Green Room Live

Looking to Lithium: Seth Fletcher Chronicles Batteries in Bottled Lightning0

ecomagination staff | Sun Nov 20 2011

In our first GR LIVE segment we interviewed author and Popular Science editor Seth Fletcher. Watch above for highlights from our live streaming interview.

Mobile devices keep us just that: mobile. A simple charge can have us out the door and on the move in no time. The uses differ, but what do all of these devices—the smart phones, laptops, and readers that have become part of our daily routine—have in common?

They allow us to unplug thanks to battery power. And these batteries likely contain lithium.

Seth Fletcher is well aware of how pervasive this lithium lifestyle has become. As a senior editor at Popular Science, Fletcher has done his fair share of research on the lithium-ion battery and what it means for technology and the global marketplace.

Fletcher argues that alternative sources like solar and wind can forever transform our energy habits.

In his book Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars and the New Lithium Economy, Seth details the past, present, and future of the lithium battery. From the scientists and engineers to the policymakers and consumers, Fletcher gets his stories firsthand from the dreamers and doers that have helped make a reliance on lithium a way of life.

Rather than just transfer the new world energy needs to a strain on the power grid, Fletcher argues that alternative sources like solar and wind can forever transform our energy habits.

“This is the kind of transformation that the scientists who laid the intellectual foundation for the rechargeable lithium battery had in mind. They were motivated by both scientific curiosity and big-picture social concerns.”

Whereas internal combustion engines have oil prices as the hot topic of political and economic conversation, Fletcher feels the future of energy dependence is being moved largely to South America, where the majority of the world’s lithium is harvested.

Bottled Lightning suggests that batteries fit into the future of clean energy the same way steam became a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution.

With the development of electric cars like the Chevy Volt, Nissan LEAF, and the Tesla S, lithium seems poised to only continue to grab headlines. Still, no other time was the buzz for EVs more resounding than at GM’s 2008 hundredth anniversary party in Detroit. Fletcher describes how lithium-ion batteries were showcased for the partygoers.

“It was a frigid, postblizzard morning in Cobo Hall. A model of the Volt’s six-foot-tall T-Pack battery stood on the press conference stage, looking more than a little like a crucifix on the altar. […] Going forward, battery manufacturing would become a ‘core competency’ of the company, as essential to competing in the twenty-first century as the ability to build V-8s was in the twentieth.”

Bottled Lightning suggests that batteries fit into the future of clean energy the same way steam became a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution. In the book, Fletcher quotes Donald Sadoway, Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT. Sadoway states,

“The problem with environmentalism in this country is that it’s been largely in the hands of the crunchies, and the mainstream American views it as sort of a penance, or a duty. People fail to realize that it’s a chance for a new start, a chance for reinvention and a way of making things.”

So much of Fletcher’s book is focused on the individuals that actually power the battery industry. The result is a very human approach to a very technical subject. More than just a look to the future, Fletcher tells the story of the lithium-ion battery in a comprehensive way that is sure to engage readers interested in this increasingly important resource and significant part of the cleantech revolution.