Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Seth Fletcher's Bottled Lightning Fantasy

Suppose you've concluded strongly that the future of energy storage will be based on lithium ion technologies. You know, as in, discussions with others do no good with you because you're completely set in your ways now.  Thus, you decide to write a short history of energy storage and make many elements of the past meld together into a crescendo of lithium ion joy.  Along the way, it becomes obvious that you've basically penned a love letter to your favorite member of the periodic table: lithium.  But unfortunately, once the train is in motion, there is no bringing it to a halt and thus, that's right, you end up kneeling, bowing and kissing the lithium covered parchments of earth (in bolivia and chile for example) in unrestricted, full blown lithium worship.... and all the while you are typing up your manifesto, lithium white powder is covering your entire body as for some kind of nouveau religious ritual trending among writers feigning a low profile in New York Starbucks locations.

That sums up my first impression of Seth Fletcher's new book, "Bottled Lightning."  Shall I go on? Ok, no, I'm only kidding.  This is a really great book, written by someone who has a vision of the future that features lithium ion.   Fletcher makes the most compelling case to date that lithium ion IS the future.   That makes it immediate mandatory reading for anyone nursing EEStoryland Fantasies.   Let me dial down this review and give you some information targets you need to take dead aim at in order to gain enlightenment like me.

Drill into the story of John Goodenough, the inventor of the modern rechargeable lithium ion battery. Fletcher does a great job of tracing the history of Goodenough's work first with the lithium ion cobalt-oxide cathode he invented which made tiny mobile phones feasible.  Note especially how Goodenough signed away royalty rights to this technology to Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) Harwall who made billions in licensing fees and gave Goodenough.......$0.  That's right, the man who invented key elements of the batteries used now by the billions walked away from a key piece of his life's work virtually penniless.  That's impossible! Every person who publishes their work for peer review walks away a millionaire when they invent something like lithium ion batteries, right?  Read Fletcher's book. Find out what it says.

 Goodenough's experience is good nourishment for all of the idiots out there who can't stand it that EEStor won't blab about the details of their even greater accomplishments.  Scientists are geniuses aren't they?   Anyway, Goodenough goes on to continue inventing and has another fascinating intellectual property dispute based on his work with lithium iron phosphate.  The net of  that episode is that the theoretical scientific underpinning of how his system works is still not yet settled among mainstream science.  Wha? Huh?  That's impossible!!??  Read Fletcher's book. Find out what it says.  This confusion over what precisely is happening at the teeny tiniest level laid the groundwork for a dispute between A123 Systems and Hydro-Quebec, who licensed Goodenough's work in this area.  I promise you will love that patent war as it will give you a taste of headaches to come.

In any case, the rest of the Fletcher's book is excellent. You'll love it more than the soup you eat at your favorite cafe reading it.  Fletcher will try to convince you that the sources of lithium are abundant and ripe for exploitation by the modern manufacturing world for use most especially in electric cars we now see coming online all around us.  And after a few glasses of his kool-aid, you'll be comfortable with the idea that lithium ion powered spaceships will assist with the colonization of mars.   Anyway, to wrap up, Fletcher is insane, his ideas are completely bonkers but he is an excellent writer and story teller.   He's smarter than me, (no question about it), but he's afflicted with a profoundly flawed perception of reality that he will likely take to his grave...via an EESU powered hearse....if EEStor is real.  :-)