies so that dead ends remain on the market to fester.
    Jun 16 09:16 AM | 7 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • How Growing HEV Markets Will Impact Battery Manufacturing Revenues [View article]
    Toyota has just announced that it has achieved a production rate for the Prius power train and for the NiMH battery used in that power train of 50,000 units a month! Is that a prototype production level? A prototype production level passed off as mass production is the battery production for the Tesla. Let's everyone get our terminology correct please, or we will get to where we are reading that "lithium ion battery production is being kept at a very low level in order to fool the proponents of other mass produced battery technologies into thinking that lithium ion batteries are not ready for mass production."
    Jun 15 06:45 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • How Growing HEV Markets Will Impact Battery Manufacturing Revenues [View article]

    The limitations on the production of storage batteries that arise from the global production rate of lithium, lanthnaum, and lead are what I call the problem of the three "Ls." ( At least it can be named this way in English). Lanthanum and lithium production are of the same order of maginutude with lanthanum production being a little above 30,000 metric tons a year and lithium production being a little below 30,000 metric tons a year. Both lanthanum and lintium are rare metals. Lead is produced annually at the rate of 3,600,000 new metric tons a year (2008, USGS) with an additional amount being recycled yearly in the range from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 tons. U.S. recycling of lead, the largest and most efficient in the world, is now approaching 1,000,000 tons a year almost all of which is derived from SLI batteries. There is essentially today no recycling either of lanthanum or lithium from any source. Of the three Ls the one easiest and far and away the cheapest to increase the production of, substantially, is lead. So you see any the advantage, from an availability, cost, and recyclability measurement goes to lead.

    Fuel cell technology today, if durability, reliability, longevity, and efficiency are the metrics of choice (as they are in OEM automotive) uses one to three ounces of platinum per device large enough to power a small passenger carrying motor vehicle. World production of platinum is 7,000,000 ounces per year. That is the alpha and omega of why fuel cell research for transportation has come to a halt. Not even the US government is willing to continue funding such a dead-end technology as a mass producible one.

    Great article, by the way. I'm beginning to think that those who nit pick your data and ignore your reasoning and conclusions are painting lipstick on a pig.
    Jun 15 06:27 AM | 9 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • BYD: The Next Auto Giant? [View article]
    BYD was a great investment for Warren Buffet, because he could be ceratin that the market feedback from his investment would guarantee a significant uptick for BYD. If he now divests himself of just 25% of his holdings he will have bought 7.5% of BYD for nothing.

    BYD's business model is superb and far superior to that of any other car maker. BYD is a battery company that makes cars; it is the only profitable battery mass producer in this category.

    The problem with the reasoning in this article is that it does not take into account the fact that a Chinese car, designed for sale in China, does not meet the expensive and required-to-be-validat... engineering and safety requirements for a car to be sold in North America, Japan, or Europe. When you add the weight and cost of minimum collision resistant fascias and bumpers, safety lamps, airbags, soft interior trim, tires, and glass along with the reliability and service of the total machine demanded by the world markets not to mention the shipping costs, dealer network pro-rata, and service centers and training involved in them, pro-rata, BYD cars don't look like such a good export idea in the near term.

    If BYD gets by those problems of added cost and it sets up vehicle service centers that are also battery service centers for all makes and brands then $4/share will seem a gift. But this will not arrive on our shores or any other shores for a long time yet. BYD will do very well in China where there are only a tiny number of cars per capita, comapred to the US and Europe, and where journeys are short and at low speed on all but a tiny number of superhighways.

    Look to BYD to open those aforementioned EV and battery service centers in North America first and long before it imports EVs from China to the USA.
    Jun 8 07:12 AM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Advanced Lead-Acid Batteries Will Dominate HEV Markets [View article]
    O Tempora! O Mores!

    if only Michigan's governor had the sense to woo an advanced lead-acid battery maker. Unforthunately she was busy trying to figure out if she could come indoors during a rainstorm, and the lead-acid battery makers were busy trying to avoid closed shop states.
    Jun 3 05:16 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Advanced Lead-Acid Batteries Will Dominate HEV Markets [View article]

    You have made me think about GM. Rick Wagoner missed the boat on EVs when GM had a chance to follow and learn from the mass production and engineering of EVs beginning with the EV1. His reasoning at the time was that the future of EVs was ultimately and only with the fuel cell, so he ordered that technology followed and even built what was to be a 500 man center near Harrison Radiator in upstate NY to engineer fuel cell equipped cars. GM came to lithium-ion late and hastily, and it shows with their off-the-wall approach to the engineering problems. They no longer have the market clout to watch and learn from the introduction of an overpriced limited production technology tester loike the Volt. If there is to be a mass produced lithium-ion technology car it will be made by Toyota or Honda, and, in fact, they are testing such designs now.

    I cannot overemphasize that Toyota and Honda are both today committed to NiMH battery full hybrids. You can say that its a vested interest on their part, but neither of them sees a near term switch to lithium as commercially advantageous to them. You may say that NiMH batteries are as costly as the proposed lithium-ion ones, but the NiMH is the battery that the most successful makers of EVs have, and it's the one they're going with at the moment and for the near term.
    Jun 3 01:04 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Advanced Lead-Acid Batteries Will Dominate HEV Markets [View article]
    If it is true that the designs for li-ion using hybrids that carry an ICE for maintaining a minimum level of charge, recharging, or participating in direct drive also have a lead-acid SLI battery used as an SLI battery then are they, those designs, not then proof that the lead-acid battery is critical to making a lithium-ion EV work? And, why not then simply go with an all lead-acid battery system to avoid waiting any longer for the electrification the cars?

    Is the goal to have a lithium-ion battery powered EV or to have an EV now to reduce reliance on imported oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

    Is it a beauty contest or an attempt to make a better healthier world???
    Jun 3 10:42 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Advanced Lead-Acid Batteries Will Dominate HEV Markets [View article]
    I have a couple of questions:

    I know that every Toyota, Honda, and Ford mass produced hybrid car today utilizes a lead-acid SLI-type battery for its ICE.

    Do the designs for the li-ion hybrids, and PHEVs using lithium also utilize a lead-acid battery for SLI purposes for any ICE aboard?

    Also, does the lead-acid battery, where it is utilized, also power the car's lights and other accessories so as to give the illusion that the li-ion battery can do more than it really can?

    I don't know the answers to the above questions. I would like to.
    Jun 3 10:30 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Advanced Lead-Acid Batteries Will Dominate HEV Markets [View article]

    There is no shortage of lithium, which by the way is not a "rare earth metal" but a rare metal-see my explanation of the difference at "Jack Lifton's Corner" at www.kaiserbottomfish.c...

    There is not enough demand for lithium today to use what is currently being produced, about 2300 mt/month measured as lithium metal contained. If we use the figure of 1 kg of lithium carbonate per kWh of battery, and we acknowledge that a Volt will use a 16 kWh battery then to replace the ICEs projected to produced in 2020 for private passenger car direct power train use with Volt size systems will take 125,000,000 x 16 kg = 2,050,000,000 kg of lithium carbonate = 2,000,000 mt, which is roughly 100 tims the 2009 production. The producers say that they can with funding ramp up to about 5% of this, or 5 times current production, so the number of Volts that could be built would be around 5,000,000 in 2020 or 3.75% of the projected total.

    The world reserve of decent economical to produce lithium is now estimated at around 20,000,000 mt. THERE IS NO MATERIAL SHORTAGE.

    Stop saying this nonsense already.




    Jun 1 04:34 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Advanced Lead-Acid Batteries Will Dominate HEV Markets [View article]

    I worked first on the molten alkali salt battery for OEM automotive propulsion in the mid-1960s. The contract was sponsored by Lithium Corporation of America and was to study lithium salt systems as storage devices, so its not 30 years its 50 years.

    The statement about the technology's immaturity was made by Honda's chairman last Spring in detailing why Honda is not going with li-ion technology "as of yet." he meant, of course, for automotive use.

    Advanced means something that "works" better than exisitng technologies made for the same purpose. Laboratory prototypes do not count as successes in the world of mass produced components. They are trials and errors until they are fit enough and economical enough to go into mass production for consumer products.
    Jun 1 12:53 AM | 8 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Advanced Lead-Acid Batteries Will Dominate HEV Markets [View article]

    Just choose the descriptor, "practical and economical," as necessary for a technology to be considered for mass production rather than diffuse terms such as "advanced" or "prototype" and you will see how you must rate a technology as immature rather than advanced. Just calling me a hypocrit or the other guy a genius doesn't make either description correct.

    Jack Lifton
    May 31 09:07 PM | 7 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Advanced Lead-Acid Batteries Will Dominate HEV Markets [View article]

    There is an ironic twist to alternate energy that your articles always illuminate: Those who argue that human economic activity, in energy production and use, must be subordinated to their idea of a perfect sustainable energy world ignore the fact that the exact activity that would be required to bring about their ideal will necessarily be a (temporary) increase in the reviled activities. To produce the critical metals and materials for batteries of any type, and wind generators of any type, and the obviously necessary nuclear power plants, of any type, to wean the world from burning fossil fuels will require, in our time, a large increase in the burning of fossil fuels to get the energy necessary to build the technologies to supplant the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

    I don't think that the average person comprehends just how close in time we are from the changeover from burning wood for energy to burning coal for energy. The next step for the production of the massive increase of demand for energy already under way in the twenty-first century is obviously nuclear-there is no other way in the short term to satisfy the huge increase in demand for the production of electricity by the conversion of heat energy.

    I think that politicians may be the most practical of men and women today. They simply lie while undertaking the necessary at the same time as paying lip service to what is nice.

    There is no question but that you are correct that the next big step in the electrification of motor vehilces will be through the use of lead-acid battery technology, becasue the politicians, perhaps seeing a danger in waiting, have decided not to give western industry any time to breakout from the economic deadend they have reached in "advanced" battery development.

    I still believe that the majority of the electrification will be done with lead-acid battery technology and that nickel-metal hydride batteries will be used for a small but significant number of vehicles with increased performance, the numbers of which are strictly limited by the rate of production of the rare earth metals, and that lithium-ion technologies will be relegated to niche markets by their price not just by the limited rate of production of lithium.

    The numbers don't lie; it is the proponents of simple solutions through non-existent technologies, who are ignoing the limitations both economic and material, of technology, who are lieing to themselves and to us.
    May 31 12:47 PM | 9 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • First Solar: Why I'd Never Go Long [View article]
    There are no primary tellurium mines in the world.
    May 28 06:47 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • First Solar: Why I'd Never Go Long [View article]
    First Solar is an excellent example of the difference between science and technology. FS's science is excellent; it makes a high efficiency thin film PV solar cell that is superior to its equivalent silicon cell. Unfortunately, FS's technology is best left in the laboratory due to basic limitations in the availability of tellurium, a key and critical ingredient-one for which their is no effective substitute.This basic flaw in its business model is not none that is even recognized by the investing community. It has now, however, reared its head to bite FS you know where.

    I always raise the issues of availability and security of supply whenever I am asked to evaluate the supply chain for a technology. You should look at them also.
    May 28 09:09 AM | 8 Likes Like |Link to Comment