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Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy [Hardcover]

by Seth Fletcher
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)


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Book Description

May 10, 2011 0809030535 978-0809030538 0

The sleek electronic tools that have become so ubiquitous—laptops, iPods, eReaders, and smart phones—are all powered by lithium batteries. Chances are you’ve got some lithium on your person right now. But aside from powering a mobile twenty first-century lifestyle, the third element on the periodic table may also hold the key to an environmentally sustainable, oil-independent future. From electric cars to a “smart” power grid that can actually store electricity, letting us harness the powers of the sun and the wind and use them when we need them, lithium—a metal half as dense as water, created in the first minutes after the Big Bang and found primarily in some of the most uninhabitable places on earth—is the key to setting us on a path toward a low-carbon energy future. It’s also shifting the geopolitical chessboard in profound ways.

In Bottled Lightning, the science reporter Seth Fletcher takes us on a fascinating journey, from the salt flats of Bolivia to the labs of MIT and Stanford, from the turmoil at GM to cutting-edge lithium-ion battery start-ups, introducing us to the key players and ideas in an industry with the power to reshape the world. Lithium is the thread that ties together many key stories of our time: the environmental movement; the American auto industry, staking its revival on the electrification of cars and trucks; the struggle between first-world countries in need of natural resources and the impoverished countries where those resources are found; and the overwhelming popularity of the portable, Internet-connected gadgets that are changing the way we communicate. With nearly limitless possibilities, the promise of lithium offers new hope to a foundering American economy desperately searching for a green-tech boom to revive it.



Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Electric cars are real—see the Tesla Roadster, Chevy Volt, and hybrids like the Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius—but the drive to create safe, lightweight, and long-lasting batteries to power them has been anything but smooth. Faced with political, technological, and management obstacles, battery technology still lags. In the mid-1800s Fletcher says, clean, cheap lead-acid batteries were developed that by the early 20th century were preferred for use in automobiles over "unreliable, complicated, loud, and dirty" gasoline-powered cars—until it came time to refuel. Thomas Edison tried to invent a safe, longer-duration battery, even experimenting with small amounts of lithium, but then Charles Kettering patented an automatic starter for gas engines, and the battle was lost. Smog and 1970s gas shortages revived interest in electric cars—and lithium batteries. But obstacles remain: Bolivia, Chile, and China have less than optimal political leadership and minimal infrastructure to safely mine and process the poisonous ore. More importantly, many technical challenges must be overcome before electric cars and buses become everyday modes of transportation. But Fletcher remains optimistic. He balances science and history with a closeup look at business practices and priorities, providing lucid and thorough coverage of a timely topic. (May)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review

“Fletcher makes a good case that the electric-car trend may soon be able to shed its dubious reputation as a public-private hybrid and roll under its own power.” —Ronald Bailey, The Wall Street Journal
 
“There’s never a dull page as Mr. Fletcher slaloms through the science, the business deals and the political pitfalls.” —Don Sherman, The New York Times
 
Bottled Lightning is a gripping introduction to this sophisticated technology and its place in our society.” —Bruno Scrosati, Nature
 
“A well-written, smart and—when Fletcher gets rolling in the last quarter of the book—rollicking story.”—Steve LeVine, Foreign Policy
 
“[Fletcher] follows lithium from the South American salt flats where most lithium minerals are mined to the labs of General Motors, tracing its journey from obscure metal to one of the most sought-after resources on earth—and perhaps the centerpiece of the automotive future.” —Discover
 
“Fletcher captivatingly explains just how significant lithium may become in satisfying the industrial world’s insatiable energy needs and, ultimately, reducing its dependence on oil . . . An informative and timely read.” —Carl Hays, Booklist
 
“[Fletcher] provides an entertaining, surprisingly eventful history of human efforts to harness energy in the form of battery power . . . A fine, readable work of popular science.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“Balances science and history with a closeup look at business practices and priorities, providing lucid and thorough coverage of a timely topic.” —Publishers Weekly
 
Bottled Lightning jumpstarts the electric-car story with one of the key players of the story—batteries—and does it brilliantly. The more you know, the more you’re ready.” —Chris Paine, director, Revenge of the Electric Car and Who Killed the Electric Car?
 
“To move from our present energy predicament the most vexing challenge is transportation—in short, to find a convenient, safe, portable energy source that packs as much energy per kilogram as does gasoline. Electric batteries have tantalized car builders since the 19th century, but still they seem to be just down the road a bit. In Bottled Lightning, Seth Fletcher enlists chemists, geologists, business investors, and automotive engineers to tell an engrossing and important story of how we got to where we are. This book can help us get to where we need to go.” —Rush Holt, U.S. House of Representatives
 
“An engaging read detailing the intrigue surrounding the birth and development of modern lithium-ion batteries. Fletcher intersperses the story of the science, business and politics of batteries with colorful quotes from some of the eminent personalities in the field.” —Gerbrand Ceder, professor of materials science and engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (May 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809030535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809030538
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #576,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Comprehensive, very well-written, and reads fluidly. As the title suggest, the book's focus is on rechargeable battery technologies and how the development of lithium-ion batteries made possible the launch of the first mass market electric cars in more than 100 years. The book scope covers events until around January 2011, right after the market launch of the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf in the United States, so it is one of the most updated books on this subject.

Be aware that at some points Mr. Fletcher gets carried away with technical explanations regarding how the different battery technologies work or describing battery chemistry or production processes, and thus, some basic to intermediate knowledge of chemistry and physics comes very handy. Nevertheless, the layman can safely skip these paragraphs without missing the main storyline; you just need to know that there are technologies A, B or C, and chemicals L, K and M.

The book provides a brief historical overview from the discovery of electricity, to the invention of the battery to its widespread use at the beginning of the automobile age, when one third of automobiles were electrically-powered. Here Mr. Fletcher pressed pause and explains in more detail key developments in battery technology, Edison efforts for a better battery and his discovery of the potential of lithium, until the electric car demise due to the invention of the electric self-starter and widespread adoption of the internal combustion engine. A few chapters ahead, he completes the history of the evolution of the electric car and the barriers that hindered its success (not surprisingly most are the same as today).
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story - well researched June 6, 2011
Format:Hardcover
This book is a readable monograph - sort of like an extended essay about the history, current state, and potential future of lithium batteries in electric cars. It fits into the category of books that educate you about a particular subject by providing background facts, details, references, and interviews and then weaving them together into an interesting narrative. So, as a first read, this book seems to be a good book for understanding the concerns about and the future for batteries in electric cars.

To judge the value of a this type of book, the first thing that I do is look at the reference section to see how extensive and diverse are the supporting materials. Mr. Fletcher has 17 pages of references, which is a good basis for a well-supported argument and essay of 215 pages (this number excludes counting the pages for the references, bibliography, and index). The one downside is that the references are not noted within the body of the text; each reference lists the page that it supports, which makes the reading easier but the checking of the facts, if you really want to do so, a bit more cumbersome.

The next thing that I check is the index. This book has 18 pages of index - indicating a good, thorough effort. The bibliography appears reasonable in length, breadth, and historical depth, as well.

The third criterion for judging such a book is the breadth and depth of the interviews conducted with primary players in a field. The material from interviews is a strength of this book - good, inciseful interviews of people in both the industry and the research arenas.

Finally, I judge a book by how well written and edited the text is. Clearly Mr. Fletcher is a fine author who writes a good narrative that can keep your interest.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Read May 22, 2011
By Brendan
Format:Hardcover
This book is a fantastic historical summary of what has been occurring in battery technologies and the current era of EVs. I work in EV infrastructure and renewable energy and have a very pragmatic engineer's opinion on the technological value of these systems. Fletcher does a great job articulating where battery technologies have come from, where they are, and where they need to go to make EVs a practical and cost effective reality. He also makes a compelling argument of why we need to do it. His balanced approach of addressing the issues, while lacing it within interesting true-life stories of his experiences researching these technologies, makes for an easy read. I have more fingers than books I've read in one sitting - and Fletcher's Bottled Lightning is one of them.

If you want to understand the technological merits of the different battery technologies and EVs - while making sense of some the various information and disinformation by various interests that gets floated around the web - read his book. He compiled it all for the rest of us - and did so entertainingly.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book I've Read on the Battery Industry June 17, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just finished the book--Bottled Lightning. Outstanding! I have been in the battery business for 50 years (Delco/Delphi) and have never seen a better book on the industry. I am a personal friend of Bob Hamlen, but didn't know his early history with lithium battery development until reading the book. I managed the GM/Delco Remy lithium battery program in the late 80s and 90s which was a partnership with Valence Technologies. Personnel of this team evolved into EnerDel and Altairnano. I know there was always concern for the availability of lithium and this book deals with this issue very competently. The discussion of the author's travels to the lithium deposits in Nevada, Chile and Bolivia was amazing. For anyone in the battery industry, the book is a must and the author's writing style makes the book an enjoyable read for everyone.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough explanation of both EVs and the batteries required.
Many people that think that the "EV" (electric only vehicle) will replace ICE (Internal Combustion Engines) as the primary energy source in cars. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Frank Greenhalgh
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough documentation of today's energy delema.
The perspective and analysis of electric cars and electric batteries is both gripping and enlightening. Way to Go Seth Fletcher!!
Published 9 months ago by Dave Garrison
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional. This is THE book on the development of lithium ion...
Congratulations to Seth Fletcher; he's taken a pretty dry topic and made it interesting. This book presents all the players, all the controversy and legal battles, and does so in... Read more
Published 12 months ago by J. Bready
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting story of the development of Li ion battery
I work on Li ion battery industry. This book tells many stories underneath the surface of the development in the industry and science. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Shin-Yi Tzou
5.0 out of 5 stars the book is well researched
I think the author did a great job researching for the material found in this book, it is a very interesting reading specially if your're into technology and current and future... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Rafael Yanez
3.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed reading it, but in no way a must read
This book is good, but not great. It is a somewhat sparse story of the history of the lithium battery and especially in relation to the electric car. Read more
Published on April 7, 2012 by David N. Thielen
4.0 out of 5 stars Bottled Lightning
If you think electric cars are new, think again. Inventor Thomas Edison developed batteries to run cars in 1902. Read more
Published on January 30, 2012 by Rolf Dobelli
5.0 out of 5 stars Lively read on a dry topic, fascinating and poignant details
Like many reviewers, I found this book enjoyable to read and full of insight. Seth Fletcher has placed himself (or perhaps just by luck found himself) smack in the middle of so... Read more
Published on December 15, 2011 by J. Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice Book and Nice Quality
This is a brand new book with high-quality papers, and reading it makes me a feeling of enjoyment. Whereas upon the content of the book, it's kind of introduction rather than a... Read more
Published on October 10, 2011 by Melody
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting book on the growing role of lithium and electric...
Good book with a nice history of battery technology and the problems faced by scientists as they try to squeeze more juice into battery and get it out when needed. Read more
Published on October 1, 2011 by JB
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