"Did you know that the tools that have become absolutely integral to your life--our laptop, iPod, and cell phone--re all powered by lithium batteries? Chances are you've got some lithium on your person right now. The third element on the periodic table may also hold the key to an environmentally sustainable, oil independent future. From electric cars to a "smart" power grid that can actually store electricity, letting us harness the powers of the sun and wind and use them when we need them, lithium--metal found only in some of the most uninhabitable places on Earth--setting us on a path toward a carbon-free future. It's also shifting the geopolitical chessboard in profound ways. In this illuminating, entertaining, and timely book, the science reporter Seth Fletcher takes us on a fascinating journey, from the salt flats of Bolivia to the labs of MIT and Stanford, from the turmoil at GM to cutting-edge lithium-ion battery start-ups, introducing us to the key players and ideas in an industry with the power to reshape the world.
Electric cars are real-see the Tesla Roadster, Chevy Volt, and hybrids like the Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius-but the drive to create safe, lightweight, and long-lasting batteries to power them has been anything but smooth. Faced with political, technological, and management obstacles, battery technology still lags. In the mid-1800s Fletcher says, clean, cheap lead-acid batteries were developed that by the early 20th century were preferred for use in automobiles over "unreliable, complicated, loud, and dirty" gasoline-powered cars-until it came time to refuel. Thomas Edison tried to invent a safe, longer-duration battery, even experimenting with small amounts of lithium, but then Charles Kettering patented an automatic starter for gas engines, and the battle was lost. Smog and 1970s gas shortages revived interest in electric cars-and lithium batteries. But obstacles remain: Bolivia, Chile, and China have less than optimal political leadership and minimal infrastructure to safely mine and process the poisonous ore. More importantly, many technical challenges must be overcome before electric cars and buses become everyday modes of transportation. But Fletcher remains optimistic. He balances science and history with a closeup look at business practices and priorities, providing lucid and thorough coverage of a timely topic. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Hill and Wang
May 09, 2011
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