Customer Reviews: Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy
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on June 6, 2011
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. The only niggle that I had was that he tended to overuse the word "spike" when referring to a peak or major transition; a minor criticism at most.

"Bottled Lightning" is a good book, well researched, and well written. It provides a fine overview of the state of lithium batteries in automobiles. If you work in or near the fields of vehicular technology or power storage and distribution, this is a fine book to read and keep on your bookshelf for later reference.

(P.S. I wrote this review before reading the previous reviews so as to avoid any bias in my writing. I hope that I did not overlap the other reviews too much!)
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VINE VOICEon May 17, 2011
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). 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.
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on May 22, 2011
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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on July 31, 2011
As the subtitle suggests, this is a review of the current state of three different but related topics: electric cars, battery technology and the economics of lithium. The last topic is the unifying and controversial theme: how important is lithium to a greener future, and what are the geopolitics of its supply? The minutiae of recent evolutions in battery science are also explored in some depth. Even after being digested for supposedly popular consumption, though, the balance between edification and simplification sometimes disappoints on both sides. If you have an interest in such matters, however, it's certainly covered here.

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.
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on June 17, 2011
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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on July 15, 2011
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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on January 20, 2014
Many people that think that the "EV" (electric only vehicle) will replace ICE (Internal Combustion Engines) as the primary energy source in cars.
The author presents the case for the EV and the batteries that power it. The Lithium ion battery presently is the only type capable of storing and delivering the energy required for a performance automobile. Questions arise about the amount of lithium available, the design of the cells, the companies that build them. The author covers all the questions thoroughly. It is a good story and one we will all follow as the EVs start to represent a significant percentage of cars on the road.
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on September 7, 2011
Mr Fletcher's book will do a decent job of bringing you up to speed on some of the aspects of the 'Lithium Economy'.

While I would say the 'history of the battery' section was a bit too detailed for my taste Bottled Lighting does a good job of explaining how the lithium industry developed and where it stands today. However, a shortcoming of the book is that the main cost-benefit analysis that this book focuses on is regarding the electric-payload of different battery chemistries. A dollars and cents comparison of lithium powered vs a conventionally powered device is not found here. Since the cost of LI has gradually improved Mr Fletcher may not have felt that necessary, still, it would have helped to support the subtext of this book (ie; that LI is the way of the future.) Though, Mr Fletcher does address some concerns of LI from a resource availability perceptive which makes for a more interesting and rounded read.

All in all, a good read for the topic, but certainly not an exhaustive dialogue.
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on October 1, 2011
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. The mining and processing of lithium was interesting. But the book seemed to get bogged down in the details of the South American mines that took up many pages towards the end. Overall, though, a worthwhile book to read.
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on December 15, 2011
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 many interesting conversations and locales (from the Tesla production floor to the plains of Bolivia) that he has a fascinating story to tell. I was primarily interested in learning about Lithium. The author's travels and trip reports to South America were particularly valuable to me.
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