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on July 14, 2017
The book follows the history of battery development leading to the lithium batteries for modern electric vehicles. He has some interesting insights into lithium reserves which I haven't seen in other books about the topic. The book is from 2011 so it focuses a lot on the new for 2011 Chevy Volt. Unfortunately, I don't think there are any books that cover electric vehicles as of 2017. The bulk of the book covers history prior to 2011 so it's still relevant. If you read Powerhouse by Steve LevineThe Powerhouse: America, China, and the Great Battery War, Bottled Lightning features some of the same players so it's familiar territory. If you only read one of the two books, pick this one. Fletcher's journalistic writing style makes it easy and enjoyable reading but you won't walk away from this an expert in the technology.

Definitely recommended if you enjoy books about energy.
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on 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 July 16, 2013
Read this book to gain an understanding of one of the key technologies that is making the transition away from fossil fuels feasible, higher performance batteries. Fletcher is a senior editor for Popular Science magazine, and his story is delivered at that level of scientific sophistication, accurate but accessible. There is reason for optimism here. Lithium based batteries have the capability to store and deliver energy sufficient and at a low enough cost to make practical a range of devices, from smartphones to electric cars, that just weren't possible with earlier battery chemistries just a decade or so ago.
This is good news delivered in an enjoyable book.
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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 6, 2013
Anyone who wants to really understand the "electric car" situation in this country needs to read this book. It has the detail in lively prose that really illuminates the very complex nature of the "lithium battery". Having praised this book, I'm sure the author would agree that within a couple of years it will be a work of history. I'm not sure if it covers the Fisker debacle; this technology and the business story are unfolding rapidly. Nevertheless, Seth Fletcher has demonstrated great skill as a popularizer of science, and I'm looking forward to more from him.
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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 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 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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on August 14, 2017
Pretty well rounded book on history of batteries and electric cars as well as some technical information and regional on lithium.
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on November 11, 2016
If you are interested in the science that goes into electric cars and particularly the batteries this book is a good read .
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