Search for  

powered by FreeFind

Miscellaneous/History/BD History 060331
*

BDs Ten Years of Batteries, Fuel Cells and Photovoltaics...What Happened???
Donald’s Viewpoint

Adobe Photoshop ImageThis is a collection of photos representing some of the highlights of the ten years BD has been published. The center photo has Shirley, Donald and Toby on the cover of the first issue. The upper right shows the Volta Museum in Como, Italy, which was visited as part of our story on the origins of the discovery of the battery. The lower right shows Webmaster Tim and Grandmother Emily who produced the BD Indexes for many years. The lower center photo finds Shirley ‘on assignment’ at the Chevron Texaco photovoltaic farm near Bakersfield, California. The lower left  photo pictures Shirley visiting the Sunbus hydrogen dispensing station in Palm Springs, California, and in the upper left photo, she is taking a temporary fling with a battery-powered robot at the CES Show in Las Vegas. In the center top photo, Toby is posing in his Mark Twain outfit as he perseverates over materials for one of his many politically incorrect columns over the years.  All photos are by Donald.+

Ten years have gone by since Shirley and I published our first monthly newsletter, and in that time, we have completed a new issue each month, often while meeting serious personal challenges. Not that BD was of life and death importance, but to us, it often represented an enjoyable influence which  provided diversion from difficulties.

Who ?

Most publications are the product of a staff which includes: writers, editors, business managers, advertising specialists, layout designers, graphics developers, printers, mailers and web builders, all consuming a big budget and a large office. BD is almost none of these,  Our definition of the business is to not include employees beyond the owners of Teksym Corporation. We alone provide all the functions required. Of course, the most fun is to gather information, write and edit, but somebody has to do the other things to make a publication complete so when we want any of these functions done, we have to do it. For example in the days of paper issues mailed to monthly subscribers, we would pick up the copies from Kinkos (They always did a wonderful job for us.) and stop at the video store for a couple of movies to be watched that evening while we stuffed issues into envelopes, licked stamps and added mailing labels.

Over the years, the two of us have built each issue with assistance from three family members. The first was our late mother/mother-in-law, Emily Georgi, who for many years built the index for each year’s issues. The second is our son, Tim, who is our Webmaster and occasionally writes a story which interests him. The third is Toby, our Yellow Labrador (AKC), who has been on staff since wearing his battery-operated shock collar in the first issue, and who has the liberty of writing a politically incorrect column to tell things as they really are. Despite his lack of keyboard skills and refrigerator door opening ability, he has a ‘canny’ ability to see beyond the muddle of technology and business hype. As BD’s communications director, he introduces  news of our business to readers. Some readers worry about reading information written by a dog, but comfortably secure people enjoy his musings and information. (Did he ever mention in his column that his favorite movie star is Harvey?)

How ?

First, we gather information. The Internet is a great source, as are the library, company information and above all, meetings. Meetings which include prepared written summaries of presentation are the best. Included in this category are the Power Sources Conference and the 200X Fuel Cells Conference. Many conference organizers promise to make after-meeting summaries available on the websites, which are helpful, but these resurces are not as useful as published proceedings, abstracts and  summaries which are given out at the time of registration.  

Each year, we attend a number of conferences. We enjoy both the organizers, the presenters, the display experts, the attendees and the ability to visit a variety of cities. In a trip to China, in 1997, we visited a new upstart battery manufacturer, BYD Battery Company Ltd., which has since grown to be one of the world’s leading suppliers of rechargeable batteries. On another visit to an Italian manufacturer, we arrived in a small town after dark in a downpour without hotel reservations only to find that the town had no active hotel and no one spoke English. With the help of a very accommodative and tenacious rooming house proprietor, we were able to dry out in a comfortable bed. Through the activities associated with BD, we have found many friendly people over this decade.

After accumulating the information, we do the writing from our viewpoint, but yet we strive to be objective and credible. Having the two of us critique each piece provides check-and-balance so that the articles do not become editorials. When there is a question as to the content, we try to judge it on the number of facts and the credibility of the sources. We also try to have as much data as possible to support information. After all is written and laid out, each issue goes through two edits and a final proof  to check for content errors, technical errors, grammatical errors, spelling errors and plain-old readability. This check usually takes about three consecutive days and is the only time in our marriage when we actively consider that our ‘other-half’ is trying to make our life difficult. Twenty-seven good days out of every thirty is a pretty fair return on a forever commitment.

What ?

Batteries are those dense little power blobs of plastic and metal; fuel cells are those simple devices all interconnected with tons of pipes, wires and modules, and photovoltaics (PV) are solar panels which just magically suck electricity out of the air and provide power to us at  twice the cost of that generated from dirty coal plants. This is really dull stuff...until the electricity isn’t there when needed! When the defibrillator doesn’t turn on, when Apollo 13 has its fuel cell tank blow up halfway to the moon, and when a 50 million dollar satellite doesn’t transmit on the dark side of the earth, interest builds. At one aerospace conference, the keynote speaker summed it all up with the statement explaining that when you don’t have power, there’s a lot of other things which don’t make much difference. We could go on about how fundamental our power sources are, but there are other big reasons for reporting on these electrochemistries.

Why ?

So why do we publish BD? Are we getting fabulously wealthy, winning Pulitzers, or what? No, but Shirley and Donald share the challenges, rewards and frustrations of publishing at every level, providing an  immeasurable degree of camaraderie for two people who have been married to each other for almost 38 years. We both had earlier independent ‘careers’ which for a long time were satisfying, but later became cumbersome and finally outright distasteful. It is easy to see why many people retire, kick the career thing and just go fishing. But in this second go-around, we are still curious, have a lot of energy and want to do something together. Writing this publication provided us with just the vehicle. We like to learn, interact with creative people and bring some of our experience to others to enhance their picture of cause-and-effect actions which drive continuing and emerging technologies. We hope that this infomation will promote energy independence and a cleaner environment.  

Energy Independence

Recently, there are continued arguments over letting a Mideast oil producing country take over ownership of U. S. shipping ports. Some cite national security while others wonder why the profits should go to other countries. For years, we have had imbalance of dollars in foreign trade without much real concern. Because we continue to make the Arab pumping oil countries fabulously wealthy, they build huge cash reserves which they use to buy U.S. businesses and real estate. Then too, China, which takes hundreds of billions from us in foreign trade, thinks it is a good idea to use the cash to buy U.S. oil companies and we in the U. S. feel threatened. The bottom line is that this trade imbalance can’t go on forever or the U.S. will end up being a closeout sale country which went bankrupt, and there is no Chapter 11 for the U.S. in world finance.

Another related aspect of energy independence is the limited quantity of oil available. Because of the growing world population, the demand for oil not only increases in developed countries, but dynamic economies such as that of China and India also take an ever growing quantity of pumped oil, depleting available reserves even faster and increasing world oil prices. We have large reserves of coal in the U. S and can count on nuclear sources both from mined materials and reprocessed fuel to replace foreign sourced oil. Each has its challenges - coal with its air pollution and nuclear with its 10,000 year half life. Having renewable ‘home grown’ energy from the sun, wind, tides and biomass keeps energy dollars at home and expands jobs for U. S. citizens.

Much of  the technology for oil alternatives have batteries, fuel cells and photovoltaics at their core. An integral part of this oil alternative is the ‘vehicle’ of energy transport. With oil and natural gas, the transport mechanism is gasoline, diesel fuel or pipelines. When the alternatives are implemented, transportation must have a new ‘transport’ medium, and the option most often discussed is hydrogen as a gas, a liquid or loosely bound in a medium such as metal hydrides or sodium borohydride. The holy grail of hydrogen transport would be a liquid with handling properties similar to gasoline which would have equivalent energy density and after ‘being burned’ would have no remaining waste mass or pollutants. Because of the interconnection between the battery/fuel cell/photovoltaic technologies and transportation, we have tried to add material on the contributions of the hydrogen economy, grid-related issues and the impact of other energy sources such as coal, nuclear and other renewable resources.

Clean Environment

While often mentioned in the same phrase with energy independence, the quest for a cleaner environment stands on its own. The same solutions in electrochemistry again come to the rescue. Clean energy acquisition, conversion and storage methods are a mantra for a cleaner planet. Batteries in hybrid autos and  wind farm or PV storage already contribute to  greener ways to use power. Fuel cells, especially as auto engines, offer the promise of cleaner air and water supplies while PV, yet too expensive, continues to narrow the gap with hydrocarbon fuel sources. While it would be nice to imagine the ‘green world’ happening tomorrow, there really will be a very long transition period with some technologies such as hybrid transportation happening earlier, PV (and other direct solar methods) growing slowly, and an emerging fuel cell powerplant to replace the IC engine and fossil fueled stationary generators.

In these ten years, BD has repeatedly had to report on how much more expensive the ‘green technologies’ are than fossil fuels, despite the overlooked complete picture. Fossil fuel contributes pollutants which result in human diseases, most visibly lung disease from airborne fossil remnants. Fossil fuels are not burdened with the cost of medical care required to treat these diseases. The clean alternatives which do not produce health problems are compared to the dirty fuel ‘price at the pump.’ If the true cost of treating the contamination and health issues were included with the cost of a gallon of gas, or a cubic foot of natural gas, or a pound of coal, there would already be parity at the pump for our batteries, fuel cells, photovoltaics and other energy alternatives.

Another hidden cost of foreign oil is our cost to maintain military strength which must protect the regular flow of oil from the Mideast. No one wants to burden the price of a gallon of gasoline with a subsidy for a giant military budget; therefore, fossil generated power is twice as cheap as PV which needs no foreign defending. (BD Note: there is nothing in our position which takes away from the bravery and dedication of our military, security, police and fire fighters who continually put their lives in harms way to protect the safety of the U.S.A.)

If green power still cannot be justified, add its contribution to fighting the global warming problem. As we pour ever greater amounts of carbon dioxide into the air from underground obtained fossil fuels, we see glaciers melt, sea levels increase and weather patterns change, all adding to the discomfort and expense to the global community. While environmental solutions can be easily expounded, the purchasing attitudes of the masses make such transitions difficult and the time table turns into decades of procrastination rather than tomorrow’s action. By bringing the problems and alternatives to light, BD hopes to add to our reader’s understanding to promote the businesses of batteries/fuel cells  and PV.

The Good

Despite the continual problems of oil importation and pollution, these past ten years have seen visible growth in batteries used to improve mileage in transportation, PV has contributed clean energy to power grid demand, and fuel cells have moved from laboratory curiosities to prototypes which now power green experimental autos on the nation’s highways. Each technology was spurred by government grant money. Batteries now live, for the most part, in a supply/demand world; PV has a significant manufacturing infrastructure which requires decreasing subsidies. Meanwhile, the fuel cell community is field testing prototype systems in real world situations.

Also assisting the presence of our electrochemical technologies has been the continual march of increasing oil prices from the $20/bbl price in the 90s to the present high $60+/bbl. Some predict a backing off of oil prices, but with limited oil and gas reserves coupled with double digit world oil demand increases, this situation only seems to add more ‘fuel’ to further stimulate our electrochemical technologies.

Despite being only third in the world in solar-based energy production, the U. S. has progressed from less than 50 MW in 2002 to 120 MW in 2005 and the figure is projected to rise to 300 MW.  Instrumental in this growth is California with its its Solar Initiative, which provides funds to promote installation of 3,000 MW in the next 11 years. The U.S. Department of Energy is budgeting to decrease the cost of solar to make it competitive within 10 years.

The Bad

Hindsight is always 20/20 but in evaluating efforts we must use the hindsight to see where, if done differently, projects could have succeeded.   One failed project was the electric vehicle program in California in the 90s. Perhaps the means to the objective was too great and was formed without sufficient technical input. Visionaries saw the replacement of the family vehicle with an electric car which  would give commuters the same driving experience without smogging up Los Angeles. These visionaries could not find off-the-shelf batteries to do the job, and wrongly assumed that if you throw enough money into the project, the technology will be forthcoming. Perhaps this attitude came from the success of the Manhattan and Apollo projects. But in those programs, the science drove the success - a feature which was not in place with the California Air Resoruces Board (CARB) EV program.

Looking back with hindsight, we might say that if there was a goal to reduce (not eliminate) automotive emissions, an obtainable evolutionary path could have been chosen. Perhaps personal transportation EV programs could have been set up in crowded college campuses where green attitudes could be formed by young people who would soon enter the workforce. If the attitude of using electrics were perceived as ‘cool,’ initial limitations could be overcome, and an evolution of clean transportation could be expanded into additional transportation applications.

Another, easier implementation for EVs could have been accomplished with small fleet vehicles which would not require the massive commitment to public access charging stations since fleet vehicles return to the home base at regular intervals for top-up. Any disparity in economics could have been accommodated with  allowances similar to those experienced in the successful PV growth we have today. Getting started with a lesser aggressive program which fostered continual improvement could have resulted in ongoing progress rather than termination.

 And the Ugly

The modern word for reckless, uninformed commentary is blogging. With the Internet, everyone is an expert on everything and each person has no responsibility for his/her actions. BD and other publications which  work at writing a technically sound publication spend a lot of time gathering information, checking sources and creating structure so that an article can be used as worthwhile source information for a reader to build a correct picture of real conditions.

Many people are impressed with the soap box dissenter who thinks little, researches less and uses traveling salesman eloquence to make his or her point. Not only is the information of little value, but it also is often not recorded for analysis; such information can be very harmful and influence others who have little ability to measure written credibility. How often have we heard the argument against hydrogen safety in that it blew up the Hindenberg. Thin reporters and editors write from the hip of decimating conditions, not ever knowing the true definition of ‘decimation’ and others talk about energy technicalities, not knowing the difference between Watts and Watt hours. Chicken Little is alive and thriving in the world of electrochemical devices, their applications  and their relationship to global solutions.

Our pet peeve comes form those incapable of understanding the limits of thermodynamics which impose limitations on the energy densities of various battery chemistries. In this past decade, countless, useless stories have been generated chastising the battery world for not keeping pace with the increase in semiconductor package density which follows Moore’s law. Such irresponsible writings do much disservice to the battery industry because the information is read by the casual observer who immediately agrees with the position, not realizing the difference in ways of improving battery energy.

During these 10 years, Lithium-ion chemistry has moved form being a limited curiosity to a pervasive chemistry used in everything from notebook computers to spacecraft.Throughout this period, BD has emphasized the need for safety in design and quality control of this chemistry which, if not addressed, could result in thermal runaways creating fire and explosion hazards for the users. By keeping safety as the number one point of concern, we hope that our position has helped focus manufacturers‘ goals beyond just making money.

Our changes over the years

When we started the Newsletter, conventional wisdom was to publish regular issues, distributed on paper and paid for by subscriptions. An additional revenue for such a model is to included advertisements. The number of subscribers did not meet requirements, and possibly as a result, the advertisers did not show up.

At the beginning of the new millennium, web usage had become popular, so we migrated there. Initially, we still provided paper issues but eventually, we transitioned to the electronic format and sent out the Newlsetter via an Acrobat file. This was almost as cumbersome as the paper and neither subscription volume nor advertising dollars provided a critical mass. Various combinations of complimentary materials with web advertising continued to be disappointing. Finally, a totally new concept of Google advertising allowed us to arrive at the present model which provides free content with fairly innocuous ad blocks along the sides which do not affect loading time or readability. We have not totally eliminated the Acrobat form of the issue; it is still prepared and used for special applications such as to inform contributors. In the future, these issues may be made available for a fee as part of an archive available on CD .

Our columnists

No ten year summary would be complete without thanking our columnists, George Zguris and Isidor Buchmann, for providing our readers with a monthly insight into their expertise regarding batteries, separators and other alternative electrochemistries. We like to have the materials in the newsletter, but our major benefit is the personal interactions we have with each person.

The Future

The biggest error we can make is to make projections. After all, Economists have projected ten of the last six recessions. In the future, will pea size batteries transport us across country? Will fuel cells  suck smog from the air, and will PV  generate electricity after dark? We hold no ability to see the future. But we are going to be here to continue to report on the happenings, hopefully, with a nonpartisan position other than to promote the welfare of humanity which through individual responsibility, dedication and consideration of each other can produce a more peaceful world.   
Reflecting on a Decade of Change
Shirley’s Viewpoint
After 10 yeas of publishing Batteries Digest, it is a time to review and  ponder on the events which happened in the   world of  batteries and other power sources. As in all  endeavors, there are moments of exciting technological  advances as well as disappointments in the quest for more power, a cleaner environment and better communications.  

Transportation

In our first issue of Batteries Digest, April 1996, we highlighted autos, the ZERO emissions vehicles. It was exciting to see prototypes of Chrysler’s all electric EPIC mini-van, Ford’s Ecostar  and GM’s EV1.  The United States Advanced Battery Consortium was funding Nickel-metal hydride chemistry and in the 1995 Tour de Sol race, Solectria Co., set a range record with 238 miles without a charge,  using an Ovonic Nickel-metal hydride battery pack.   

After attending the Tour de Sol that year, we thought  we would surely have an all electric vehicle in our garage in 10 years. But within the next five years,  the death toll rang.  The battery  technology could not meet the PNGV (Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles) goals in range and cost for the  electrics.  Lead-acid was inexpensive but could never achieve an acceptable range before needing to be charged;  Lithium-ion, the new “high energy density kid on the block,” was not technologically ready for the challenge and was considered too volatile a chemistry at that time for vehicles ; and Nickel-metal hydride, which seemed to have range performance but was too costly,   went on to better pastures in becoming a power source for the first commercial  hybrid vehicles.   

Today, we are celebrating hybrids. In 2004, Toyota, Honda  and Ford sold about 85,000 gasoline/electric  hybrids in the U.S. Toyota, the leader in the group, sold 194,800 hybrids worldwide in 2005. There should be another dozen hybrid models on the road in the next few years and by 2009, Freedonia  Group’s research notes that the total will reach 800,000.  U.S. government tax credits might  be an incentive ;  currently, there is a credit up to $3,150 for anyone buying a hybrid car.  

Adobe Photoshop ImageThe EV1 passenger car is a two-seat coupe, which was the first electric vehicle  to be marketed to retail customers by a General Motors, on December 5, 1996. It was initially   powered by  Lead-acid batteries but  the later models (1999)   had Nickel-metal hydride batteries.  The vehicle could go from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than eight seconds.  With the Ovonic Nickel-metal hydride battery pack, the EV1 could travel an average of 120 miles before needing to be recharged.

All EV1 leases ran out in August 2004 and GM is no longer supporting the EV1 project.  A few universities and museums still have EV1 models. (Photo is courtesy of NESEA.) +

So, what kind of visions are seen in the crystal ball for the next ten years?  

Hybrids are seen as an interim step  in  creating a world with less pollution and less dependency on oil, but they are not the ultimate  solution.  Bryon McCormick of GM  stated at the 2005 Fuel cell Seminar in Palm Springs that even if all vehicles in the U.S. were hybrids , oil imports would rise in six years.  Because of  the increase in the number of automobiles on the road, not only is oil dependence increasing, but  according to U.S. government data,  vehicle emissions are also  a major cause of air pollution in the U.S.,  adding  29 to 63% of key chemicals in the air  that cause smog and health problems.

Government funders, environmentalists and socially conscious  venture capitalists are looking toward fuel cells and hydrogen as the answer.  If  Research and Markets’ forecast is correct, vehicle fuel cell markets should grow from $40.5 million in 2005 to $8500 million in 2011.    

One triumph being celebrated  is the progress of hydrogen transportation  in California.  Greencoast notes that over 1,000 Californians were taking regular rides in hydrogen-fueled cars, SUVs, trucks and high-capacity hydrogen vehicles in 2005, and by 2009, as many as 10,000 people a day could be riders in hydrogen vehicles and by 2012, the  number could escalate to  100,000.

The big question is when will fuel cells/ a hydrogen economy become a true commercial reality.  Progress is being made but it is slow.  For example, under the DOE (Department of Energy) plan in the 2006 Hydrogen Roadmap, $100 million has been set aside for a research budget over 4 years.  This will go toward research projects to improve fuel cell membranes, develop innovative fuel cell concepts and study the effects of impurities on fuel cell performance and durability. They note that “significant challenges must be overcome to move from today’s components and systems built using laboratory-scale fabrication technologies, to high-volume commercially manufactured products.”    Fuel cell-based  transportation is not just around the corner for everyone.  Are there enough dollars being spent to make it happen?

Meanwhile, Lead-acid which has been the “tried and true” chemistry for vehicles  for the last century is continuing to make improvements and will be the dominant battery for vehicles well into the future.  In fact, Business Trend Analysts, Inc. reported that over 128 million automotive batteries were estimated to be sold by the U.S. manufacturers in 2005.

Portable Power
BD did not begin to cover this category in depth until the fall of 1997.  The first extended article was on power management in electronics which was to be the key for extending battery life in handheld devices.  

At the fall session of Power ‘97, Professor Jeff Dahn of Dalhousie University had a jammed pack session providing a tutorial on Lithium-ion chemistry which was to be the future  ‘king of energy density” for the portable world.   Hideo Takeshita from the Nomura Research Institute in Japan projected  that there would be 288 million Lithium-ion cells shipped by the end of 1998.  Although very positive about the chemistry, he did note that Lithium-ion cells must be safe for every application.  The safety of Lithium-ion, and the features needed to create safe cells and  packs, was to be a major issue in the ensuing  decade.

Based on gains in percentages, Lithium-ion sales have had the greatest gains. In 1999, secondary (rechargeable) Lithium batteries had a market value  of $500 million.  By 2004, the value increased to almost $1.5 billion and in another three years the projection is approximately  $2.5 billion,  according to The Freedonia Group.  Although the Japanese giants, Sony and Sanyo, were the first manufacturers,  a plethora of production companies  have been  springing up all over China, which today has the greatest manufacturing growth for  Lithium-ion batteries than any other place in the world.

Success in an industry does not come without challenges.  The battery community has had to ardently work on safety standards which have been led by reputable companies in the industry and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Although standards have been created, there are still problems with producers who are driven by the almighty dollar and will do whatever it takes  to save a buck.  Thus, the U.S. CSPC (Consumer Safety Products Commission) has  far more recalls on Lithium-ion batteries than on any other battery chemistry.  In almost all recalls, the information provided by the voluntary recaller (importer, distributor or  retail seller)  of the product powered by a rechargeable Lithium battery states that origination for the battery as it is “Manufactured in China.”  The questions then remain:  Doesn’t anyone buying the product with the batteries really know (or care) who  manufactured the cells/packs with defects?  Is  there a written (or non-written) agreement that the manufacturer of the batteries not be disclosed?  Why aren’t Chinese manufacturers of the batteries being named and/or  taking responsibility?  Will “manufactured in China” remain  the status quo for the future?

Adobe Photoshop ImageAt the 2005 Fuel Cell Seminar in Palm Springs,  Kay Larsen of the Fuel Cell Store demonstrated her educational kits which promote hands-on learning relating to  fuel cells, solar energy and hydrogen  for students in the early grades as well as high school. +

At the Consumer Electronics Show this year, industry analysts announced that “wireless handsets account for 11 percent of the $123 billion in total Consumer Electronics industry shipment revenues expected this year.”  Rechargeable Lithium chemistries are powering these wireless devices.  There should be a respect (not criticism) for those researchers in electrochemistry  who are tweaking the cathodes, electrodes and electrolytes of the batteries to not only make  energy density  improvements but also to  enhance  safety.   

Education

The key to the future as well as the past is education.  Globally, the United States is no longer primarily noted for its scientists and engineers , but rather for  its business and MBA graduates and managers. In the U.S.,  there is an emphasis on education, but perhaps not a priority on science (i.e. electrochemistry and engineering).  TechNet, which is an organization dedicated to educational reform and has a task force consisting of company CEOs and Chairmen such as Craig  Barrett of Intel and Joe Tussic of EMC Corporation,  has issued the following statement: “America is not adequately preparing the next generation to lead our country and the world in science and innovation.  To remain the world’s technological leader in the 21st century, we must establish and achieve an ambitious goal.  We must double the number of Americans annually completing undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics within 10 years.”

The outcome of the trend in technical eduction affects U.S.-based companies.  For example, leading the auto industry in research on new technologies (hybrids, Lithium-ion battery development and fuel cells) are not U.S. companies such as GM and Ford but rather companies like Toyota and Honda which are presenters reporting at conferences on impressive R & D results. The largest rechargeable battery producer (with a large R&D staff)  for portable products  in the world  is Sanyo. Much of the research and development in power sources  in the U.S. is done in government labs or in smaller companies (i.e., Valance Technology, Ultralife Batteries, Energy Conversion Devices).

In the U.S., there seems to be an emphasis (beyond the 3 Rs’) on  classroom time spent on such topics as political correctness,  techniques for passing multiple choice tests, computer usage, and   sex education.  What time is then left for technical subjects, i.e, hands-on-science?

One of the first articles we wrote for BD was entitled “Electrathon a La Dumpster.”  It was a story of a middle school science teacher (with the help of an engineer)  in the inner city who “let the traditional curriculum go” and concentrated on having the students build a battery-powered electric vehicle, which incidentally, upon completion,  made a  successful three mile nonstop trip around one of the city lakes in Minneapolis.  The students not only learned about planning,  getting along, delegating responsibility,  and finding resources, but they also had to do it all with a bare bones  monetary budget.  The learning which took place was  phenomenal and best of all, it created an interest in  science.  

The idea of using  activity-based science is not  new for I can remember teaching science in the 70s with kits which had batteries, wires, and measurement tools. But there are many schools who do not allocate much time in this endeavor. Recently, The News -Times in Danbury, Connecticut featured an article on a hands-on science experience where  the children in the fourth grade made working  flashlights.  The newspaper reporter, Eileen Fitzgerald,  who covered the story    noted the excitement of the students with their comments  such as   “It’s fun to make electricity stuff.”   We must get children excited about science at an early age.  

Efforts to get children on track for the future world of hydrogen and fuel cells needs to be applauded. One such person working in this area  is Kay Larson of the Fuel Cell Store (www.fuelcell.edu.com).  She has spent hours writing curriculum and speaking to teachers about hands on science in the middle and high schools.  (i.e.,  making hydrogen from solar energy).  Developing an interest in technology and building a solid foundation must begin in the pre-high school years.

The future

 Currently, the battery industry is worth about US$ 50 billion,  according to information from Freedonia. We expect to see more consolidation in this global  industry with competition increasing.  Although the large Japanese suppliers have held four-fifths of the battery market, new contenders from China and Korea are gaining share.  

The battery industry has many associations by providing power to  environment-friendly technology, electronics,  communication and information industries.  Batteries are an integral part of life whether it be in entertainment, recreation, transportation, communication or health care.  Research and Markets notes that a battery  is “an important part of new energies, and has become a new hot spot of global economic development.”  It will be exciting to see the advancements in Lithium-ion,  nanotechnology, and  the development of thin-film batteries and their role in future products.

And what about fuel cells? Will fuel cells hold a significant role in the commercial arena in the next ten years?  The answer will lie with breakthroughs in cost, size and performance.

Stay tuned!                     

 DonaldAdobe Photoshop Image Shirley