tl, dr March
Hi Folks! Things to chew on from March.
Tesla Stirs Up Battery Market Tactical Jet Fuel Produced by Modified Bacteria Slight Boost for 2015 R&D in the US
#1 Although not scientific, but Tesla Motors’ ambitious plan definitely deserves its place on my list. The premium electric car maker has recently announced a massive plan of creating a “Gigafactory” to cover its exponentially increasing need for lithium ion batteries.1 Apparently the demand for Tesla cars, which btw was awarded the highest safety rating in the US, is far higher than the current lithium ion battery production capacity of Panasonic (current chief supplier) covers. The proposed “Gigafactory” would produce enough battery to supply 500,000!!! vehicles per year by 2020 (You probably should know that the 85 kWh battery pack in Model S contains more than 7,000 Li-ion cells – would You like, literally, sitting on them while driving? :)). If you find that number easily reachable let’s just stop here for a moment. In 2013, Tesla is already using around half of the batteries created worldwide for electric vehicles, and that only covers its Model S car, of which “only” a little bit more than 20,000 were sold. So, as you see, we are pretty far away from half a million. To supply that many cars Tesla would need to use up the whole global battery production or, from a different perspective, would need to more than double the current entire advanced battery production. According to the company’s plan by 2020 the battery pack output of the factory would be 50 GWh per year, that in itself is almost twice as much as globally consumed in 2012. The other part of this massive plan is to cut the production cost significantly, so that not only the company’s third generation car could be sold at a much more attractive price (~$35k instead of $79k that is the price for the Model S), but the produced advanced batteries could be more economical to use for stationary energy storage. Not sure how they are going cut the price in third, but if they follow through with their plan successfully the outcome will re-write the battery production map of the world. Currently, despite of the stimulus package of the Obama Administration, or maybe because of that, U.S. is only running after China, Japan and Korea in production capacity, however, this grandiose plan would shoot U.S. right to the front as the largest producer. Can you believe that? More importantly, are we ready to take this huge step from gas driven to electric cars? Is it safe enough? Is the science ready? When will you buy your own?
#2 Researchers from Georgia Tech and the Joint Bioenergy Institute at LBNL have developed a way to produce a high energy density biofuel that could potentially replace the oil-based JP-10 missile fuel. Because only a limited amount of JP-10 can be extracted from oil the production cost is kept pretty high ($25 / gallon) and this is the driving force towards biotech companies and research institutes working to find an equally good but much cheaper alternative solution. The discovery is to use enzymes harvested from trees and injected into E. coli to engineer the bacterium towards pinene (2-methylenebicyclo[3.1.1]heptane) production. The produced pinene is transformed into the final dimer form that is the base for the high-energy density tactical fuel. Although the authors claim that the production of pinene was already scaled up by 6 in comparison to earlier biosynthetic routes, there is still a 26 fold boost needed to compete with JP-10, not to mention commercial gasoline fuel featuring a $3 / gallon price. Hence, there is still a long way to go before commercialization, but the results are quite promising, to say the least.
#3 The Obama Administration announced the 2015 budget request that includes a slight boost for almost all federal R&D agencies up to total of more than $135b. Although the total increment is 1.2% from 2014, the distribution between agencies is not balanced equally. It seems that the biggest winner is DOE and other energy agencies with their total of 8.4% increase, while NASA’s R&D activity is proposed to cut by 1%. The request is still far from getting passed by the Congress, but personally I am very happy to see that a country is able to spend much more money on R&D than the GDP of my home country. Hoping to see more of those projects described in #2 in the future.
References 1) http://seekingalpha.com/article/2079253-gigafactory-will-cost-tesla-5-billion-but-offers-significant-cost-reductions 2) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/sb4001382 3) http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/i10/President-Sets-RD-Priorities.html