The following post has been submitted by ECW reader aljobo
Details about the E-cat SKL have emerged that allow us to build a better picture. With some added assumptions it would be interesting to look at all applications for the device and the likely final market size. Before the official unveiling of the SKL this may be getting ahead of ourselves and all predictions are at best highly approximate but it is nevertheless useful to get a sense of magnitudes and how a transition could play out.
The E-cat SKL is a 10cm x 10cm x 10 cm, i.e. 1l device of unknown weight, without the control unit. Some comments seem to suggest that the output of the device is in the 1-3kW range. 70% of output is electric. With this information let’s assume that each 1l cube outputs 2kW total energy or 1.4kW electric.
Weight information is missing but a first guess could be the density of a laptop, another device with metal casing, some dense components (metals 7-9 kg/l) and some empty space. The latest Macbook is approximately 1.4kg/l, i.e. just a little denser than water (it will sink) so for simplicity let’s assume 1.4kg/l or 1kW/kg.
This does not include any cooling or control units. For simplicity let’s assume that we need to add 50% for cooling and controls in both weight and size. This easily fits all mobile applications, including airplanes.
Let’s look at the end markets. They break down into static and mobile.
Static markets are easiest to transform. Central electricity generation capacity is 7TWe globally. A 10 year transition would result in 700GWe annual demand. Decentralized electricity generation in homes and businesses will happen but only towards the end of that transition when prices are lower and no engineers are needed to supervise.
For heat (industrial and space heating) looking at the US energy balance rejected heat accounts for almost 2/3 of the total energy production. With decentralized installation of E-cats that waste heat could be put to far more use, at the same time we’re only looking at 30% waste heat from the E-cat SKL. Even so, there will be significant extra demand for heating, perhaps less annual production than electricity but more concentrated in time (in cold seasons) so for simplicity let’s assume global electric capacity at 7TWe again. Some may be in the form of highly efficient heat pumps so that could reduce demand. Air conditioning is electric so doesn’t come into this equation, evaporative a/c is quite a lot more expensive and not worth it if electricity is cheap. To transition this, let’s assume 10 years as well for another 700GWe annual demand.
Moving on to mobile applications, the first to transition could actually be marine. Engines are already diesel/electric so the combustion engine doesn’t drive the ship but a generator instead. The global fleet is 2bn dead weight tons and a reasonable estimate of the required power is 0.15kW/dwt, yielding 300GW of installed power. As combustion is only 50% efficient we need only 150GWe to electrify global shipping, over 5 years this is 30Gwe. I’m assuming a faster transition as there’s much greater urgency here to get costs down, increase ship speed at no extra cost and comply with tough emission standards.
Next, cars are in the middle of two transitions. First, electrification and second, autonomy. For more detail on robo-taxis see rethinkx’ study but given a $0.20/mile plausible cost in the long term private ownership will disappear fast. Currently 100m cars are sold per year and many studies predict that 1 (robo-)taxi will replace 5 cars, cutting the new car demand to 20m – existing ICE cars will still run for the rest of their average 15 year life but will not be replaced. The robotaxi roll-out will be even easier as no charging infrastructure would be necessary and operations could run 24/7. Using a Tesla Model 3 as the the state-of-the-art example we can see that the car consumes roughly 40kW at 80mph. This is the lower bound for continuous power which needs to be provided by the E-cat units. These units amount to 10s of kg and liters and would replace most batteries that are in the hundreds of kg and liters. To provide peak power of 100kW+ we still need some batteries (and potentially supercapacitors for “ludicrous” human-driven luxury versions). Given that the battery packs are much smaller now (5-10kWh) these need to provide more cycles and higher C rates of 10 or more when compared to 50-100kWh designs. A positive side effect would be that this would enable a switch away from cobalt to less dense but more performant, longer-lasting and cheaper LTO or LFP chemistries – battery raw material constraints always made full electrification doubtful, with only a fraction needed for each car and no Cobalt this issue disappears. 20m cars/year * 40kW = 800GWe.
Moving on to trucks we don’t have good data on electrification yet but comparing mileage between large trucks and current ICE cars we see a 4-5x drop. Applying this to 3m trucks sold per year and adjusting the blend to include medium size trucks we get 150kW * 3m units or 600GWe.
Diesel trains are not a large feature in the energy balance outside the US (where they transport 40% of tonnage) so the likely requirement there is in the 10s of GWe, let’s add 20GWe here.
Finally, airplanes are the toughest to transition. According to a 2017 NASA study a 300 seat plane requires around 60MW of electric power. There is some concern about weight but research indicates that 10kW/kg is a medium term minimum so the turbines would only weigh in at 6t, compared to a max take-off weight of over 200t for a Boeing 787. More research into large MW sized turbines, not just small propellers is urgently needed as safety testing must be extremely rigorous. Currently this is not happening fast enough as batteries are seen as the only electrification route and have nowhere near the capacity to power large planes. Reliability of the SKL units would also have to be proven over many years, though the fact that tens of thousands of units generate power independently should enhance safety greatly (chance of power<90% for 50000 units at 99% reliability is very small) – note the word independent though, any run-away reaction affecting neighboring units could be catastrophic. Airbus and Boeing are currently not working on any major new designs, waiting instead to see how electrification is playing out (hence the lazy 737MAX upgrade that proved fatal). E-cats to power 60MW engines would fit space and weight-wise into an existing 787 frame (90t or less weight with cooling is less than fuel capacity). A 10+ year design timeline is common, so any new planes would only show up in the mid-2030s at the earliest. Demand in 2040 is forecast to be around 3200 planes/year, assuming an average 200 seat configuration at 40MW demand could be at 128GWe.
As an aside, there is still a large fossil fuel base of planes, cars and trucks continuing to operate for 1-2 further decades. Synfuels based on carbon could potentially be very competitive at electricity prices of 0.01c/kW. There is no reason to switch to NH3 or hydrogen as we’re just looking to extend the lives of the existing fleet a bit. YCombinator backed start-up Prometheus is indicating a possible price of $3/gal for gasoline, which could drop a bit further with lower electricity costs and could undercut drilled oil (outside the Middle East). If the technology is proven to work, applying this to total remaining fuel /petrochemical demand this could add many GWe in demand.
Putting this all together we get roughly roughly 3000GWe of demand for E-Cat SKLs. At 1.4kWe per device this would mean 2.1bn devices/year. For an order of magnitude this is in the range of global cell phone production. Contract manufacturing should be scalable within a few years to rise to this challenge.
Checking on any potential commodity constraints, 2.3m tons of Nickel are mined every year. If 10% were allocated to E-cat production 230000 tons / 2.1bn devices would yield around 100g/device. The true number is likely to be far less so there should not be a problem. The only caveat would be that if it needed to be enriched and reliant on specific isotopes this would become less viable, I seem to remember though that this was no longer necessary in the latest versions.
Prices for prototype E-cats have previously been set at $1000-$1500/kW. While this early pricing would already be attractive to utilities, marine and trucking applications where utilisation is high, mass production and economies of scale have almost always resulted in cost improvements of 10x or more. Similar to cell phones, contract manufacturers could be the low value-added end of the process, with a licence fee paid for the control software owned by the owner of the E-cat patents. $10-$20 per unit (or less for an annual subscription including recharge) could open up a pure profit stream comparable in size to annual Windows sales (I’m aware this is not agenda now but could be in future). It would also allow for different prices to be charged according to application and to the development level of the country where it is used, a potentially large benefit to poor countries.
At $100/kWe the total expense for 3000GWe would amount to just $300bn/year, a small fraction of the estimated $6+tn/almost 10% of world GDP currently allocated to energy.
With this scale of production we could transition almost all energy production to this new device within 10+ years, with some laggards in transportation. If we start in the mid-2020s we could be largely done by 2040. Thanks to superior economics of this dense, always available, portable energy source the environmental and health benefits of this revolution will be just a very welcome by-product rather than a difficult trade-off with terrible politics. Meanwhile the whole world will enjoy much more widely available and far cheaper energy.