Fuel Cells, Batteries, and the End of Gasoline Engines

Credit: Fraunhofer IKTS

Credit: Fraunhofer IKTS

I hate weed whackers.  Actually, I hate weed whackers that won’t start, which seems to be every one that I touch.  So recently, I ordered a cordless weed whacker from Ryobi, powered by a rechargeable 24V lithium-ion battery that will also fit the pole saw extension that I ordered and the hedge trimmer that I already have.

For so long, the internal combustion engine powered by gas/oil/diesel was the best way to power portable things, like cars, trucks, and weed whackers.  The energy density of fossil fuels  is fantastic, and the energy density of batteries — not so much.  Until recently.  Advances in battery technology seem to be coming weekly, making the battery more and more viable as a replacement for many internal combustion motors.

The other factor to consider is that the power to recharge these batteries comes from the grid.  Massive generation stations powered by coal, nuclear, hydro and other sources produce megawatts of electricity and send it out over a huge network  of transmission lines, through substations, and finally arriving at your home or business.  But advances in fuel cells, like described in this article at the Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence website, could move the generation capability right to your home, eliminating the need for the grid.  (We’d still need a distribution network for natural gas, of course.)  Commercial scale units are available from companies like Bloom Energy.

This sort of micro-generation capability (also known as “distributed generation”), combined with advanced batteries and technologies like LED lighting that dramatically lower demand for power all signal a major disruption to the existing order.  Factor in innovative business models like quick-swap batteries for electric cars that would operate much like a gas station crossed with gas grill cylinder exchange, and we can see many scenarios where the internal combustion engine is replaced by batteries.

This will be a major disruption to a variety of industries, who will (most certainly) not give in willingly. Oil and gas exploration, refining, and distribution is one obvious industry.  Automobile dealerships, service centers, oil change places, and auto parts stores all face sharp declines in demand for what they offer.

Many articles have been written about how the grid is overloaded and insecure.  These technologies can eliminate that problem.  Brownouts and blackouts become a thing of the past.

If (when) batteries displace internal combustion engines, the world will be a quieter, cleaner place.

Fuel Cells, Batteries, and the End of Gasoline Engines

3 Responses

  1. You might want to check this podcast out – http://www.asymcar.com/?p=363 . It touches on a lot of things you’ve covered here , and even makes an argument against lithium-ion batteries.

    July 30, 2014 at 11:19 pm #
    • I really like Horace Dediu’s stuff and the way he thinks and expresses himself. Thanks for the link to the podcast.

      August 1, 2014 at 5:41 pm #
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