Monday, July 11, 2011

What a good place to cut (proposed) government spending?

I'd suggest Michigan Senatress Debbie Stabenow's proposal to spend $2 billion on "new" lithium ion technologies.  Why so?

Well apart from the basic issue that hybrid and electric cars simply don't live up to the hype, you've got Stabenow's insanely ignorant statement that she doesn't want the country to have foreign battery dependency.  Even if you could get corporate types to risk the Obama regulation gauntlet to make the batteries here, the simple fact of the matter is that most lithium production is outside our country.   So whether we like it or not, if hybrids become the de facto standard, other countries will control our sources of this vital material in the same way they control supplies of vital commodities like coffee, tea, and chocolate.

Then, of course, there is the even more basic question; if Stabenow does not want us to be dependent on other nations for lithium ion batteries, why is she so adamant that we should rely on other nations for petroleum?  It's not like her vote has gone the right way on allowing drilling in ANWR and elsewhere, after all.

From a technical perspective, moreover, it makes no sense, either.  Reality here is that a battery consists of metal plates with a chemical "brew" between them, and making batteries carry more energy per pound is more or less a matter of making the metal and the chemical brew as light as possible.  Lithium (atomic number 3) is the lightest metal, and there are a limited number of things they can do with the chemical mixture that they're mostly already doing.

In short, improving batteries at this point is a matter of tweaking designs; the big gains are probably all gone, at least if we can trust the good work of Mendeleev.  Not that physics, economics, chemistry, and geography mean anything to Democrats, of course, but hopefully we can get at least 41 Senators to shoot this idea down.

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