free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 416. CERAMATEC SODIUM-SULPHUR BATTERY

Monday, August 17, 2009


Interesting new battery with tremendous potential:

In a modest building on the west side of Salt Lake City, a team of specialists in advanced materials and electrochemistry has produced what could be the single most important breakthrough for clean, alternative energy since Socrates first noted solar heating 2,400 years ago.

The prize is the culmination of 10 years of research and testing -- a new generation of deep-storage battery that's small enough, and safe enough, to sit in your basement and power your home.

It promises to nudge the world to a paradigm shift as big as the switch from centralized mainframe computers in the 1980s to personal laptops. But this time the mainframe is America's antiquated electrical grid; and the switch is to personal power stations in millions of individual homes.


Inside Ceramatec's wonder battery is a chunk of solid sodium metal mated to a sulphur compound by an extraordinary, paper-thin ceramic membrane. The membrane conducts ions -- electrically charged particles -- back and forth to generate a current. The company calculates that the battery will cram 20 to 40 kilowatt hours of energy into a package about the size of a refrigerator, and operate below 90 degrees C.

This may not startle you, but it should. It's amazing. The most energy-dense batteries available today are huge bottles of super-hot molten sodium, swirling around at 600 degrees or so. At that temperature the material is highly conductive of electricity but it's both toxic and corrosive. You wouldn't want your kids around one of these.

The essence of Ceramatec's breakthrough is that high energy density (a lot of juice) can be achieved safely at normal temperatures and with solid components, not hot liquid.

Ceramatec says its new generation of battery would deliver a continuous flow of 5 kilowatts of electricity over four hours, with 3,650 daily discharge/recharge cycles over 10 years. With the batteries expected to sell in the neighborhood of $2,000, that translates to less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour over the battery's life. Conventional power from the grid typically costs in the neighborhood of 8 cents per kilowatt hour.

Re-read that last paragraph and let the information really sink in. Five kilowatts over four hours -- how much is that? Imagine your trash compactor, food processor, vacuum cleaner, stereo, sewing machine, one surface unit of an electric range and thirty-three 60-watt light bulbs all running nonstop for four hours each day before the house battery runs out. That's a pretty exciting place to live.

And then you recharge. With a projected 3,650 discharge/recharge cycles -- one per day for a decade -- you leave the next-best battery in the dust. Deep-cycling lead/acid batteries like the ones used in RVs are only good for a few hundred cycles, so they're kaput in a year or so.

by JD


At Monday, August 17, 2009 at 10:08:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Babun said...

If I'd have a nickel for every "promising new battery technology" I'd be rich. I've come to be very skeptical of any "battery breakthroughs"

At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 1:08:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping it up, JD. This sounds great.
Saw my first add for electric vehicle charging stations on an ordinary TV channel only yesterday. 500 charging stations are being built here in Berlin right now.


At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 3:07:00 AM PDT, Blogger Unknown said...

I found this part odd -
"With the batteries expected to sell in the neighborhood of $2,000, that translates to less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour over the battery's life. Conventional power from the grid typically costs in the neighborhood of 8 cents per kilowatt hour."

So are the daily recharges free? The article is comparing apples to oranges, storage capacity costs against electricity costs.

At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 5:52:00 AM PDT, Anonymous wiggsfly said...

I have to agree with Speedy that without recharge costs (might be in the link, but can't follow it from here) we are missing a lot of the picture.

At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 7:48:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Lp said...

Speedy- in the link it suggests that this technology, coupled with improving solar can make renewable energy a more practical reality for the average person- the batteries for home solar systems right now make owning a solar system difficult- a battery like this could change the equation.

At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 10:16:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole said...

Like Babun, I am waiting to see if this technology can be commercialized.
Nevertheless, the rapid improvements in batteries are real, and seem to be continuous. There is no dispute that batteries are better today than 10 years ago, and probably will be much better in 10 more years.
At some point, battery commercialization, for cars and other applications, becomes reality.
Sort of completely destroys the Peak Oil doom scenario. Batteries can be re-charged from grids, and grids can be fired by coal, natural gas, nukes, wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, biomass, you-name-it.
For myself, I think we are on the cusp of another 20-year global economic boom. There are multiple R&D teams working on a variety of energy issues globally. It is not just U.S. researchers anymore, but Japan, China, Europe and India and even Thailand. Information is transmitted globally and instantly by the web.
The only thing I fear is man's regrettable inhumanity to man. Technical solutions we will have by the bushel.

At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 11:39:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Ronald P Barrett said...

A very small wind generator (read low-cost) running most of the time could charge such a battery. We are looking for such a long-life cycle battery as we speak. Doing compound advanced Savonius VSWT R&D. Ron Barrett, Chief Engineer Emerald Wind Energy International,MO,USA

At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 12:09:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daniel Nocera (frequently quoted in the article and on their science advisory board) has quite a reputation as a hydrogen hypester.

Exactly 1 year he was in high gear after publishing a hydrogen paper in Science

See The Oil Drum here for an irreverent take-down.

So, now he's into batteries.

One thing remains constant, however..... he's rabidly anti-grid. Talking about his hydrogen advances:

"You’ve made your house into a fuel station," Daniel Nocera, a chemistry professor at MIT said. "I’ve gotten rid of all the goddamn grids."

From a Wired piece here.

Doesn't mean, of course, that there is no substance to this.... caution is appropriate, however.

At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 12:54:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


First announced April 9, 2009. If it was real the MSM would be full of it and the plugin vehicle manufacturers would be selling it.


At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 1:01:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lithium Sulphur is not vaporware like many of the others. There are several research labs around the country (and in other countries like Canada e.g. University of Waterloo) that have developed methods of creating the elusive sulphur cathode and making it stable enough and long lasting enough to be commercially viable.
The science has been done, and the concept works and could be commercialized. Now it's down to process engineering. It's quite possible that this company is the first to do it but my money says it won't be the last and that the big breakthrough is here. We're talking same weight as current li-ion batteries, same volume and 3X the power density for the same cost.

To substantially mitigate peak oil with limited impact we need to electrify mass transit and heavy trucking (though medium trucking would do in a pinch).
This technology will allow 3X the range for the same cost.
Do 300 mile range 65MPH medium duty trucks and 300 mile range buses sound like they may yet save the day? Personally I say yes.

If this turns out to be here NOW and not five years way, then mitigation of peak oil is going to be a speed to market challenge at worst.


At Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 1:20:00 PM PDT, Anonymous andytk said...

Ah, but with the low cost of off peak electricity, you could easily recharge at night and then deliver back at (expensive) peak periods.

If the difference between off peak and peak KWh is more than 3c then you're in the money.

The low capital cost and long life are essential if load shaving batteries are ever to become common.

That said, I'll believe cost projections when they actually sell one.

At Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 7:02:00 AM PDT, Blogger Ari said...


Two things.

1. Just because it's not being picked up a lot by the MSM doesn't mean much. The MSM misses all sorts of things, and besides, they tend to be more interested in "easy to communicate" things. This doesn't play well amongst mainstream sources because it's simply too complicated.

2. It's clearly early in development. If you keep in mind that Toyota is still hesitant to put Li-Ion batteries in the Prius because they still believe the technology to be "unproven" shows how slow some major manufacturers can be to integrate new technologies.

That said, there's clearly no lack of interest in bringing cost-effective plug-ins and hybrids to the market, so your brand of skepticism (that is, nothing will ever work, period) doesn't hold up in this case. It's apparent that there's a big push to move toward electric propulsion amongst all of the big players, Honda withstanding.

At Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 7:08:00 AM PDT, Blogger Ari said...

Black Lizard,

Caution is always good, but the Oil Drum MO has been "nothing works, ever" for quite some time. That doesn't accomplish much, either. I remember being told by the Negative Nancy types that hybrids would never be mass marketed back in the early aughties. Really?

I think it's fine to be skeptical of "breakthroughs," as many of them don't pan out. However, the canard amongst the pessimistic set online has been that "batteries haven't changed a bit, no way no how, EVER!" That's clearly untrue, and what these various battery stories show is that research is showing interesting and promising developments above and beyond the already fantastic improvements that have been made to batteries in the past decade alone.

At Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 10:51:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Bugger off. I just spent a week at Plugin 2009 successfully selling my technology to actual EDV OEM's.

I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't in the EDV and markets. And I work in them.

Pompous twit.


At Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 5:09:00 PM PDT, Blogger Ari said...


Look, I don't know you from Adam, and you don't know me from Eve. I only have what you've said here to go on, and so while I did ASSume a bit too much, it's also important to note (IMHO) that you've generally been a pessimistic skeptic on this site.

However, nothing I said is necessarily untrue. I wasn't trying to impugn your motives or your intelligence, but what I said still holds: the MSM misses things (and by the metric you're using, I should know, as I am part of it), and automakers have been, for the most part, very slow to adopt new battery technologies.

So, I propose this: I give you more time to establish who you are before I throw assumptions at you, and you trust me that I had no intent to insult your capabilities (I really didn't, honestly.)


At Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 2:15:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not stick a refrigerator size fuel cell in your basement for a few dollars more? JC SR

At Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 7:19:00 PM PDT, Anonymous DoctorJJ said...

I just reread all the posts here 3 times and if anyone is out of line and acting like a pompous twit, it's CLEARLY Lenny. What a prick!


At Saturday, August 22, 2009 at 5:45:00 AM PDT, Blogger bc said...

Pompous twit.

Pot, kettle.

At Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 6:27:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Soylent said...

"Why not stick a refrigerator size fuel cell in your basement for a few dollars more? JC SR"

If you're going to hammer in a nail, why don't you use a screwdriver?

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 7:47:00 AM PDT, Anonymous kdavis said...

What I find interesting is that this battery is clearly canabalistic. It still has to be heated to 200C and that takes energy which means it leaks. It would be helpful if there was some information on how much energy it takes to maintain that 20Kwh of energy for say 12 hours? This is after all a storage device. How long will it store a charge before it is empty (assuming no use at all)? Odd that it is being marketed only for home storage. At this size, density and cost you would think it would be perfect for hybrids and EV's. Is there a safety issue? Probably not since Think out of Norway has built a sodium based car that requires a molten core sodium battery.

At Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 4:28:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What I find interesting is that this battery is clearly canabalistic. It still has to be heated to 200C and that takes energy which means it leaks."

It quite clearly says it operates at less than 90 degrees.

If this is real it's the nail in the coffin for oil next decade.


At Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 11:01:00 PM PDT, Blogger Unknown said...

Hey guys. I live in Utah and this article is from my local newspaper. The quoted section leaves out what I think is an important technological point. This battery technology doesn't charge or discharge fast enough to work in electric vehicles. It just can't supply a high enough power. Still, it's promising technology.


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