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Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy First Edition Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0809030538
ISBN-10: 0809030535
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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.


“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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (May 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809030535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809030538
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,037,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Emc2 VINE VOICE on May 17, 2011
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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Let me say that the book is a fascinating read. For those who love science writing, this is great stuff. The technology, the disputes, the geopolitics; all this comes to play in a history of battery technology.

But, like most electric vehicle supporters, this work completely ignores and misses the boat on the environmental consequences of an electric car. In Los Angeles, one half of electrical power is produced for the basin in two coal-fired plants in Delta, Utah. Imagine what would happen to the local infrastructure if merely ten percent of the current fleet of automobiles went electric.

Contrary to a one-paragraph assertion in the book, electric power plants in automobiles is NOT the most efficient means of power consumption. The rate of loss by transmission lines is fairly large. By the time 1000 BTUs of power produced in Utah reaches an electric vehicle in Los Angeles, there is a huge loss. A localized internal combustion engine is much more efficient in Los Angeles that an electric vehicle in terms of BTU production and consumption per mile driven.

Also missing in the book -- well, again, there's a one-paragraph dismissal -- is the problem of disposing of an obsolete electric vehicle. The book handwaves the problem away by saying the batteries can be recycled, but there is no analysis of the difficulties and economics of such.

Perhaps the policy reasons for an electric fleet outweigh these concerns. Who cares about increased power production in Utah when there can be cleaner air in Los Angeles? Yet, electric car apologists need to tackle these issues; this book does not.
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