Should you invest in lithium or hydrogen?
Is there a good, bad and ugly about batteries? Evidently. NiMH (Nickel-Metal Hydride) NiCad (Nickel-Cadmium), Li-Ion (Lithium-Ion), LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate), Alkaline, Carbon Zinc and Lithium all have strengths that are good and weaknesses that are bad. The ugly? That’s the Carbon Zinc whose only strength is that it is inexpensive. Its ugliness lies in its low energy, low endurance. Batteries “that qualify as little more than junk” according to zbattery’s Household Battery Guide.
Then there’s the battery battle between Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Musk says lithium-ion batteries are the technology of the future. But Bezos is buying hydrogen stock. Will the alternative power source of hydrogen fuel cells threaten the popularity of lithium?
Most of the research on use of lithium has been on developing faster, cheaper and more efficient lithium power sources. It is a good endeavor; trying to be the technology to take man out of the fossil fuel age. But it may be that hydrogen fuel cell technology will win this battery battle of the century. Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest men believes lithium will be the loser. Which is why he is investing heavily in hydrogen stock.
Strictly speaking, hydrogen fuel cells are not batteries. Batteries store whereas hydrogen fuel cells are a continuous source of fuel. Energy & Capital has a special report which defines:
The difference between a fuel cell and a battery is that fuel cells require a continuous source of fuel and oxygen to sustain the chemical reaction. Whereas, in a battery, the chemical energy comes from chemicals already present in the battery.
The other difference is that it takes about 9 minutes to refuel the hydrogen fuel cell, not the 9 hours to recharge the Tesla lithium battery. That is big!
Other Fascinating Battery Technologies
In a completely different direction, John Goodenough, considered to be the “father of lithium batteries,” is working on a new battery design which he says will be cleaner, increase functionality and come in at a much lower price. This new battery, still under development, will not use lithium. It is sodium based. Lithium is a rare substance. Sodium is plentiful. Production cost and resource availability are significant considerations.
Currently, battery is 30%-50% of car cost. Read the fascinating account of scientist Goodenough’s second battery breakthrough.
There’s no question that batteries are a key part of technology whether in our smartphone, laptop or car. And it is the car that is driving research and the future of which battery will be preferred. Bloomberg has an article detailing the global domination of the humble battery, projecting amazing growth in the next 5-7 years.
One million cars consume the same amount of lithium-ion batteries as everything else. That’s perspective on the current demand for battery power. Estimated global power demand for EVs in 2025 is 400 GWh compared to current 73 GWh in 2017.
Outliers in the Battle
Three outlying contenders for this huge power market: 1) longer lasting lithium-oxygen battery; 2) improvement of the lithium sulfur battery with polypyrrole interlayer technology; 3) solid state battery claim by Henrik Fisker of a 500-mile range on a one minute charge.
Fisker just successfully filed a patent for his proposed technology. However, there are those who discount anything good coming out of solid state – both as to cost to produce and actual workable technology. Wired quotes a senior VP of research and engineering at Nissan saying that, development of solid state batteries is “practically a zero at this stage.” Seems they said the same thing about the Wright Brothers. Not about batteries. About air flight.
We do not recommend buying stock in any particular energy source company – lithium, hydrogen or solid state. However, it is worthwhile reading about the progress that will be made over the years leading to 2025. Keep your smartphone charged!