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Lithium Air Batteries Get Boost From IBM and DOE

samzenpus posted about 5 years ago | from the power-up dept.

IBM 240

coondoggie writes "The Department of Energy and IBM are serious about developing controversial lithium air batteries capable of powering a car for 500 miles on a single charge – a huge increase over current plug-in batteries that have a range of about 40 to 100 miles, the DOE said. The agency said 24 million hours of supercomputing time out of a total of 1.6 billion available hours at Argonne and Oak Ridge National Laboratories will be used by IBM and a team of researchers from those labs and Vanderbilt University to design new materials required for a lithium air battery."

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Hopefully not vaporware. (4, Insightful)

samurphy21 (193736) | about 5 years ago | (#30927448)

Because this is a game changing technology, if it pans out.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927478)

Hopefully vapor in the air is not a problem either.

Patents? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927556)

Well, because the DOE is bankrolling their computer time, does that mean the results will not be patent-encumbered?
Or are we in for more NiMH [wikipedia.org] crap?

Re:Patents? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927686)

Wow... I actually R'ed that FA, and there's a prime candidate for tl;dr if I ever saw one.

Re:Patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30928074)

Well, because the DOE is bankrolling their computer time, does that mean the results will not be patent-encumbered?
Or are we in for more NiMH [wikipedia.org] crap?

Two words: Rat Powered! [wikipedia.org]

DOE is serious? (1)

wealthychef (584778) | about 5 years ago | (#30928332)

Well, besides devoting 0.024/1.6 = 1.5% of the time on one supercomputer at one national lab on this problem, how else is the DOE serious about this? And after the 1.6 billion hours, does the computer self destruct? Just curious. Science reporters love big numbers, don't they?

24 million hours? So that's.... 2,500+ yrs? (4, Informative)

iamhassi (659463) | about 5 years ago | (#30928462)

" And after the 1.6 billion hours, does the computer self destruct? Just curious."

Same. 24 million hours? There's only 8,765 hours in a year [google.com] , so what is that, about 2,500 years?

So I googled it. Apparently supercomputer hours aren't people hours, they're processor-hours, so 1 processor working for 1 hour is 1 processor hour. [rochester.edu] 24 million hours means (# of processors) * (# of hours) = 24 million. For example, (24,000 processors) * (1,000 hours) = 24 million. So it could be done in 41 days, not 2,500 years, if they have 24,000 processors working on it.

Not sure if I like this method of measuring processor usage since a project that took a million hours in 2001 wouldn't take a million hours in 2010 but that's what's in the article.

Oh and to answer your question: no, it probably doesn't self-destruct but it'd probably be replaced since I'd imagine if 1.5% is anywhere near my hypothetical 41 days then that'd put 1.6 billion at about 7.4 yrs.

Re:24 million hours? So that's.... 2,500+ yrs? (1)

hclewk (1248568) | about 5 years ago | (#30928546)

Oh and to answer your question: no, it probably doesn't self-destruct but it'd probably be replaced since I'd imagine if 1.5% is anywhere near my hypothetical 41 days then that'd put 1.6 billion at about 7.4 yrs.

It's much more likely that the supercomputer is capable of 1.6 billion processor hours per year (or month?) and IBM is gonna be using 1.5% of that capacity. When IBM is done, that 1.5% will be freed up and can be used for something else.

Re:DOE is serious? (5, Informative)

iamhassi (659463) | about 5 years ago | (#30928522)

"And after the 1.6 billion hours, does the computer self destruct? Just curious"

Sorry I'm back and I have answers.

The Oak Ridge "Jaguar" Supercomputer is the World's Fastest, with 37,376 six-core AMD processors [sciencedaily.com] . That puts it at 224,256 processors, so those 24 million hours should be done in 107 hours, or a little more than 4 days.

The 1.6 billion hours comes from the here: [sciencedaily.com] "....computing facilities at Oak Ridge and Argonne national laboratories will employ a competitive peer review process to allocate researchers 1.6 billion processor hours in 2010." That works out to be about 297 days.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

GIL_Dude (850471) | about 5 years ago | (#30927582)

Yes, if it pans out and is semi-affordable it would be great. I can't really reasonably do an all electric now because my commute one way is 38 miles with no place to plug in at work. With a little bit longer trip on the way home (picking the kids up from school, etc.) it is over 80 miles before being home to charge. Even 200 miles on a charge would make this more attractive, although some folks would still want to have some sort of "battery swap" stations along the interstates so that they could take longer road trips.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (4, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#30927712)

"Affordable" isn't going to be anytime soon, at least not for comparison shoppers. Even at $5 a gallon, a decent sedan will go 100,000 miles on $20,000 of fuel (and neither of those assumptions are particularly aggressive, that $20,000 might get you closer to 250,000 miles).

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

IshmaelDS (981095) | about 5 years ago | (#30927806)

Have they already put a price tag on this battery somewhere? If not who cares how much $20,000 worth of fuel will get you? Might as well just make up numbers since there is nothing to compare it to. If there is and I missed reading it in the article, my bad, but I didn't see it there. Not to mention even if the battery was say $20,000, it's a onetime expense followed by significantly cheaper electricity costs to charge it then the ongoing fuel costs.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#30927892)

You can do some rough extrapolating based on the rather unaffordable price of something like the Tesla Roadster or the Chevy Volt, but my point was more that gasoline isn't particularly expensive, so the battery better be more than semi-affordable.

I'm not sure why you are so indignant that I would draw a comparison with current operating costs (and my post does do an OK job of pointing out that the battery better not cost $50,000, and so on).

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (2, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928198)

Well, for the record, GM says the Volt's pack costs under $10k. And that's first-generation. The raw materials in these types of cells are dirt cheap, so there's major potential for prices to drop in volume production.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

scdeimos (632778) | about 5 years ago | (#30928734)

If you look at existing (NiMH) battery technology for something like a Toyota Prius, you could expect an 8-year service life (based on the 8-year warranty) with a battery replacement cost of around US$3,000 afterward [howstuffworks.com] . And Toyota's saying that their cells are still going strong after 200,000 miles. Mind you, those NiMH cells aren't powering the entire vehicle for the entire trip.

Let's say the newer Li-Air cells will have a similar service life and are twice the cost, so US$6,000 - how much will you be paying in electricity to recharge the cells for 250,000 miles?

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (2, Informative)

scdeimos (632778) | about 5 years ago | (#30928792)

More stuff on Prius battery ranges here. [caradvice.com.au]

The only two recorded Prius battery changes in Australia (at the time of the article) where at 350,000km (220,000mi) and 500,000km (310,000mi). That's pretty good mileage and they're thrashing these things about in Taxis clocking up around 200,000km (125,000mi) per annum.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#30928772)

Yes, yes, the $20,000 was a consequence of calculating rough gas costs for driving 100,000 miles (which I see as a reasonable abstract unit of ownership), not a consequence of my deep knowledge of battery technology (but it really isn't nuts to think that the gas to go 100,000 miles might only cost $10,000 for a medium sized sedan).

So the point was more about starting to roughly quantify what the battery needs to cost to be competitive than it was about claiming the mass production cost of some technology that doesn't even quite exist yet.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928266)

Oh, and also, to help you "extrapolate" properly in the future:

  * EV drivetrains are currently handmade in small volumes, so they're very expensive. Even a low-end AC drivetrain will cost you about $10k (say, a DMOC445, AC24LS, and a Manzanita Micro PFC charger). A good one like the AC-150 that the Roadster's drivetrain was originally based on will run you more like $25k.
  * The Tesla Roadster's pack is very, very different from the Volt's, so it's not a good idea to compare the two. The Roadster's is a high capacity based on cobalt cells with a massive cooling system and a high DoD. The Volt's is low capacity based on manganese cells with a smaller cooling system and a low DoD.
  * The Tesla Roadster is a luxury carbon fiber sports car that does 0-60 in under 4 seconds. You get what you pay for.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (2, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30927844)

Well, since the average driver drives about 12,000 miles a year, and the average car is on the road for nearly two decades....

Sure, an individual owner doesn't keep it that long, but what that means is that your depreciation will be lower, since the vehicle remains cheap to operate. Once the luxury of a luxury vehicle wears off, or the style of a stylish vehicle becomes dated, you don't have much left. But efficiency is always a seller. A Hummer doesn't cost that much more than a Prius, but it depreciates three times as fast.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#30928000)

That's a bit of a loaded comparison. Personally, I'd be more interested in comparisons with a used Accord or Camry, or maybe a brand new Hyundai.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928128)

Accord [automotive.com] . Prius [automotive.com] .

The Prius depreciates a lot as soon as you drive it off the lot, but less than half as much each year after that -- despite being a more expensive vehicle.

Efficiency = low depreciation for the long run.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#30928720)

Those numbers certainly make a compelling case for the Prius (I looked at more than the 2 vehicles you linked and the Prius stands out from the crowd).

I do wonder how much the popularity of the Prius factors into the low depreciation though (I wouldn't be real surprised if the high first year depreciation was related to silly people trading in last years Prius for this years Prius and taking a bath on it for the shiny).

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 5 years ago | (#30928516)

and the average car is on the road for nearly two decades....

Really? You remember seeing a lot of 1985 Corollas back in 2005?

I'm not sure where you got that statistic. Maybe your cars have stayed on the road for two decades, but I don't see that many 1990 cars on the road these days.

Do you live in Arizona or something? Here in Chicago, I don't see that many 20 year-old cars.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

samurphy21 (193736) | about 5 years ago | (#30928672)

Agreed. I live in Eastern Canada where they use a lot of salt on the roads this time of year. Even with undercoating, you'll rarely see a car which outlasts it's engine. Usually a car's body rots to pieces before it's mechanically unsuitable for continued use.

There are many cars from as recent as 2000 or 2001 that are full of rust holes from people who don't bother to undercoat.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (4, Insightful)

Korin43 (881732) | about 5 years ago | (#30928322)

If you're looking to reduce your environment impact, I'd guess that living closer to work will have a much larger effect than buying a different car.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (4, Funny)

iamhassi (659463) | about 5 years ago | (#30928552)

"I'd guess that living closer to work will have a much larger effect than buying a different car."

with the current job market people would be moving twice a year to keep up. Might as well just get an RV [wikipedia.org] and live your new employer's parking lot until they go bankrupt and you have to change jobs again.

absolutely (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927658)

Absolutely a game changer. In fact, I got a real charge out of reading about them. The current methods are terminal. I was much more depressed before reading about these things. I think the technology really has potential. Hopefully they will cell, but they might have to amp up the advertising.

Re:absolutely (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927848)

I am usually resistant to change, but your enthusiasm has transformed my thinking. I don't want to draw any hasty conclusions, but this has the capacity to lead to good things.

Re:absolutely (1)

solevita (967690) | about 5 years ago | (#30928548)

Thank you Mr AC, this thread was a little short on jokes. I was shocked. It's good to see you swimming against the current.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (5, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30927766)

Lithium-air is, IMHO, one of the least promising upcoming battery techs. It's really more like a fuel cell, and to be blunt, fuel cells suck. By that, I mean:

  * Expensive per watt
  * Short lifespans
  * Inefficient

There are many, many promising next-gen battery techs other than li-air. Here's just a couple of my favorites.

Lithium-sulfur: This has long been worked on, but only just recently one of its big problems has been worked around. It offers great energy density, but some of the intermediary reaction products -- various lithium polysulfides -- are rather soluble. They'd migrate across the membrane and precipitate out on the other side, being rendered permanently useless to the reaction and thus aging the cells very quickly. Older solutions to try to prevent this caused dramatically lower energy density. The latest technique involves wicking the sulfur into the pores of mesoporous carbon and then functionalizing the outside of the carbon with polyethylene glycol to keep the hydrophobic polysulfides inside when they form. The longevity improvements were amazing, without sacrificing energy density. We're talking that when they deliberately chose a worst-case solvent, one that's really good at dissolving polysulfides, the traditional Li-S cell lost 96% of its sulfur in 30 cycles while theirs only lost 25%.

Nickel-lithium: It is, quite literally, a hybrid NiMH/li-ion battery -- a traditional NiMH cathode that can hold a tremendous amount of lithium, and a lithium metal anode (almost obscene anode energy density). That's normally impossible, since you want to run a NiMH battery with an aqueous electrolyte and your various lithium-based cells with an organic electrolyte. They do both -- they use a new tech called a LISICON membrane to keep the two different electrolytes apart but allow lithium ions across. An additional problem with li metal anodes is that dendrites tend to form that rupture the membrane -- but LISICON membranes are a rigid ceramic that resists dendrite damage.

Digital quantum battery: This is my favorite, because it comes straight out of left field. It's really a type of capacitor. Now, capacitors normally hold a lot less energy than batteries; if the voltage gets too high, you get dielectric breakdown, it arcs across, and your energy is lost. But at very tiny scales, current must move as quanta. So if instead of a single big capacitor, you lithographically print an array of nanoscale capacitors, all of the sudden you can make it so that you essentially can't get dielectric breakdown. In fact, you can store so much energy that the stresses become so great that it's best to use a carbon nanotube for one of the electrodes in each nano-capacitor. :)

And even ignoring next-gen battery techs, there is still *huge* range for improvement in li-ion. In particular, for the cathodes, my favorites are layered manganese cathodes which alternate long-life forms and high energy density forms of magnanese oxides to get both properties; and fluorinated metal cathodes. For the anodes, there's many kinds of tin and particularly silicon anodes out there that store nearly an order of magnitude more lithium than conventional graphite anodes. Silicon anode li-ion cells are just this month starting to hit the market. The tech has finally matured to the point where their longevity is sufficient.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (2, Insightful)

neiras (723124) | about 5 years ago | (#30927856)

Parent is Informative. Mods?

This post is Insightful. Or at least Funny, in a sad, "iPad" kind of way.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928068)

Um... huh?
Could you elaborate?

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (1)

uncreativeslashnick (1130315) | about 5 years ago | (#30928400)

I'm not really sure what you said, but it sounds pretty awesome

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (2, Funny)

samurphy21 (193736) | about 5 years ago | (#30928692)

The latest technique involves wicking the sulfur into the pores of mesoporous carbon and then functionalizing the outside of the carbon with polyethylene glycol to keep the hydrophobic polysulfides inside when they form.

I got a little bit hard right there.

Re:Hopefully not vaporware. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30928102)

Goodbye gasoline driven cars. Electricity is already much cheaper, all that was needed was a cheap/compact way to store it. Not to mention better energy storage will be a huge boon too so called "green" energy like solar and wind that can't stay "on" all the time.

sweet (1)

cooldfish (980233) | about 5 years ago | (#30927538)

i see subnotbooks with more than a day runtime comming

Charging Stations at Universities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927546)

Lithium air eBikes are the way forward. Just need to get the big auto makers to stop seeding negativity towards "hippy geeks" who tend to ride them.

Re:Charging Stations at Universities (1)

couchslug (175151) | about 5 years ago | (#30927770)

If _eBikes_ are the way forward, no big auto makers need be involved in their production.

Re:Charging Stations at Universities (2, Funny)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 5 years ago | (#30928028)

If eBikes are the way forward, then I'm turning this boat around.

looks like another pinto car (1)

tazanator (681948) | about 5 years ago | (#30927560)

They use highly flammable metals to do this so we will have another round of explosive cars out on the highways, and being metals they will require some thought into the use of water to put the flames out at accidents. Would be great once the bugs and dangers are worked out.

Re:looks like another pinto car (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 5 years ago | (#30927612)

On the other hand, Hollywood gets to put Lithium Air batteries into Pintos, creating an awesome thrill ride that will garner at least 4 stars by any reputable movie review site.

Re:looks like another pinto car (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927640)

They use highly flammable metals to do this so we will have another round of explosive cars out on the highways

Is it more flammable then gasoline?

and being metals they will require some thought into the use of water to put the flames out at accidents.

Why are you concerned, because of the electrical shock risk?

Re:looks like another pinto car (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927682)

and being metals they will require some thought into the use of water to put the flames out at accidents.

Why are you concerned, because of the electrical shock risk?

No, Lithium reacts violently with water, as do all the rare-earth metals in the left column of the periodic table (Sodium, Potassium, Cesium...)

Re:looks like another pinto car (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927854)

Rare earth elements consist of the f-block metals. The first column s-block metals Li, Na, K, Rb and Cs are all alkali metals. Lithium is actually the least reactive metal of the column. Potassium catches fire on exposure to water and Caesium essentially explodes on contact.

Re:looks like another pinto car (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927888)

Whoops, they're alkali metals, not rare-earth metals.

Re:looks like another pinto car (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 5 years ago | (#30927978)

I'm no chemist, but there is a difference between a gasoline fire and a Li-Ion battery exothermic reaction. It's all about how much heat/energy is released at any given time. For an extreme example, youtube some videos of thermite. Incredible stuff. I sure hope these Li-O2 batteries don't lean in that direction.

Re:looks like another pinto car (1)

xQuarkDS9x (646166) | about 5 years ago | (#30927660)

Yes but gasoline is just as highly flammable and yet you don't see too many cars exploding unless they are in serious accidents where the fuel tank or fuel lines are somehow ruptured and there's a fire going to boot to ignite it. I would also imagine once they refine the technology, they could take precautions to prevent explosions as much as possible.

Re:looks like another pinto car (2, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | about 5 years ago | (#30927774)

And unlike gasoline, there's no need to pump lithium around the car, so the risk of fire is much lower assuming adequate tank protection from puncture damage. With electric, instead of needing to protect a significant portion of the car from overheating or puncture damage, you only have a single compartment to protect, and that's typically underneath the vehicle.

Re:looks like another pinto car (4, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#30927710)

> They use highly flammable metals to do this so we will have another round of
> explosive cars out on the highways...

Anything that packs enough energy to run a car 300 miles into the volume of a gas tank is going to be potentially dangerous. There's no way around it.

> ...and being metals they will require some thought into the use of water to
> put the flames out at accidents.

Whereas water works real well on gasoline fires.

Re:looks like another pinto car (2, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928348)

Yeah, really explosive [egmcartech.com] . And those are cobalt-based cells, the kind that everyone worries about but which are not used in most EVs (just Tesla and Tesla-derivatives).

How much worse of an accident do you get than one in which you end up with an SUV sitting on top of your car and your battery pack fully bashed in?

Recharge time? (1)

cyberjock1980 (1131059) | about 5 years ago | (#30927602)

For a battery of this capacity what kinds of charging time are we talking here? I know that the standard electric cars are something around 6-8 hours. To maintain an 8 hour charge time for something like that the current draw is going to have to be pretty darn high. I don't know if charging a car like this is realistic. Of course, you wouldn't need to give it a full charge every night for most people.

Re:Recharge time? (2, Interesting)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 5 years ago | (#30927772)

Full charge of a Tesla Roadster, which has a 250 mile range, takes 3.5 hours on a 240 volt circuit at 70 amps. So yes, at quickest supported charging rate, the amperage is quite substantial. Many residential homes in the US have 100 amp service. 200 amp service is probably a good idea for Roadster owners. Charging a lithium-air battery pack with double the capacity might take 7 hours. But it could vary considerably from that guess because battery charge times differ depending on the chemistry and nanoscale structures in the cells. Lithium-air might be better or worse. One supposes part of the research effort is to figure out how to make sure the battery has reasonable charge times.

Re:Recharge time? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#30928152)

> Many residential homes in the US have 100 amp service.

Most have 200. 400 is usually available at extra cost.

Re:Recharge time? (1)

cyberjock1980 (1131059) | about 5 years ago | (#30928406)

The house I just moved into had a 60A fuse.... Needless to say the owner and I took a saturday and upgraded it to 200A with breakers!

Re:Recharge time? (2, Informative)

iamhassi (659463) | about 5 years ago | (#30928756)

"Many residential homes in the US have 100 amp service.

Most have 200. 400 is usually available at extra cost.*"

*citation need

Got it right here, says [answers.com] you're [yahoo.com] wrong [answerbag.com]

New construction homes get 200 amp, but even as recent as 2006 builders were providing 100 amp and 200 amp as an upgrade. [allexperts.com] This electrician in Wisconsin recommends 100 amps for house under 2,000 sq/ft [romanelectric.com] . I don't exactly know date when 200 amp became the standard for new construction but it's clear 100 amp is the norm for your average pre-owned home. 400 amp service for a residence basically doesn't exist [jlconline.com] unless you have extreme circumstances, like you were dumb enough to buy a 15kW tankless electric water heater [globalindustrial.com] (idiot should have bought gas) that's sucking down 130 amps when in use.

Re:Recharge time? (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928404)

8 hour charge for how many miles? I don't know about you, but my daily commute isn't 600 miles.

It's level 1 or level 2 charging at home, and level 3 or higher for long trips. And that's what it's going to be for probably the next century. It doesn't make sense to do it any other way. You only need fast charges when you're taking long trips, so you need fast charging stations available on the road. Around home, you want slow charging, which is gentler on the batteries (and, not to mention, the grid), as well as being more efficient.

By the way, for those who are curious:

Level 1: ~110V, 20A or less. US standard: SAE J1772 or the ever-common NEMA 5-15 plug.
Level 2: ~220V, 80A or less. US standard: SAE J1772. European standard: Mennekes, based on IEC 60309.
Level 3: ~440V, up to "hundreds" of amps. No official standard, but the TESCO connector seems to be becoming dominant.

The most powerful EV charger I'm aware of is an 800kW charger created by Aerovironment for TARDEC. That's ~800V and ~1000A, if I recall correctly. It's about the size of four vending machines pushed together.

Controversial? (1)

WilliamBaughman (1312511) | about 5 years ago | (#30927604)

The controversy surrounds the fact that they tend to be expensive and use an energy-dense, highly flammable metal, to react with the readily available oxygen in the air.

TFA doesn't say if these lithium-air batteries are more flammable than other lithium batteries. "Controversial" should probably be dropped from the summary.

Riding on air and gas-bagging (0)

gringer (252588) | about 5 years ago | (#30927674)

I'll have none of this airy-fairy stuff.

Overstated (4, Interesting)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 5 years ago | (#30927692)

capable of powering a car for 500 miles on a single charge - a huge increase over current plug-in batteries that have a range of about 40 to 100 miles

Current plug-in vehicles? Like, what a Chevy Volt or a hacked Prius? Nonsense. Try a Tesla Roadster, with a single charge range of 250 miles. Lithium-air might double the range then. But a factor of 5? No.

I do have one question though. How are lithium-ion batteries affected by increasing cell size? The Tesla Roadster currently uses a ridiculous number of very small cells in its pack, in a move that looks dictated by ridiculous patent licensing terms limiting cell sizes to those suitable for laptops in an effort to prevent the existence of something like the Roadster. That's what it looks like. But is there a technical reason to limit cell size? There is surprisingly little information available about how the performance of lithium cells change as they get physically larger (or smaller).

Re:Overstated (4, Informative)

dragonsomnolent (978815) | about 5 years ago | (#30927984)

I had read once that they were using the same technology as laptops so that they could let laptop battery manufacturers do the heavy lifting on battery R&D (a sensible approach I suppose) and after reading thier pdf about the batteries it seems to hint that they use them because they are cheap, standard (same ones used in laptop batteries), and should one fail, it doesn't affect the entire system as much overall (there is no mention of fire damage however). I'm sorry that I can't answer your question regarding increase or decrease of performance as size increases. But it doesn't seem Tesla is using small cells to avoid patent licensing issues (after all, Wikipedia indicates that they license their AC Motors in the Roadster)

Re:Overstated (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928448)

The person who responded to you first is indeed correct. It's not about patents; you're mixing up this with the old EV1 debacle. The Roadster uses 18650-format cobalt/graphite li-ion cells, which are already in mass production. They did this for obvious reasons; when they started out, the phosphates and spinels that everyone else is now using weren't really available.

As for fire, which the previous person commented on, each cell is contained within its own can that's designed to isolate failures to just that cell. It's a pretty complex pack indeed. Future EVs won't have such a complex pack. It's doubtful that even the Model S will, even though it's still going to be based on cobalt tech (that's what Tesla has experience with, after all -- and despite all its downsides, it is quite energy dense)

If you're curious as to how the pack is structured, there are 11 "sheets", each one made of 9 "bricks", and each of those made of 69 cells. Each of the cells in a brick are wired in parallel. The failure of one, therefore, has relatively little impact on the performance of the brick. The bricks and sheets are wired in series. Each sheet monitors the performance of all of its bricks and does load balancing on them, as well as logging failures. It's a pretty impressive piece of engineering.

Well (2, Interesting)

UPZ (947916) | about 5 years ago | (#30927706)

If it works out, who gets the patents - IBM or US Govt?

Re:Well (1)

uuddlrlrab (1617237) | about 5 years ago | (#30928096)

Can the US Gov hold patents? Is that legal?

If anything, I'd say it will either be unencumbered by patents (some open license format) in the best case, or IBM will get some kind of limited patent as part of their "cut."

Re:Well (2, Informative)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#30928188)

> Can the US Gov hold patents?

It can and does.

Re:Well (1)

drkwatr (609301) | about 5 years ago | (#30928478)

I know you are right about that, but it really confuses me. I for one consider it a conflict of interest since they aren't private enterprise. Another thing I'm confused about is who exactly owns it? I have heard arguments that technically the companies that funded the inventors owned it because of that, and if that is the case wouldn't any patent held by the U.S. government be owned by any and all citizens that pay taxes? I don't expect anyone to help me here since the whole idea of patents is kind of confusing to me. People get them on carefully worded solutions to problems, or get a patent for merely discovering some kind of genetic sequence that was already there (genes, vitamins, etc..). Pathetic really. I'm just wondering how well they will hold up prior art when over 100,000 inventions will be dumped into the public domain this year alone. Don't need patent reform, or need to get rid of them. If they hold up their end then we just need to invent it before anyone else can patent it. =) Keep watching the PDI website.

A new air pollution source? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30927746)

From TFA:

"Because they use air that's pulled into the battery as needed, rather than store a second reactant inside the cell, lithium-air batteries could have an energy density of more than 5,000 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg)."

Anyone get the feeling that airborne lithium will soon be a pollution concern? At least with all that lithium around, depression should be a thing of the past!

Re:A new air pollution source? (1)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | about 5 years ago | (#30927822)

Anyone get the feeling that airborne lithium will soon be a pollution concern? At least with all that lithium around, depression should be a thing of the past!

Great, along with lithium's side effect of "decreased sperm motility", you can cue the conspiracy theorists that the government is funding a population-control device.

Re:A new air pollution source? (2, Funny)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 5 years ago | (#30928060)

One could argue that with the number of automobile related fatalities every year, that they are already population control devices.

Re:A new air pollution source? (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | about 5 years ago | (#30928372)

No, no they couldn't.

Re:A new air pollution source? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 5 years ago | (#30928350)

Great, along with lithium's side effect of "decreased sperm motility", you can cue the conspiracy theorists

      You realize that for a start, lithium is a naturally occurring trace element, right? Now as far as I know, I haven't heard of a great deal of sterility in Argentina or China or Australia, where the world's largest lithium concentrations are found. Certainly there are no weird mutants to be seen - well, no weirder than anywhere else.

      Now considering the limited supply (it is after all a TRACE element), the fact that concentrated lithium deposits aren't extremely harmful to life, and now spread a little bit all around the world - what will happen? Nothing.

      Yes, metallic lithium is very reactive. Yes, batteries containing lithium have been known to short out and catch fire or explode. This was usually due to manufacturing defects in the batteries. However lithium's extreme reactivity is a plus, not a negative. This isn't something that's going to hang around in the environment in a reactive state for long. The minute it's out, it reacts and turns into something far less harmless. Preventing all of it from reacting at once is something that can be engineered. And because lithium is so scarce, when you start mass producing large quantities of batteries, you are going to want those batteries back to chemically reduce the lithium and recycle it. After all at one point this becomes cheaper than mining it afresh.

Re:A new air pollution source? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 5 years ago | (#30928268)

Anyone get the feeling that airborne lithium will soon be a pollution concern?

      Not really. Lithium is so reactive, you won't find any "airborne lithium". Only lithium oxide. Which will react with the water vapor in the air to produce lithium hydroxide. Which will react with CO2 to produce lithium carbonate which, like most carbonates, is not very soluble. Most of it will precipitate out of solution, and the rest will make us feel less depressed.

Fingers Crossed (2, Interesting)

hyades1 (1149581) | about 5 years ago | (#30927750)

Energy-dense storage media have been the missing link in a lot of relatively clean energy generation schemes. For example, both solar and wind power are challenged by the need to store power for when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining.

Re:Fingers Crossed (3, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#30928120)

> Energy-dense storage media have been the missing link in a lot of relatively
> clean energy generation schemes.

It isn't density that matters there. It's cost.

Recharge time and price bigger issue (2, Insightful)

BlueParrot (965239) | about 5 years ago | (#30928050)

Tbh with the Tesla breaking 500km the main obstacle for Electric Vehicles is no longer storage capacity of the batteries but rather the recharge time and battery price. LiFeP batteries have short recharge times ( 5 minuets or so ) and are starting to come down in price, so the big issue right now is designing an electric interface that can safely deliver the 200kW or so that would be needed to charge the a Tesla-equivalent 50kWh battery pack in less than 15 minutes. The standard proposed in Europe supports up to 43kW so there's some way to go still, but theoretically if you just developed the EU's proposal to support 100kW then using 2 cables would get you down to a 15min charge time.

It's a bit of an engineering problem to make such an interface safe for the average commuter to use, but it seems to me it is now fairly clear that batteries will be future energy carrier for personal cars. Hydrogen no longer has any advantages over batteries since it is has a low energy efficiency and even worse refueling problems than electrics, not to mention the infrastructure challenges. There is still no good way to produce biofuel at the scales required, and even if you could you would have to set up a new infrastructure from scratch, and they would likely still result in more pollution than the batteries. With fast charging batteries on the market now flywheels have also lost their advantage of being able to "charge" very rapidly and their low energy density and high cost makes them unlikely.

Basically eventually battery price will come down enough, and the Oil price will rise high enough, that electric vehicles will be cheaper than petrol. It's now just a matter of time, maybe just a few decades, before the majority of cars produced will be electric.

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#30928228)

But how are you going to distribute the power? My house gets 100A at 250V so thats 25000 watts. I doubt the cable in the street can supply that to each house at the same time (car charging time) when the electric stoves are cooking dinner as well. For 100kw we need four times that so at best we need to double the diameter of every cable running along every street and push back higher peak current requirements into the distribution system as well.

I think we are going to need to charge more for high current delivery on top of high energy delivery to encourage slow overnight charging, otherwise the networks and generators won't be able to cope with the demand.

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30928418)

This is why the "smart meter" technology is showing up to distribution customers -- why not have the electric meter communicate back to the car (or refrigerator, or water heater, or whatever) and the two devices exchange information on charging requirements? If some circuits in the house are heavily loaded, why not have a smart breaker box that gives some circuits priority while temporarily shutting off the car charging circuit?

Or the owner can set up a charging profile, and have the car go into a low-power-draw mode for 30 minutes knowing that the probability of the owner leaving the house after 9PM is low ?

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (1)

uncreativeslashnick (1130315) | about 5 years ago | (#30928422)

never underestimate the construction capability of people motivated by profit and funded by capitalists

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (2, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 5 years ago | (#30928614)

never underestimate the construction capability of people motivated by profit and funded by capitalists

Are these the same type of capitalists taking a 24 million computer-hour handout from the government?

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (1)

Penguinshit (591885) | about 5 years ago | (#30928468)

I think the parent was talking about 15 minutes at a "gas station". Slower feeds would indeed remain appropriate for homes.

A more distributed system would be better and easily adapted in the current infrastructure. Imagine each parking spot in a mall with a plug where you are charged for the energy received while you shop (like Red Box for electricity instead of dvds). Similar for places of employment (cost could be factored into salaries). A high-watt short time facility would only be necessary for long trips not accessible via public transportation (gratuitous admonition; my apologies).

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (1)

rahvin112 (446269) | about 5 years ago | (#30928488)

If you live in the US the Electric line that supplies your home is probably a 7kv but stepdown isn't much of an issue as I understand most of the power lines in the US that are modern (defined as last 30 years) are sized sufficiently to support up to 45kv with the transmission lines upwards of 100kv. At those voltages millions of amps can be delivered safely to the transformer that feeds your home. The problem isn't going to be distribution, it's going to be generation.

The annual energy usage of automobiles is more than the current electricity usage in the US. Converting the entire automobile fleet to electricity would require more than double the amount of electrical power in theory. Currently though because the vast majority of the US power is generated in coal fired power plants which burn the same amount of coal all day long regardless of energy demand more than half a days power is essentially wasted. Being that most people park their cars at night, when this power isn't used, the solution is to balance demand by charging cars at night when demand bottoms out. This power would essentially be free as the power plant is still burning the same amount of coal, just not generating power. In areas where there is extensive use of other forms of power generation such as natural gas, nuke and hydro the power generation is turned down at night and resources aren't consumed because the power plant can scale. It's during this down time maintenance is done. In these areas more power plants will be needed, more than double actually. The US currently has ~120 nuke power plants, to convert our automobiles to electricity we are going to need to build 120 more nukes. A typical nuke takes upwards of 10 years to construct (even a natural gas plant takes over 5), if we want the fleet converted in two decades we have to start construction TODAY so the power is available the day people switch to electric. This doesn't even include annual increases in demand.

If electricity is the future of the automobile, and I agree it is, we need to start building power plants today, regardless of source (ie nuke, hydro, wind, solar, natural gas, coal) and legislation needs to be changed to limit the impact of NIMBY.

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928534)

The annual energy usage of automobiles is more than the current electricity usage in the US.

True but grossly misleading. :) The average car has a tank-to-wheel average efficiency in normal combined city/highway driving of about 20%. Your average li-ion electric vehicle has a plug-to-wheel average efficiency under the same conditions of about 85%.

The reality is that almost no new generating capacity is needed [pnl.gov] .

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (3, Informative)

shermo (1284310) | about 5 years ago | (#30928712)

Coal plants can and do back off their generation at times of low demand. Typically they can go down to about 50-60% capacity without problems. You're correct in the general concept that they don't switch off and on quickly, but they certainly don't generate at max capacity 24/7.

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928620)

And you feel the need to charge at that rate *at home* why....? Do you have a 500 mile commute?

I only ever need rapid refill capability in my vehicle when taking trips, but perhaps your life is different.

Re:Recharge time and price bigger issue (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#30928696)

In fact I see little use for fast charging, except as an excuse to keep petrol (gas) stations in business. I plug my phone, laptop and music player in at night and I would be fine doing that with a car. The post I responded to discussed fast charging and ways to make that safe for normal people to use. I took that to be discussing charging in the home.

Personally I think we will see most urban commuters charging overnight at home, and some in high rise car parks. For long highway trips petrol stations on highways will evolve into places where people can amuse themselves for an hour or two and the fast charging mode will be supported. They will probably have their own electricity substations to deliver high power.

Don't recharge; swap! (1)

Hasai (131313) | about 5 years ago | (#30928788)

The difficulty of delivering such a large amount of power in such a short time would be bypassed if the battery packs were designed to be easily swapped in and out.

500 miles? (1)

heptapod (243146) | about 5 years ago | (#30928176)

So I can go 500 miles but what kind of speeds will I be experiencing? There's a difference between doing 40mph and 80mph through the Nevada desert.

Silly question... (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | about 5 years ago | (#30928192)

...But what exactly are they planning to accomplish with a supercomputer? What exactly are they looking for? Can they somehow brute-force search different models looking for ones that work?

And why can't they use a cloud instead? LiAir@Home FTW!

The Mind Has No Firewall (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30928286)

"The Mind Has No Firewall"
Army article on psychotronic weapons

>>> The following article is from the US military publication Parameters, subtitled "US Army War College Quarterly." It describes itself as "The United States Army's Senior Professional Journal." [Click here to read a crucial excerpt.]

http://www.thememoryhole.org/mil/mind-firewall.htm [thememoryhole.org]

"The Mind Has No Firewall" by Timothy L. Thomas. Parameters, Spring 1998, pp. 84-92.

http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usawc/Parameters/ [army.mil]

The human body, much like a computer, contains myriad data processors. They include, but are not limited to, the chemical-electrical activity of the brain, heart, and peripheral nervous system, the signals sent from the cortex region of the brain to other parts of our body, the tiny hair cells in the inner ear that process auditory signals, and the light-sensitive retina and cornea of the eye that process visual activity.[2] We are on the threshold of an era in which these data processors of the human body may be manipulated or debilitated. Examples of unplanned attacks on the body's data-processing capability are well-documented. Strobe lights have been known to cause epileptic seizures. Not long ago in Japan, children watching television cartoons were subjected to pulsating lights that caused seizures in some and made others very sick.

Defending friendly and targeting adversary data-processing capabilities of the body appears to be an area of weakness in the US approach to information warfare theory, a theory oriented heavily toward systems data-processing and designed to attain information dominance on the battlefield. Or so it would appear from information in the open, unclassified press. This US shortcoming may be a serious one, since the capabilities to alter the data- processing systems of the body already exist. A recent edition of U.S. News and World Report highlighted several of these "wonder weapons" (acoustics, microwaves, lasers) and noted that scientists are "searching the electromagnetic and sonic spectrums for wavelengths that can affect human behavior."[3] A recent Russian military article offered a slightly different slant to the problem, declaring that "humanity stands on the brink of a psychotronic war" with the mind and body as the focus. That article discussed Russian and international attempts to control the psycho-physical condition of man and his decisionmaking processes by the use of VHF-generators, "noiseless cassettes," and other technologies.

An entirely new arsenal of weapons, based on devices designed to introduce subliminal messages or to alter the body's psychological and data-processing capabilities, might be used to incapacitate individuals. These weapons aim to control or alter the psyche, or to attack the various sensory and data-processing systems of the human organism. In both cases, the goal is to confuse or destroy the signals that normally keep the body in equilibrium.

This article examines energy-based weapons, psychotronic weapons, and other developments designed to alter the ability of the human body to process stimuli. One consequence of this assessment is that the way we commonly use the term "information warfare" falls short when the individual soldier, not his equipment, becomes the target of attack.

Information Warfare Theory and the Data-Processing Element of Humans

In the United States the common conception of information warfare focuses primarily on the capabilities of hardware systems such as computers, satellites, and military equipment which process data in its various forms. According to Department of Defense Directive S-3600.1 of 9 December 1996, information warfare is defined as "an information operation conducted during time of crisis or conflict to achieve or promote specific objectives over a specific adversary or adversaries." An information operation is defined in the same directive as "actions taken to affect adversary information and information systems while defending one's own information and information systems." These "information systems" lie at the heart of the modernization effort of the US armed forces and other countries, and manifest themselves as hardware, software, communications capabilities, and highly trained individuals. Recently, the US Army conducted a mock battle that tested these systems under simulated combat conditions.

US Army Field Manual 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Graphics (released 30 September 1997), defines information warfare as "actions taken to achieve information superiority by affecting a hostile's information, information based-processes, and information systems, while defending one's own information, information processes, and information systems." The same manual defines information operations as a "continuous military operation within the military information environment that enables, enhances, and protects friendly forces' ability to collect, process, and act on information to achieve an advantage across the full range of military operations. [Information operations include] interacting with the Global Information Environment . . . and exploiting or denying an adversary's information and decision capabilities."[4]

This "systems" approach to the study of information warfare emphasizes the use of data, referred to as information, to penetrate an adversary's physical defenses that protect data (information) in order to obtain operational or strategic advantage. It has tended to ignore the role of the human body as an information- or data-processor in this quest for dominance except in those cases where an individual's logic or rational thought may be upset via disinformation or deception. As a consequence little attention is directed toward protecting the mind and body with a firewall as we have done with hardware systems. Nor have any techniques for doing so been prescribed. Yet the body is capable not only of being deceived, manipulated, or misinformed but also shut down or destroyed--just as any other data-processing system. The "data" the body receives from external sources--such as electromagnetic, vortex, or acoustic energy waves--or creates through its own electrical or chemical stimuli can be manipulated or changed just as the data (information) in any hardware system can be altered.

The only body-related information warfare element considered by the United States is psychological operations (PSYOP). In Joint Publication 3-13.1, for example, PSYOP is listed as one of the elements of command and control warfare. The publication notes that "the ultimate target of [information warfare] is the information dependent process, whether human or automated . . . . Command and control warfare (C2W) is an application of information warfare in military operations. . . . C2W is the integrated use of PSYOP, military deception, operations security, electronic warfare and physical destruction."[5]

One source defines information as a "nonaccidental signal used as an input to a computer or communications system."[6] The human body is a complex communication system constantly receiving nonaccidental and accidental signal inputs, both external and internal. If the ultimate target of information warfare is the information-dependent process, "whether human or automated," then the definition in the joint publication implies that human data-processing of internal and external signals can clearly be considered an aspect of information warfare. Foreign researchers have noted the link between humans as data processors and the conduct of information warfare. While some study only the PSYOP link, others go beyond it. As an example of the former, one recent Russian article described offensive information warfare as designed to "use the Internet channels for the purpose of organizing PSYOP as well as for `early political warning' of threats to American interests."[7] The author's assertion was based on the fact that "all mass media are used for PSYOP . . . [and] today this must include the Internet." The author asserted that the Pentagon wanted to use the Internet to "reinforce psychological influences" during special operations conducted outside of US borders to enlist sympathizers, who would accomplish many of the tasks previously entrusted to special units of the US armed forces.

Others, however, look beyond simple PSYOP ties to consider other aspects of the body's data-processing capability. One of the principal open source researchers on the relationship of information warfare to the body's data-processing capability is Russian Dr. Victor Solntsev of the Baumann Technical Institute in Moscow. Solntsev is a young, well-intentioned researcher striving to point out to the world the potential dangers of the computer operator interface. Supported by a network of institutes and academies, Solntsev has produced some interesting concepts.[8] He insists that man must be viewed as an open system instead of simply as an organism or closed system. As an open system, man communicates with his environment through information flows and communications media. One's physical environment, whether through electromagnetic, gravitational, acoustic, or other effects, can cause a change in the psycho-physiological condition of an organism, in Solntsev's opinion. Change of this sort could directly affect the mental state and consciousness of a computer operator. This would not be electronic war or information warfare in the traditional sense, but rather in a nontraditional and non-US sense. It might encompass, for example, a computer modified to become a weapon by using its energy output to emit acoustics that debilitate the operator. It also might encompass, as indicated below, futuristic weapons aimed against man's "open system."

Solntsev also examined the problem of "information noise," which creates a dense shield between a person and external reality. This noise may manifest itself in the form of signals, messages, images, or other items of information. The main target of this noise would be the consciousness of a person or a group of people. Behavior modification could be one objective of information noise; another could be to upset an individual's mental capacity to such an extent as to prevent reaction to any stimulus. Solntsev concludes that all levels of a person's psyche (subconscious, conscious, and "superconscious") are potential targets for destabilization.

According to Solntsev, one computer virus capable of affecting a person's psyche is Russian Virus 666. It manifests itself in every 25th frame of a visual display, where it produces a combination of colors that allegedly put computer operators into a trance. The subconscious perception of the new pattern eventually results in arrhythmia of the heart. Other Russian computer specialists, not just Solntsev, talk openly about this "25th frame effect" and its ability to subtly manage a computer user's perceptions. The purpose of this technique is to inject a thought into the viewer's subconscious. It may remind some of the subliminal advertising controversy in the United States in the late 1950s.

US Views on "Wonder Weapons": Altering the Data-Processing Ability of the Body

What technologies have been examined by the United States that possess the potential to disrupt the data-processing capabilities of the human organism? The 7 July 1997 issue of U.S. News and World Report described several of them designed, among other things, to vibrate the insides of humans, stun or nauseate them, put them to sleep, heat them up, or knock them down with a shock wave.[9] The technologies include dazzling lasers that can force the pupils to close; acoustic or sonic frequencies that cause the hair cells in the inner ear to vibrate and cause motion sickness, vertigo, and nausea, or frequencies that resonate the internal organs causing pain and spasms; and shock waves with the potential to knock down humans or airplanes and which can be mixed with pepper spray or chemicals.[10]

With modification, these technological applications can have many uses. Acoustic weapons, for example, could be adapted for use as acoustic rifles or as acoustic fields that, once established, might protect facilities, assist in hostage rescues, control riots, or clear paths for convoys. These waves, which can penetrate buildings, offer a host of opportunities for military and law enforcement officials. Microwave weapons, by stimulating the peripheral nervous system, can heat up the body, induce epileptic-like seizures, or cause cardiac arrest. Low-frequency radiation affects the electrical activity of the brain and can cause flu-like symptoms and nausea. Other projects sought to induce or prevent sleep, or to affect the signal from the motor cortex portion of the brain, overriding voluntary muscle movements. The latter are referred to as pulse wave weapons, and the Russian government has reportedly bought over 100,000 copies of the "Black Widow" version of them.[11]

However, this view of "wonder weapons" was contested by someone who should understand them. Brigadier General Larry Dodgen, Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Policy and Missions, wrote a letter to the editor about the "numerous inaccuracies" in the U.S. News and World Report article that "misrepresent the Department of Defense's views."[12] Dodgen's primary complaint seemed to have been that the magazine misrepresented the use of these technologies and their value to the armed forces. He also underscored the US intent to work within the scope of any international treaty concerning their application, as well as plans to abandon (or at least redesign) any weapon for which countermeasures are known. One is left with the feeling, however, that research in this area is intense. A concern not mentioned by Dodgen is that other countries or non-state actors may not be bound by the same constraints. It is hard to imagine someone with a greater desire than terrorists to get their hands on these technologies. "Psycho-terrorism" could be the next buzzword.

Russian Views on "Psychotronic War"

The term "psycho-terrorism" was coined by Russian writer N. Anisimov of the Moscow Anti-Psychotronic Center. According to Anisimov, psychotronic weapons are those that act to "take away a part of the information which is stored in a man's brain. It is sent to a computer, which reworks it to the level needed for those who need to control the man, and the modified information is then reinserted into the brain." These weapons are used against the mind to induce hallucinations, sickness, mutations in human cells, "zombification," or even death. Included in the arsenal are VHF generators, X-rays, ultrasound, and radio waves. Russian army Major I. Chernishev, writing in the military journal Orienteer in February 1997, asserted that "psy" weapons are under development all over the globe. Specific types of weapons noted by Chernishev (not all of which have prototypes) were:

A psychotronic generator, which produces a powerful electromagnetic emanation capable of being sent through telephone lines, TV, radio networks, supply pipes, and incandescent lamps.

An autonomous generator, a device that operates in the 10-150 Hertz band, which at the 10-20 Hertz band forms an infrasonic oscillation that is destructive to all living creatures.

A nervous system generator, designed to paralyze the central nervous systems of insects, which could have the same applicability to humans.

Ultrasound emanations, which one institute claims to have developed. Devices using ultrasound emanations are supposedly capable of carrying out bloodless internal operations without leaving a mark on the skin. They can also, according to Chernishev, be used to kill.

Noiseless cassettes. Chernishev claims that the Japanese have developed the ability to place infra-low frequency voice patterns over music, patterns that are detected by the subconscious. Russians claim to be using similar "bombardments" with computer programming to treat alcoholism or smoking.

The 25th-frame effect, alluded to above, a technique wherein each 25th frame of a movie reel or film footage contains a message that is picked up by the subconscious. This technique, if it works, could possibly be used to curb smoking and alcoholism, but it has wider, more sinister applications if used on a TV audience or a computer operator.

Psychotropics, defined as medical preparations used to induce a trance, euphoria, or depression. Referred to as "slow-acting mines," they could be slipped into the food of a politician or into the water supply of an entire city. Symptoms include headaches, noises, voices or commands in the brain, dizziness, pain in the abdominal cavities, cardiac arrhythmia, or even the destruction of the cardiovascular system.

There is confirmation from US researchers that this type of study is going on. Dr. Janet Morris, coauthor of The Warrior's Edge, reportedly went to the Moscow Institute of Psychocorrelations in 1991. There she was shown a technique pioneered by the Russian Department of Psycho-Correction at Moscow Medical Academy in which researchers electronically analyze the human mind in order to influence it. They input subliminal command messages, using key words transmitted in "white noise" or music. Using an infra-sound, very low frequency transmission, the acoustic psycho-correction message is transmitted via bone conduction.[13]

In summary, Chernishev noted that some of the militarily significant aspects of the "psy" weaponry deserve closer research, including the following nontraditional methods for disrupting the psyche of an individual:

ESP research: determining the properties and condition of objects without ever making contact with them and "reading" peoples' thoughts

Clairvoyance research: observing objects that are located just beyond the world of the visible--used for intelligence purposes

Telepathy research: transmitting thoughts over a distance--used for covert operations

Telekinesis research: actions involving the manipulation of physical objects using thought power, causing them to move or break apart--used against command and control systems, or to disrupt the functioning of weapons of mass destruction

Psychokinesis research: interfering with the thoughts of individuals, on either the strategic or tactical level

While many US scientists undoubtedly question this research, it receives strong support in Moscow. The point to underscore is that individuals in Russia (and other countries as well) believe these means can be used to attack or steal from the data-processing unit of the human body.

Solntsev's research, mentioned above, differs slightly from that of Chernishev. For example, Solntsev is more interested in hardware capabilities, specifically the study of the information-energy source associated with the computer-operator interface. He stresses that if these energy sources can be captured and integrated into the modern computer, the result will be a network worth more than "a simple sum of its components." Other researchers are studying high-frequency generators (those designed to stun the psyche with high frequency waves such as electromagnetic, acoustic, and gravitational); the manipulation or reconstruction of someone's thinking through planned measures such as reflexive control processes; the use of psychotronics, parapsychology, bioenergy, bio fields, and psychoenergy;[14] and unspecified "special operations" or anti-ESP training.

The last item is of particular interest. According to a Russian TV broadcast, the strategic rocket forces have begun anti-ESP training to ensure that no outside force can take over command and control functions of the force. That is, they are trying to construct a firewall around the heads of the operators.


At the end of July 1997, planners for Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration '97 "focused on technologies that enhance real-time collaborative planning in a multinational task force of the type used in Bosnia and in Operation Desert Storm. The JWID '97 network, called the Coalition Wide-Area Network (CWAN), is the first military network that allows allied nations to participate as full and equal partners."[15] The demonstration in effect was a trade fair for private companies to demonstrate their goods; defense ministries got to decide where and how to spend their money wiser, in many cases without incurring the cost of prototypes. It is a good example of doing business better with less. Technologies demonstrated included:[16]

Soldiers using laptop computers to drag cross-hairs over maps to call in airstrikes

Soldiers carrying beepers and mobile phones rather than guns

Generals tracking movements of every unit, counting the precise number of shells fired around the globe, and inspecting real-time damage inflicted on an enemy, all with multicolored graphics[17]

Every account of this exercise emphasized the ability of systems to process data and provide information feedback via the power invested in their microprocessors. The ability to affect or defend the data-processing capability of the human operators of these systems was never mentioned during the exercise; it has received only slight attention during countless exercises over the past several years. The time has come to ask why we appear to be ignoring the operators of our systems. Clearly the information operator, exposed before a vast array of potentially immobilizing weapons, is the weak spot in any nation's military assets. There are few international agreements protecting the individual soldier, and these rely on the good will of the combatants. Some nations, and terrorists of every stripe, don't care about such agreements.

This article has used the term data-processing to demonstrate its importance to ascertaining what so-called information warfare and information operations are all about. Data-processing is the action this nation and others need to protect. Information is nothing more than the output of this activity. As a result, the emphasis on information-related warfare terminology ("information dominance," "information carousel") that has proliferated for a decade does not seem to fit the situation before us. In some cases the battle to affect or protect data-processing elements pits one mechanical system against another. In other cases, mechanical systems may be confronted by the human organism, or vice versa, since humans can usually shut down any mechanical system with the flip of a switch. In reality, the game is about protecting or affecting signals, waves, and impulses that can influence the data-processing elements of systems, computers, or people. We are potentially the biggest victims of information warfare, because we have neglected to protect ourselves.

Our obsession with a "system of systems," "information dominance," and other such terminology is most likely a leading cause of our neglect of the human factor in our theories of information warfare. It is time to change our terminology and our conceptual paradigm. Our terminology is confusing us and sending us in directions that deal primarily with the hardware, software, and communications components of the data-processing spectrum. We need to spend more time researching how to protect the humans in our data management structures. Nothing in those structures can be sustained if our operators have been debilitated by potential adversaries or terrorists who--right now--may be designing the means to disrupt the human component of our carefully constructed notion of a system of systems.


1. I. Chernishev, "Can Rulers Make `Zombies' and Control the World?" Orienteer, February 1997, pp. 58-62.

2. Douglas Pasternak, "Wonder Weapons," U.S. News and World Report, 7 July 1997, pp. 38-46.

3. Ibid., p. 38.

4. FM 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Graphics, 30 September 1997, p. 1-82.

5. Joint Pub 3-13.1, Joint Doctrine for Command and Control Warfare (C2W), 7 February 1996, p. v.

6. The American Heritage Dictionary (2d College Ed.; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982), p. 660, definition 4.

7. Denis Snezhnyy, "Cybernetic Battlefield & National Security," Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, No. 10, 15-21 March 1997, p. 2.

8. Victor I. Solntsev, "Information War and Some Aspects of a Computer Operator's Defense," talk given at an Infowar Conference in Washington, D.C., September 1996, sponsored by the National Computer Security Association. Information in this section is based on notes from Dr. Solntsev's talk.

9. Pasternak, p. 40.

10. Ibid., pp. 40-46.

11. Ibid.

12. Larry Dodgen, "Nonlethal Weapons," U.S. News and World Report, 4 August 1997, p. 5.

13. "Background on the Aviary," Nexus Magazine, downloaded from the Internet on 13 July 1997 from www.execpc.com/vjentpr/nexusavi.html, p.7.

14. Aleksandr Cherkasov, "The Front Where Shots Aren't Fired," Orienteer, May 1995, p. 45. This article was based on information in the foreign and Russian press, according to the author, making it impossible to pinpoint what his source was for this reference.

15. Bob Brewin, "DOD looks for IT `golden nuggets,'" Federal Computer Week, 28 July 1997, p. 31, as taken from the Earlybird Supplement, 4 August 1997, p. B 17.

16. Oliver August, "Zap! Hard day at the office for NATO's laptop warriors," The Times, 28 July 1997, as taken from the Earlybird Supplement, 4 August 1997, p. B 16.

17. Ibid.

Lieutenant Colonel Timothy L. Thomas (USA Ret.) is an analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Recently he has written extensively on the Russian view of information operations and on current Russian military-political issues. During his military career he served in the 82d Airborne Division and was the Department Head of Soviet Military-Political Affairs at the US Army's Russian Institute in Garmisch, Germany.

[see the article on the Parameters portion of the Army Website.]
http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usawc/Parameters/98spring/thomas.htm [army.mil]

Gasoline's energy density is a fundamental limit (1, Interesting)

viking80 (697716) | about 5 years ago | (#30928296)

Gasoline at 50MJ/kg is pretty much the most dense energy storage possible in this universe excluding nuclear energy. (Hydrogen is 150MJ/kg, and might beat gas, but it needs to be in liquid form. Same range anyway) It exclude the weigh of the oxygen as well.

This is kind of a fundamental limit as to how much energy can be stored in *any* system using potential energy of the electric field of matter. That includes (nano)springs, batteries and small flywheels (flywheels bigger than the earth with relativistic speed could exceed this limit)

You may get 2x better efficiency in an electric motor, but I can not see how a battery can approach this value. A gas tank probably weighs 5% of the fuel it holds, and to build a battery where all infrastructure to support the (very) active material only weighs a few percent of the battery wold be very hard even if you find such a chemistry.

Re:Gasoline's energy density is a fundamental limi (1)

Xamusk (702162) | about 5 years ago | (#30928476)

One advantage of gas is that when you use it, the car gets lighter. However, you're just counting energy density, forgetting energy efficiency. The car, specially on daily commuting, wastes a lot of energy. Braking, keeping the car on while not moving (like in traffic jams or lights), heat, there's a lot of energy that could be harvested or not wasted at all with electric cars.

Re:Gasoline's energy density is a fundamental limi (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30928526)

Ummm... No it's not. It may be one of the best energy densities that we've found yet for relatively-safe, convenient, and stable common compounds, but it's nowhere near "the most dense". Most rocket fuels, explosives, and the class of more-efficient combustion products (such as hydrogen) are all better. They just have this annoying tendency to release their energy unexpectedly, all at once, or both.

Re:Gasoline's energy density is a fundamental limi (1)

Cyberax (705495) | about 5 years ago | (#30928528)

But you don't need heavy gas engine in electric car...

Also, there are denser energy storage mediums than gasoline. Some are practical (diesel), some are not (lithium hydride + fluorine).

Re:Gasoline's energy density is a fundamental limi (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#30928574)

Gasoline at 50MJ/kg is pretty much the most dense energy storage possible in this universe excluding nuclear energy.

Not even close. For example, beryllium blows it away in both volumetric and gravimetric energy density (and hydrogen blows beryllium out of the water in gravimetric comparisons, but sucks at volumetric). And comparing any of them to nuclear energy is laughable.

This is kind of a fundamental limit as to how much energy can be stored in *any* system using potential energy of the electric field of matter.

No, it isn't. Nor is beryllium. Energy doesn't even have to be stored in chemical bonds (see, for example, digital quantum batteries).

You may get 2x better efficiency in an electric motor,

Try 4x in typical driving conditions.

but I can not see how a battery can approach this value.

It doesn't need to. A motor the size of a watermelon propels the Tesla Roadster from 0-60 in under 4 seconds. In gasoline cars, the fuel is light and the engine is heavy. In EVs, the motor is light and the "fuel" (the battery pack) is heavy. It's a reversed paradigm. You have to compare the mass and volume of the engine + fuel to the mass and volume of motor + fuel. And with current battery tech, you'll find that EVs are about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way to matching gasoline cars. But batteries have increased nearly 5-fold in energy density the past 21 years, and show no signs of stopping.

Re:Gasoline's energy density is a fundamental limi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30928612)

However engines are only about 30% efficient, and very heavy. In contrast, electric motors are light, so you basically swap the weight of the engine and everything needed to keep an ICE running (coolant systems, alternator, etc.) with the weight of the battery. The battery has to mass less than the *engine*, not the fuel, since the fuel tank and the electric motors are pretty close in terms of mass, for cars to have the same mass they have today.

Re:Gasoline's energy density is a fundamental limi (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30928622)

The issue here, is how much of the 50MJ/kg is actually converted into mechanical energy via the combustion process, and how much of it is expelled as waste thermal energy out of the tail pipe, and leaked out of the metal skin of the engine?

Since an electric engine is not a thermal engine, it does not have to obey carnot efficiency. Nearly all of the thermal loss comes directly from the resistance of the materials in the battery pack, and in the coil windings and power leads to the motor.

The pedant will argue that the power plant that generates the power which charges the battery pack is a carnot heat engine (Steam turbine in nuclear plant, Steam turbine in coal plant, with exception of water turbine in hydroelectric.), and thus suffers the carnot efficiency limit, in addition to the compounding losses of resistance in trasmission, charging, and operation (making it always net lower than direct gas combustion.) This however totally ignores solar power(Not a carnot heat engine), Wind power (also not a heat engine, unless you get REALLY pedantic, and say that wind is just a natural thermal imbalance in the atmosphere, and subject to carnot efficiency from the sun's heat, which is really stretching it.), and hydroelectric power (also not a heat engine). Also, it does not apply the same way to a geothermal plant, despite being a heat engine (Hot steam, geothermal heat source), since the plant does not burn a fuel (compares apples to oranges.

Thus, the REAL issue is not how much energy is stored in the "fuel", but how much energy in that fuel is actually used to do work. A black hole contains an absurdly high amount of energy per kg, but you cannot get any energy out of it, making it worthless, etc.

Researching lower resistance + higher capacity + lighter weight battery packs, along with the use of very low resistance/superconductive coil windings would do much to push an electric engine above the maximum efficiency of any heat-based engine, simply by reducing the amount of heat produced, potentially by orders of magnitude.

That is to say, you don't NEED to carry around 50MJ/kg of energy, if you get better economy out of your storage system: You can carry more water in a tincan than you can in a 55 gallon barrel with holes poked in the bottom, using the same number of trips. The reason is because the tincan doesn't leak nearly as much as the 55 gallon drum does.

THAT is how an electrical motor can beat a heat engine's efficiency. (assuming you arent filling the tincan using leaky 55 gallon drums, of course; using a coal/oil/nuclear power plant to charge the battery defeats the purpose, since the second law demands that you could never beat direct application using indirect application. The transmission system will ALWAYS incur a loss in addition to the losses of the direct generation at the power plant.)

Thus, what the pedant needs to do is stop thinking in terms of oil being the gold-standard, since that creates circular logic. (If Oil is the gold standard, you can never beat oil.) Instead, you should look at the total effiency as the standard, and aim to beat that. That can actually be done.

Mining in outerspace? (1)

recharged95 (782975) | about 5 years ago | (#30928362)

Last I heard was lithium was a precious metal--and 50% of the world's sources were in one country (So Am).

Also, last I heard was precious meant expensive and rare...

Re:Mining in outerspace? (1)

mmontour (2208) | about 5 years ago | (#30928520)

Last I heard was lithium was a precious metal--and 50% of the world's sources were in one country (So Am).

Also, last I heard was precious meant expensive and rare...

Some quick googling suggests a price around $6000 per ton of lithium carbonate, which would contain about 100 kg of lithium. So call it $60 per kg.

I would consider silver to be the entry-level "precious" metal. It's currently trading around $17 per troy oz, or about $550 per kg.

Therefore your girlfriend won't be very impressed when you give her that lithium engagement ring.

Re:Mining in outerspace? (3, Informative)

Cyberax (705495) | about 5 years ago | (#30928532)


Lithium is plentiful, you can mine it from seawater indefinitely for about $60 per kg. It's just that some countries can supply lithium at smaller prices.

Re:Mining in outerspace? (2, Informative)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#30928606)

> Last I heard was lithium was a precious metal...

You last heard wrong. It goes for around $100/kg, less than 1/4 the price of silver.

> ...50% of the world's sources were in one country (So Am).

Chile seems to currently have the largest proven reserves, but lithium is not very rare (similar in concentration in the Earth's crust to nickel and lead) and is widely distributed.

One Word... EEStor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#30928590)

and... hopefully soon...

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