- 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: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#1,185,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #95 in Books > Engineering & Transportation > Automotive > Repair & Maintenance > Electrical Systems
- #189 in Books > Engineering & Transportation > Automotive > Repair & Maintenance > Testing & Certification
- #240 in Books > Engineering & Transportation > Engineering > Energy Production & Extraction > Electric
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Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy First Edition Edition
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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)
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Top customer reviews
Definitely recommended if you enjoy books about energy.
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). The book then present the different uses of lithium in a nutshell, including medicinal ones, and then Fletcher jumps in time to describe the developments of the last fifty years, beginning with all the maladies associated to the gas-powered automobile (tailpipe emissions and city smog, oil prices, national security, etc.).
And here the book turns into a detailed account of the development of the rechargeable batteries used in mobile electronics, beginning with cellular phones through laptops up to the iPods, and the key roles played by Michael Stanley Whittingham and John Bannister Goodenough, whom the book implicitly praise as the fathers of the lithium-ion battery. The historical account of the development of modern rechargeable batteries ends with the ongoing patent wars among the companies doing the latest developments and commercialization of lithium-ion batteries. The book also presents in detail the story of General Motors competition to choose its partner and battery cell supplier for the Chevrolet Volt, and how it ended as a competition among two strains of lithium-ion battery chemistry. I have to confess that now I am convinced the Volt development meant a real technological breakthrough.
I particularly enjoyed the chapters dealing with global lithium reserves and production; it is quite comprehensive and presents all the points of view. Mr. Fletcher provides a very realistic perspective and all the facts about the myth of "peak lithium" and also about the exaggerated worries regarding national security concerns regarding lithium supply (changing oil dependence for lithium dependence). The Bolivian and Chilean cases are presented in great detail, with enough historical background and his on site experience to let the reader understand how come their huge lithium reserves (Salar de Uyani and Salar de Atacama) are separated by just a few hundred kilometers but each country has a completely different approach on how to explore their lithium and benefit their peoples.
Despite the good global coverage of the li-ion battery development and technologies, the book's presentation of the electric cars available in the market today is pretty American centric, as Mr. Fletcher focuses mainly on the Chevy Volt's development, a bit on the short-lived tzero, and on the Tesla Roadster. There are occasional mentions to the Nissan Leaf, and just one to the Mitsubishi i MiEV near the end of the book.
Highly recommended for electric car fans but remember that the book focus is on the battery technology not so much about the electric cars, though the Chevy Volt is one of the book's main characters. For those interested in a detailed account of the Volt development, do not miss Larry Edsall's Chevrolet Volt: Charging into the Future.
PS: Also, do not miss the recently published High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug In the Auto Industry by green car journalist Jim Motavalli.
As for the synopsis on the state of electric cars, which one would expect to be the most exciting part of the story, I found the focus to be misplaced. After a tantalizingly brief mention of the pioneering efforts of Tesla Motors, and admitting that Japanese firms have a huge technological lead, the author chooses to concentrate instead on GM's efforts to produce the Volt. Perhaps this was meant to help sell this book to an American market, but for those looking for a concise overview of the science behind an issue of global concern, the narrative seems held hostage to concerns for the resurrection of the US auto industry.
Although he writes in an engaging style, the author also has a habit of inserting catty personal comments into descriptions of his sources that I found petty and distracting.
If you are interested in a concise update on the battery technology that may finally enable electric cars to achieve mass market success, this may turn your crank, but as a general overview of the state of the electric car, it sputters.