Monday, August 31, 2009

The Thomas Edison EEStor-like Battery Mystery

Previously, I wrote about a curious quote attributed to the inventor Thomas Edison and recorded in a June 11, 1911
New York Times article in which Edison claims to have "perfected a battery which can be recharged in three or four minutes and which will run fifty or sixty miles without being recharged. "

What happened to this battery? Were the claims ever confirmed? With the GM-Volt having an initial target range of 40 miles and requiring relatively much longer charge times, one has to wonder where did this Edison technology go off the track?

To find out, an EEStory reader contacted the Director and General Editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers, Dr. Paul Israel. Dr. Israel is a leading scholar in Thomas Edison studies and he was kind enough to respond to our query concerning specifically, Edison's claims to have a quick charge battery capability.

According to Dr. Israel there has not yet been any "detailed research on Edison's storage battery." Israel pointed out that the records for Edison's efforts in this endevour "have been microfilmed but not yet digitized. There is limited secondary literature on the battery and as far as I know none has tested this claim." He recommended this 1913 article in the Transactions of the American Electrochemical Society. Via a phone interview, Dr. Israel pointed out that two researchers have referenced Edison's battery in their modern day narratives. The first is Edwin Black's Internal Combusion, a pulitzer nominated conspiracy theorist's dream come true about Oil dependency. (BTW, although I say that in an amusing way, you'll quickly notice Black as someone with enormous credibility. ) It's not unimportant to speculate about the significance of the fire that destroyed Edison's battery labs in 1914 as Black does in his I have not read yet. The second reference Israel provided is Rich Schallenberg's 1982 book, Bottled Energy: Electrical Engineering and The Evolution of Chemical Energy Storage. I have read neither book but both look interesting. Israel was also asked whether or not Edison was ever prone to exaggeration of claims. He pointed out that in disputed matters, if one can establish that he was correctly quoted, typically his claims were bore out with scientific proof, ie, he was not a boaster.

Photo link: Edwin Black.


eestor said...

Edison is an idiot!
It is a bullshit!
(a spoof of our absent ciritc Y_Po)

hendersn said...

Nickel Iron cells CAN be charged quickly, but much of the energy you dump into them in this way will be lost as heat. The high resistance of the battery means that you must charge (and discharge) them with relatively small currents to get reasonable efficiency (say, 80%) out of them. The presently available Nickel Iron cells suffer from this problem.

B said...

henderson, how fast can they be charged? does it damage the battery to do it repeatedly?

Ian said...

I have been using nickel iron batteries since Feb of 2010 in my home for solar storage. They work great and I celebrated their robust chemistry by hooking them up directly to 700 watts of solar and letting them bubble away for a week at full unregulated charge. Then I discharged them flat and overcharged them the same way. When I measured their storage capacity it had improved slightly over when I got them.

The system can be seen at the nickel iron battery association website ...

Ian Soutar
Vancouver Island