Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – A startling new development in battery technology underscores why John Kerry is right that the US needs to cooperate with China on combating the climate crisis. The Washington Blob, the combination of lobbyists, permanent bureaucrats, national security professionals and think tanks, is always looking for an enemy to demonize. China is now being marked as a demon du jour inside the Beltway. There isn’t any doubt that the US has significant policy differences with Beijing. There is no reason, however, to allow those differences to be unnecessarily militarized. Moreover, there is no reason to allow differences in some areas to forestall cooperation in others.
The Chinese battery company Contemporary Amperex Technology Co.( CATL) announced at the Shanghai auto show a few days ago that it has succeeded in developing a whole new kind of battery for EVs and even airplanes, which is twice as efficient as our current lithium ion batteries. The new battery is a sodium ion technology, different from the reigning lithium ion battery that fuels most electric cars. If the new battery performs as advertised, it is potentially a huge game changer in electrification.
CATL is responsible for 37% of EV battery production and is the biggest battery maker in the world. It also produces batteries for energy storage. Ford is going to build a battery factory to produce CATL’s lithium ferrous phosphate batteries for use in its EVs. The partnership has drawn criticism in Congress from Sen. Marco Rubio and others, who apparently what to cut of their noses to spite their faces.
Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy on Climate Change, recently told Ben Adler at Yahoo News:
- “We have to work with China, we have to work with India. We even have to find a way, ultimately, if we can resolve the war in Ukraine, to work with Russia, because Russia is a huge emitter. And any one of these countries has an ability — if it doesn’t move to change its energy base — to make it much harder for the rest of the world, if not impossible, to reach the goals we’ve set.”
Kerry added, “President Biden empowered me to reach out to China and work with China, which we have done for two years, and with some effect.” He admitted that much more needs to be done.
The New York Post editorial board, which is a euphemism for the expletive that is billionaire press lord Rupert Murdoch, called Kerry’s remarks “clueless.”
The Blob wants to sanction into oblivion all the countries it demonizes, but that strategy is ineffective. Even relatively weak countries like Iran have found ways around the punitive and unilateral US financial and trade blockade. Washington’s attempt to sanction Russia into being a fourth world country have largely failed, because the US is only 24% of the global GDP (Nominal), and only 15% if you figure things in local currencies (people don’t pay international prices for eggs).
China accounts for 19% of world GDP and an even higher percentage of world trade. So if the US sanctions you and you can deal with China instead, the US can’t really hurt you.
The Blob also wouldn’t mind upping military tensions, because then the government will buy more goods from the arms manufacturers, who in turn pay for much of the Blob.
The wisdom of Kerry’s approach is apparent in CATL’s announcement.
The UK’s Autocar, which I get via Nexis Uni, explains that sodium ion batteries can go twice as far and are half as heavy as lithium ion batteries.
Lighter, smaller batteries are good. The new sodium ion battery has a density of 500 watt hours per 2.2 pounds (a kilogram).
Most light bulbs are 50 or 100 watts. But imagine if you had a tiny little light bulb, maybe a Christmas tree ornament, that only put out 1 watt. And imagine that you kept it on for an hour. That would be a watt hour. 500 watt hours is the like 10 50-watt light bulbs burning for an hour.
One of the best current batteries, the Panasonic 2170 in the Tesla 3, has a density of 260 watt hours per 2.2 pounds.
So with the new technology you could make the batteries weigh half as much, really cutting down on the drag that comes from batteries having to pull themselves along with the car.
Plus sodium or salt is far more common and far cheaper than lithium.
Electric vehicles could be more compact and go much farther with this new technology.
While the new batteries will be expensive to start with, they are expected to fall rapidly in price with volume manufacturing. CATL intends to put them in China’s BYD electric car by the end of this year. So we’re not talking about some big change on the far horizon. This one is on our doorstep.
One thing you could do with a battery that weighed half as much and allowed a vehicle to go twice as far on a charge would be to use it to fuel airplanes. CATL’s breakthrough means that battery-driven airplanes are no longer pie in the sky. Airplanes generate about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions. But if you could run them off batteries and charge the batteries from wind and solar, you could eliminate those emissions.
It would be suicide for the US to decline to benefit from CATL’s breakthrough, by “boycotting” all things China. And who knows where the next climate breakthrough will come from. Humanity can’t afford to let petty feuds stand in the way of avoiding the worst effects of the climate emergency.
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