This entry is the latest in a Worldwatch blog series on innovations in the climate and energy world.
Soon to be obsolete?
The Nissan Leaf proudly advertises that it can go 100 miles on a single charge. Chevrolet, Toyota, and other car companies have promoted their plug-in gas-electric hybrids as the more rational alternative, since you can switch to the gasoline option when you need extra range. But what if charging your electric car were as easy as filling your gas tank?
For electric vehicles to become the dominant mode of personal transportation, the charging process will have to evolve: it will need to be either much faster, or far less frequent. In a recent article in Nature Nanotechnology, scientist Paul Braun and his research team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describe their blueprint for a new battery with a greatly reduced charging time. Their most successful lithium-ion prototype reaches a 90 percent charge in just two minutes.
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The Department of Energy is asking for anything and everything related to clean tech material inputs. In a Request for Information (RFI) on Thursday, the department specifically mentions rare earth elements and lithium as key resources of interest. With the announcement, the department affirms how seriously the US government intends on ramping up renewables and energy efficiency across the country. Information is sought for several clean tech categories: demand, supply, technology applications, processes, costs, substitutes, recyclability, and intellectual property.
Spudomene rock - containing lithium, courtesy of BBC Worldservice
If we really want to see a large-scale shift of our energy systems – including transportation – in the United States, we must be prepared for significant changes in every link of the energy supply chain. This means preparing a massive employment base to manufacture and maintain solar panels, wind turbines, and electric car batteries. Manufacturing will require new materials for which mining technology and global markets are still in their infancy. And of course, new mines, materials, and manufacturing processes inevitably result in environmental impacts.
As status quo partisanship continues on climate and energy issues in Congress, the Department of Energy’s announcement is, at least, a sign that the Obama administration is not assuming the status quo for our energy system. For instance, our fossil fuel dependence does not have to continue unabated. A thorough analysis of the materials required for low-carbon and energy efficient technologies is needed. Without it, we will not be able to reach the full potential of a sustainable and climate-friendly energy system.
Stay tuned—Worldwatch is launching a project entitled Climate & Energy Security 2.0 to address just this issue.