Friday, August 5, 2011

Days of Wine and Roses

This week we welcome Mark Emon of St Michael's Maryland as our special guest. Mark operates St. Michael's winery and brought us an interesting Seyval/Chardonnay and an equally delightful Chambourcin.

I'm frankly not a fan of North American wine grapes and hybrids. I love to drive the Porsche to a local Missouri or Illinois winery for a bit of lunch and a bottle of vino, but generally you have to enjoy the drive and the view and the setting. The wine is rarely a treat.

But Mark's offering was actually pretty tasty and we polished off both bottles before we quite done shooting this week's show. So if we seem happier about the state of the electric car this week than the news quite merits, there you have it.

Mr. Emon is one of our 10 finalists in the EVTV Build Your Dream EV Components contest. Recall that we are giving away 50 CALB 180Ah batteries, a Netgain Warp 9 motor, an EVnetics Soliton 1 controller, a RechargeCar magnetic pickup, a Masterflux Sierra electric air conditioner and of course a case of Stag beer to the winner. We had offered the opportunity for finalists to come to Cape Girardeau and appear on the show to set their appeal, American Idol style, directly to the viewers and consequently the voters in this contest.

Mark is in the midst of converting a Porsche 914 Targa to electric and he took the opportunity of the visit to sign up for the Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention (EVCCON) tendering his registration fee noting that he is bringing his green Porsche 914 to the convention. A challenge as he has yet to complete it and it is his first conversion.

But he's already planning his second and kind of counting on winning the pile of loot to compete an experienced BMW for his wife to drive.

My simple demonstration of opening a box with a Thundersky battery in it that we had had on hand since October of 2008, manufactured in August of 2008, and measuring the open circuit cell voltage of 3.300 which precisely matched the 3.300v of the Thundersky 400Ah cells we received the day before. This cause quite a stir. There is an entire little army of pseudo poseur engineers over on the DIYelectricjunk forum immediately sprang into action spraying messages in all directions describing what I did and did not do, what I should of done, and why I had it all confused and totally incorrect.

What I found terribly interesting in this, beyond the sheer number of them and the intensity of their howls of outrage, was how MUCH they appeared to know about what I do and don't do in testing batteries. On reflection, while I find the entire concept of typing nonsense into the screen on topics you know absolutely nothing about both annoying and slightly nauseating, but the level of disconnect was a little jarring.

Partly my fault. I actually have a greater interest in battery technology than I quite do in automobiles. My father had a variety of not very good construction equipment rolling stock when I was a stripling and it rather fell to me, somehow, to maintain this rolling collection of wreckage - none of it young nor particularly appealing when it was. So the concept of "working on cars" for pleasure is not a thing I share with our viewership. I hadn't changed my own motor oil for 30 years when we began this mission.

Indeed, while I have long been fascinated by electric cars, I don't even count them as viable - until the advent of these batteries. So for me, it is ALL about the batteries, and from that, the cars, and extending further, a convenient solution to an inconvenient problem. ANd in fact, the more I look, the more problems I find, some really QUITE alarming, that simply adopting personal transportation that is seven to eight times MORE efficient at converting energy to forward motion essentially solves very neatly and very nearly completely.

Most problems are simply intractable and require a lot of chewing around the edges from a variety of directions to even steer toward a solution. Electric personal transportation really IS kind of a magic bullet. With a couple of admittedly ambitious assumptions, some of these problems simply evaporate.

This is something akin to banishing the U.S. national debt by banning turtle racing, and of course the insidious wagering on turtles that goes with it. Or curing cancer with T-shirts. Imagine if we could eliminate child abuse by simply backhanding mouthy kids? Or relieve traffic congestion by coughing a lot?
Or wipe out unemployment by buying more Chinese baseball caps.

For some pretty serious problems like the largest transfer of wealth every recorded in the history of the world, from the U.S. to the middle east, this one really IS that easy. Get 20% of the population to drive 20% of their miles in electric cars and the problem doesn't ease - it disappears entirely.

To avoid a devastating collapse of the global financial system caused by spiraling gasoline prices headed our way just a few years hence, same solution. And same result. It pretty much just goes away. Not a problem. Was a BIG problem. Now, no problem.

It even solves problems that AREN'T really problems. I guess I am a bit agnostic about global warming. But electric cars offer a partial solution even to this - a very convenient response at that. And I suspect that 300 million autos all huffing 60 lbs of atmosphere per gallon into a cloud of nitrous oxides, particulates, and carbon monoxide may well have something to do with currently popular and problematic diseases that just weren't heard of 75 years ago. The place would in any event be clearer, prettier, and not smell so bad.

So it's a very appealing situation. But it all derives from the batteries. And I do a lot of twizzling with these batteries. But I doubt that it makes very good video or would ever get me to go viral on YouTube. It's just something I like to do in the back room, and even the people on EVTV with me really don't know what I do back there, or why I go do that. So how do the chirping magpies lined up by the hundreds on the DIYelectric telephone line know so much about it?

Of course they don't. But that's partly my fault. I don't really video very much of it. So their suppositions of what I do and don't do and so forth are generated entirely in a vacuum, which doesn't explain how they come up with so MUCH of it. But enough about them, more about me.

The demonstration on camera was of course simplistic. It was made for video. It communicated the situation very clearly. We had just received a brand new shipment of Winston Battery Company 400 Ah cells. And I had some Thundersky 90 Ah cells from nearly three years ago still in the box. So I had one of our visitors from the Netherlands dramatically open the box and measure the open circuit terminal voltage of the cells, and compare them to the cells just received.

IT NEVER OCCURRED TO ME that the DIYenginiers did not even comprehend the relationship between voltage and state of charge. THAT's how lost we are in the conversation here.

But of course I had taken out cells numerous times over the three years, and measured the same thing, and checked exactly how many amp hours were in them and how much charge they would take and what charging to various voltages does and on and on and on. Who but me would care? How many ions can dance on the head of a pin really IS the question, but it has no easy answers and whatever I measure there is more to measure tomorrow. And all if it is terribly time consuming. It takes hours. I don't even want to watch all that.

In this episode we did at least do a simply test to show open circuit cell voltage after a too brief rest, and how it changes over the state of charge of the battery. Does it make perfect sense and operate very predictably? Absolutely. Would it make a good fuel gage? Not really. Can it be used as a fuel gage anyway? Yeah, kind of.

And of course, the cells have the same capacity and there is no cell drift, and no "balance" problems and so of course the magpies are enraged because most of them are working on Battery Management Systems in hopes of selling them and making a brazillion dollars on the EV "craze".

First, there's no craze. Lacking any concept of business at all, if they sold any they wouldn't make any money. But the thing they're working on nobody needs anyway. And that's a hard thing to face.

It all brings up a broader question we faced back in the early days of the Internet. I think it was Mitch Kapor of Lotus (smart guy, my goodness he was tough to even be in the room with) who likened it to 12 blind men surrounding an elephant. Each would feel up the elephant and argue vehemently with the guy next to him as to what it looked like.

The Nissan Leaf uses a Lithium Manganese Oxide battery. They actually call it Lithium Manganese Spinel because the term oxide is almost perforative with regards to thermal safety issues. GM uses a slightly different manganese oxide cell from LG chem.Tesla actually uses a Lithium Cobalt Oxide battery, probably with a nickel current collector. We use Lithium Iron Phosphate cells from CHina.

There are several reasons NOT to use Lithium Iron Phosphate cells from China. In the past, they have not been very consistent in their manufacturing process. Second, they are most commonly available in these largish prismatic battery cells we use. This is kind of a "commodity" approach to batteries like your standard AA battery that is ubiquitous in small electronic devices. There is no way to really have a "proprietary" battery technology with AA cells. And of course, you have to communicate in Chinglish, wait 12 weeks for your cells, and the whole business model is just a mess. Dozens of "trading companies" all claiming to own factories they don't own, technologies they don't own, and market them in a language they're not at all familiar with. And the very basic issue of energy density OR power density is slightly LESS in LiFepo4 chemistries.

So I know of NO OEM who has even LOOKED at these cells. Never were on the table. I see absolute awe and worship in the body politic of electric car users over the "laboratories" at General Motors and Nissan and Tesla. WHile it is not in their economic interest to dispel this myth, there is no magic behind those doors. And they certainly aren't going to spend a lot of time looking at a slightly LESS effective chemistry that they can't use to create a proprietary pack anyway. Again, this stuff takes HOURS, and DAYS, and WEEKS, and MONTHS, and then YEARS to test even to the basics. You can automate it and speed it up to a very minor degree, but not really.

So it occurs to me, if the level of understanding of these cells is SO VERY POOR within our own community of people who actually do buy them and use them, and we couple this with the very natural propensity of OEM's to maintain a level of trade secrecy about their "magic sauce" which must be the batteries, we have a perfect storm. A total VACUUM of knowledge about current lithium ion cell technology. A perhaps PERFECT VACUUM. Picture 2800 deaf dumb and blind men about an elephant who don't even CARE what it looks like, they just are certain the guy next to them is a moron because he neither speaks, hears, nor sees.

Gotta love it. But after several years of studying almost entirely the LiFePo4 Chinese cells, and in truth with very LITTLE knowledge of the oxide chemistries (and even less interest frankly), I am slowly coming to the conclusion that we have accidentally stumbled on the very best cell technology for electric cars, and our good fortune was entirely driven by the REFUSAL of anyone else to sell us cells. These little bricks are REMARKABLY durable. They will suffer ANYTHING and put out IMMENSE levels of power from a simple stack of aluminum and copper foil no more complicated than a book. You simply have to observe TWO rules of thumb that are QUITE absolute. You CANNOT overcharge these batteries. And you CANNOT over discharge them. And if you observe these two, they most likely will last FOREVER, and suffer any indignity with absolute charm. And none of the OEM's are even aware of them.

Peter McWade sent me two elderly HiPower cells this week. Not my favorites anyway, he claimed these were abused. They were wonderful. Still OVER their 100AH spec and going strong. One was totally discharged. One was totally charged. I don't know if this was a test of the cells or some sort of bizarre test of Jack. But I marveled anew at how even the worst of these LiFePo4 cells are just very very good.

Jack RIckard


  1. Jack,

    Thank you for testing the cells for me. No it was not a bizarre test of Jack. I just have no way to test them properly here and wanted an honest test of some badly abused cells. The one that was full was from my car and I consistently drove the car above the rated constant 1C for these cells. I almost always accelerated hard and for as long as possible until I reached my desired speed and once there the speed was held on the freeway at just under 200 amps. These are rated for consistent 1C not 2C. I peaked them hard up in the 700 to 800 amp range which again is out of the manufacturer range.

    The one cell that was empty sat in this condition for over 2 years in a dirty dusty garage and there was zero control on the temperature and the garage sees temps in the 110 degree range when closed during the hot summer days and very cold in the winter. I still have 15 cells sitting at this level of charge and were at that level when I received them. They were given to me at no charge because the owner figured they were damaged beyond hope. So did I an expected to do some fun stuff with them. So even after 2 years of siting completely empty they are still good. I also must note that the voltage of the cells have not changed one bit since I picked them up. They are still exactly the same voltage. No self discharge. No damage that would cause them to lessen the the capacity of the cell either.

    They are magic. :)

    Thanks so much. It is much needed information.

  2. I read an article on the Leaf battery that Nissan was expecting the batteries to last the life of the car. I think that is impressive. They are expecting to see at most 80% capacity remaining after 5 years but one private owners vehicle that already has over 10,000 mile logged is still showing a full 100% capacity of the pack. This is also with 326 rapid charges on the clock. So even with a good full year and 10,000 there is no sign yet of any loss of capacity of the cells. Showing that even these type of lithium cells are quite magic. With no signs of capacity loss I'd have to say that there is no damage to the cells even with hard fast charging and that the cells will be at or nearly so full capacity in 5 years. Heck. I have a set of solar panels that were built in the early 80's and they are still putting out almost 100% of rated capacity. So even solar cells are magic.

    Love the magic.

    Leaf Article:

  3. Jack,
    Very interesting post. I have been around batteries and charging most of my life. Professionally , I cut my teeth in the emergency lighting industry designing chargers and control gear for lead acid , ni-cad and later on ni-mh almost 15 years ago. All these chemistries have drift and self discharge and other well known and understood habits.

    Lifepo4 does not do any of these things. Its different. But the problem in my opinion is not what the cells do in real life but what people EXPECT them to do based on experience from other types of cell.

    I posted here before my experiences with upgrading from agm to lithium and that the change is simply astounding. While I was waiting for the bulk of the cells to arrive , I played with some samples on the bench and convinced myself I needed a BMS. I reasoned that your findings with prismatics did not translate to headways. So I went and built a bms. Tested it on the bench with 8 cells. All seemed fine. First batch of cells arrived , built up the pack and wired up the bms. Did a few tests and all semmed well. Went out the next morning to find two cell blocks at zero volts. You can guess why. Eight cells ruined. I was angry at myself more than anything. I ripped out the bms and started doing more experiments. Taking my time and throwing out all my previous battery experience and pre concieved ideas. Little by little I got to know these cells. What they would do or not do.

    By the time the final batch arrived on the slow boat I was a little more at ease but not totally convinced. With the full pack installed I started charging and driving. All has been well to date. But that didn't stop me from needing to replace the lock on my hall door because I was in and out to the car so often with a multimeter EXPECTING to see something wrong that I wrecked the lock!

    I have never balanced a pack of 192 headway 16ah cells , purchased in two different lots over a 3 month period with two different build dates. I have had people tell me that is simply impossible. I wouldn't get one charge and discharge cycle before i started loosing cells. Every so often I waver from the path and start looking at bms systems. Ten minutes with a multimeter , pen and paper cures that.

    One last point. The battery makes the car for sure. I would no doubt fall into the "electric junk" category. '96 BMW , forklift motor , homemade controller (now liquid cooled by the way!) , homemade charger etc. When it ran agms it was junk. You'd have had no argument from me. Now its not. Might be the same car but by God its not the same experience!

    Sorry for the long post. Just thought my experiences might help give some insight.

    Damien Maguire

  4. I too have gotten to know all of the battery technologies out there along with their ins and out. What a pain. I find your testing and musings about LiFePO4's fascinating since there is so little real, solid information out there. It might be more boring than watching paint dry but for those of us who got to know the other battery technologies out there, it's dearly wanted information!

  5. Yes Jack this battery stuff is gold dust.

  6. Jack,

    Great op-ed piece on Li batteries. At least your stuff is backed up with actual hands on testing.

    As commented on above, everything about battery measurements comes at the speed of paint drying. But that does not mean it is not important. Thanks for the tutorial.


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  8. [typo in prior post]

    More data about these amazing LiFePO4 cells: I've driven about 750 miles so far on my Thundersky (now Sinopoly) 200Ah pack of 36 in my Speedster Trois. I was hopeful that I might break a 100 mile "safe" range with these larger capacity cells.

    In fact, it's better than I expected. I'm averaging about 1.40 Ah/mile for a maximum range of 140-145 miles, and a useful range at 80% DOD of 115 miles! Earlier this week, I drove 100 miles and used 140 Ah, or 70% discharged. Measured the pack voltage when I got back to the garage (waited about 5 minutes) and it read 117.2 volts on the Curtis gauge, or 3.255v per cell (just about where Jack's voltage curve said it should be). I then measured each cell with a handheld voltmeter (accuracy of +/- 0.01v) and found that 17 cells were at 3.25v and 19 cells were at 3.26v. All this without any BMS.

  9. Thanks Jack, for the video evidence. I wish I had more equipment to play with but I don't so it is helpful to see you demonstrate it or at least write about it here.

    Thank you, Damien for relaying your experience, too. As Jack has pointed out many times and you show in your post, there is no replacement for actually playing around with these cells. Assume that you know nothing about batteries and then start playing.

    David D. Nelson

  10. Jack, I don't know who has been giving you grief over your testing methods, but they obviously aren't regular viewers of your show. Your methods are sound, you identify the strengths and weaknesses of the things you test and report them to us enthusiasts. I'm sure I speak for most of your viewers when I say thank you for finding this stuff out. You've saved people a lot of money and frustration.

    That said, I look forward to seeing how Lithium Titanate batteries stand up to the Jack Rickard brand of fact finding. If they live up to the hype... Woah.

  11. Jack, I've never had the patience or desire to watch paint dry. However I have watched batteries charge and discharge since 1991. Watching batteries is a lot more interesting than paint. Things happen!

  12. Jack, were you going to post the chart from the video?

  13. Ok. I'll post the chart.

    Yes, the most difficult thing in dealing with these cells is to discard all previous knowledge thoroughly. They simply are not like earlier chemistries. The good news is really no bad habits except they swell if over discharged or overcharged, and can of course burn down the world if the overcharge is taken to extremis.

    AFTER I posted this, Brian showed up at THIS Friday's show with a document from the Very Small Particle Company in Australia. This guy basically characterizes all the currently popular Lithium ionic chemistries and comes to EXACTLY what I've been saying. LiFePo4 is the lowest energy density by a small amount, but probably the BEST chemistry for electric vehicles. Much safer, much more stable, and best of all, an order of magnitude greater cycle life.

    His company does what? They make very small particles. That's why they call it the Very Small Particle Company (I love this).

    They have developed a sub 100 nm LiFePo4 particle and have it testing now at 26 cell manufacturers. What does 100 nm do? How about 10C charging and 20C discharge. We could charge these cells in 6 minutes. and get 2000 amps out of a 100 Ah cell.

    They can do small particles for ANY of these chemistries. They are doing LiFePo4 first as they think it IS the chemistry for electric vehicles.

    Good things are coming.

    Jack Rickard

  14. Jack,

    Another great show!

    It would be interesting for one of your future shows to set up a test with a group of cells that shows what happens when you top balance and then run the cells toward the bottom of the charge. If you were able to read individual cell voltage when the week cell goes into reversal would be interesting.

    It would also be good to see what happens when a group of cells are overcharged. (watching paint dry is fine but fireworks always adds a little excitment to it) Who knows, you may even want to throw in a BMS system into a group of 4 cells and see if you could record it catching the cells on fire. That would be hard for the DIYelectricjunk forum boyz to refute.

    Sinopoly has a video showing the testing of their "Black" cells.
    Is the electrolyte different on these cells, as it seems that they are not catching fire and creating a hot metalic fire like some of the other battery fires have done.

    Again, Thanks for another great Friday show.



  15. Jack,
    I believe many of us would really appreciate an additional test on a LiFePO4.
    "The Frozen Test",
    In winter, just about everywhere the temperature is at least cool and at times downright freezing.
    Just about any EV will perform well at 80°F, but with Spring and Fall temps in the 40's (in Ohio) and there are a few weeks in winter it is 20°F (and a few days that it is sub zero).
    Most people do not want to put away the car when we "close up the pool", "Pull the boat out of the water" and "Put the bike back into storage" for the winter.
    I believe everyone watching has a hint of dread when we consider the performance of any battery in the cold.
    I know you stress that we should go out and do our own testing so that we can prove to ourselves the advantages and limitations of the components we choose to use.
    I believe that you would be the best individual to do a test with a battery in a freezer.
    A charge/ discharge cycle and its performance graphed on a day of 0°F would be very informative.
    Great show.
    Fan for years.

  16. I'll consider it. We were going to do this a few years ago and instead published a video from Norway I think where they did just this. But yeah, I can simplify the process and do it. We know what they do, but we should quantify to precisely what degree they do it.

    The cars are sluggish at 20F. We know this sufficiently well that we are actually going to heat the cells in the EleScalade - both while charging and while driving.

    But a designed test might well be interesting.

    I guess we would need to do a defined charge curve and discharge curve on a specific cell. Cold soak the cell to zero degrees. Pack in a cooler with ice, and run the same charge curve.

    Re cold soak, and run the discharge curve.

    The temperature would not remain constant, as the cell generates heat. But this would be pretty real world. They do the same thing in the car.

    Jack Rickard

  17. Jack,

    Thank you for the great show. I've been following it since stumbling into it some year or so ago. I still haven't watched all the older shows, but the process is on, every time I can find some spare time.

    Although this subject always seems to get you fired up, I'll take the risk; You stated earlier, that you couldn't watch Davide Andrea's Youtube episodes further than the first half of the second one. Now there's a video (I guess it could be called part 4), where he actually tries to understand bottom balancing and no BMS-approach, although telling also what he thinks is wrong with it. Can you do all of us a huge favour and shred his arguments to pieces one by one according to your actual tested information? I know you think he's a *****, but a point to point listing would be a precious counter argument for all the people I regularly find arguing for the necessity of an elaborate BMS. And there are plenty..

  18. Sorry, here's the link:

  19. Mr. Andrea's comically inept "outing" of himself demonstrating quite how little he understands about batteries and charging is quite sufficient unto itself.

    Anything I could do or say would most likely only muddy the waters. He is doing an EXCELLENT job of sending viewers my way dizzy from the nonsense of his presentation.

    We can describe how they work, we can demonstrate how they work and we can further describe bottom balancing. We do and we have.

    If he actually had some valid points I would debate them. Under the circumstances, it would be simply a lack of charity.

    I cannot imagine anyone remaining in that camp who has seen his video.

    Jack Rickard

  20. CZTREE,
    The Sinopoly video just shows typical LiFePO4 behavior, nothing new there.

  21. Thanks JP, I guess when they put the batteries in the fire I was expecting the intensity to increase. It just seemed to smoke and didn't seem to accelerate the blaze. On pictures of battery fires in cars that I have see, it seems like a lot of heat was generated causing damage to the surrounding area. I was also expecting to see the electrolyte catch on fire when the battery vented, especially when they threw the cells in the fire.

  22. Jack, all this talk about battery life cycles reminds me of the "light bulb conspiracy" and the planned obsolescence of said light bulbs. I assume you are familiar, if not see this:

    sorry this is some english and foreign subtitles.

    If your battery lasts forever then you will not be a "consumer" of plural batteries thus we have a 300 cycle battery, that will expire after about 60,000 miles so you will need to go purchase ANOTHER tesla roadster.

    I might be wrong but I think that in general the efficient usage of a product by the "end user" is anathema to the profit motive of the corporations and middle men involved.

    By the way thanks for telling the truth.

  23. Hello Jack, Do you have this ( on your radar? I am getting ready to do a build and looking for a charger. This one sounds almost too good to be true. Thoughts?

  24. It does indeed look pretty good. We ordered the first assembled one they made, received it, and returned it to them with comments. They were going to make a number of changes in the device, and it was supposed to ship last Wednesday. I have not received it as yet.

    This is an Arduino controlled IGBT capable of 10kw of power and totally programmable - I mean programmable in the C++ sense. It is also easily configurable to change the CC/CV voltage point on screen.

    I am very hopeful on this concept. It is really pretty crude at this point, but offers a platform for innovation and improvement as an open source project. And the guy of course makes it easy with PCB's parts kits, finished product etc. I think he'll do VERY all with it at $1699 assembled. I have little time to BUiLD such things from scratch, but love the idea of being able to replace components and change the firmware at my whim to make it do different things.

    The principle in this is Valery Mitzikov and he has a Phd in Physics I believe. It twice won the Russian Physics Olympics contest and is more than qualified to shepherd this to success. It's based on a DIYelectric design a group there worked on for a couple of years.

    I'm very much in the camp, though I was strongly critical of some of their initial design choices. We desperately need a higher power, configurable charger at a realistic price and this has ALL of that. Where it pinches, we'll just fix it.

    Jack Rickard

  25. BTW. Mr. Mitzikov will be a featured SPEAKER at EVCCON 2011 and the topic will be this charger largely.

    Jack Rickard

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  27. Jack,
    Every time I see those exhaust pipes on the Cobra, I think that there must be some creative way to use the space inside them to hold electronic components or batteries or radiator fins or something to use that empty, available space.


  28. Billy D.

    I'm open to suggestions. I find them annoying. But the owner of the car likes them. They do kind of hide some of my battery boxes.


  29. Jack,
    One thought is to seal the engine compartment and the rest of the bottom of the car for aerodynamics purposes and then use the pipes as exhaust outlets for motor and controller cooling air. That way they really are exhaust pipes, just not what the ICE crowd is expecting.

  30. As it turns out, I need the space where they are at for battery cells. We pulled the pipes off Friday. Brian and the boys at B&B can put them back on if they like the look. I need the space where they were mounted.

    But all of that was discussed earlier. He said if we needed that space he could work something else out for affixing them to the car.

    Jack Rickard