Beyond a doubt, the success of the new sources of energy we need to replace dwindling, polluting, conflict-causing fossil fuels depends on storage. Batteries, in other words.
What really killed the electric car? Crappy batteries. Those lead acid batteries in your gas guzzler can’t do much more than crank the starter because they’re too heavy relative to the amount of energy they can pack (which isn’t much). What’s holding wind power and solar power back? A lack of grid storage to give us power when the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow.
In his new book, Popular Science editor Seth Fletcher, makes a compelling argument for one set of battery technologies about to save the day: lithium batteries. The Tesla Roadster, Chevy’s new Volt, and the Nissan Leaf are all in production because of much lighter, much more energy dense lithium ion batteries.
Still, those batteries only just do the job of hauling a car far enough beyond golf cart range to make them practical vehicles. The Volt, in fact, has a backup gas engine, just in case. But Fletcher says that’s just the beginning for this technology—that breakthroughs just around the corner can remove all traces of range anxiety and do much more for our society besides.
Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy is a tour de force, taking readers through the history of battery development to the present. What really makes it shine is the time he spends with the people making breakthroughs happen. He travels the world, visiting battery labs and factories, auto plants, lithium mines, and more, to go behind the scenes with the speculators, managers, scientists, and inventors creating, as he says, what “promises to be one of the greatest industries of the coming century.”
Aside from the kind of meticulous, leave-no-stone-unturned research that should make most writers feel lazy (excepting, of course, yours truly—cough, cough), Bottled Lightning compels with fascinating character sketches and evocative narrative that keeps the pages turning. Pick this one up; you won’t be disappointed.