Navigant Research Blog

Algorithm Could Accelerate Advanced Batteries

— November 1, 2012

Innovation is what happens when we think our way out of a problem.  Engineers at the University of California, San Diego have developed sophisticated algorithms designed to run lithium ion batteries more efficiently and to do what chemistry can’t do:  reduce the cost of lithium ion batteries by up to 25%.  The algorithms would also be used to charge batteries up to twice as quickly.

Considering how many products use lithium ion batteries, the consequences for the market would be enormous.  Anxious to charge up your smartphone before a big day out?  What if you’re on a remote or fragile grid and need to charge a piece of critical equipment in a hurry? Nervous about driving your electric car on a long trip?

For that matter, what if there’s a superstorm approaching and you’ve got a limited amount of time to charge multiple devices?

Although the improved performance of lithium ion batteries could be a game-changer, so could lower costs, particularly in emerging markets like grid storage.  In a market where flywheels, advanced batteries, compressed air, and pumped storage are competing for market share, a system that’s more cost competitive on a power or energy basis will get much more attention and traction.

In the energy storage space, advanced batteries get a great deal of airtime but are typically dinged for two fatal flaws (depending on the chemistry involved): it’s difficult to eke out more efficiency and to reduce costs, and the batteries frequently need to be “oversized” to perform properly in applications that don’t quite align with the electrochemical limitations of the technology.

Undeterred, the researchers at UC San Diego are using mathematics to estimate where particles in the battery are so that the anode could be filled to capacity safely and efficiently (thus charging more quickly).  These innovators claim that the algorithms they have developed can estimate how a battery degrades over time and could reduce manufacturing costs for lithium ion batteries by up to 25%.

Thanks to the forward-thinking program managers at the Department of Energy’s advanced research arm, ARPA-E, this innovation will get a chance to be tested and demonstrated using a $460,000 grant and real batteries.


Chicago’s Spreading Greenscapes

— November 1, 2012

The Chicago Department of Transportation has spent 2 years and $16 million to transform a 1.5 mile stretch of road near the city’s Pilsen neighborhood to demonstrate how technologies (nearly all sourced from within a 500-mile radius of the city) and progressive planning can transform an urban environment.  The third most populous city in the United States, with sweltering summers and brutal winters, Chicago makes a good testing ground.

The approach taken in the Pilsen neighborhood, also known as the Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Street Scape, mixes technology, planning, and integrating biodiversity to upgrade the thoroughfare.  Some of the technology integrated into the project seems like the stuff of the future, like photocatalytic cement that actually cleans the air as vehicles drive over the pavement.  Other technologies, such as solid-state street lighting, are more accessible.  In other cases, the city decided on more practical street designs that emphasized pedestrian safety and encouraged bikers to use the road.  The city also introduced dozens of native plant species to the street.

The Pilsen project is not the only project Chicago has undertaken.  In an effort to reverse the effect of heat sinks in the city, Chicago has undertaken several projects to make the city more livable by renovating public spaces as a part of the U.S. EPA’s Heat Island Reduction Program.   There are several different projects that fall into this category.  One is the city’s Green Alley Program.  According to the city, Chicago is home to 1,900 miles of public alleyways, more than any other city in the world, and these represent 3,500 acres of impermeable surfaces.  Imagine five Midway airports, shuttling runoff into a city’s overtaxed water and sewage system.  About 20% of these alleyways need repairs, but nearly all of them are contributing to the city’s stormwater management problem.  The program used permeable pavements, recycled materials, reflective pavements, and other improvements to improve the alleyways’ resilience in inclement weather.

The benefits don’t necessarily stop at the end of the road, so to speak.  When cities invest in public spaces, they are improving an open access resource.  Cleaner air will affect surrounding neighborhoods.  Permeable pavements will help keep dirty stormwater away from downstream fisheries and will alleviate pressure on the city’s water system.  Less light pollution (and clearer lighting in the streets and alleyways) will improve public safety.  Creating a habitat for biodiversity will impact air quality and ecosystem services like pollination.

Even more important for the market, the Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Street Scape and Green Alleys program should give other cities ideas for which technologies and solutions they could consider for their own jurisdictions.


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