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  • Lord Copper

2018 Letter from France

Just a short article this week, as I’m on holiday, enjoying driving my German petrol/electric hybrid car down almost – by UK standards – empty French autoroutes in beautiful bright sunshine. Remind me again – why do we need Brexit?

But while that hybrid car is a magnificent piece of engineering, it is still only a step along the way; putting petrol in it is easy enough – we’re all familiar with that – but finding a suitable charger and then waiting while the batteries fill with electricity is a considerably longer operation, and one that needs to be shortened and made easier.

I wasn’t a good physics student at school, much to my regret now, but some basic principles I can grasp. In the same way that petrol refuelling is governed by the speed of the dispensing pump and that at which the tank can fill, so the electric charging is limited by effectively the same two conditions. I mentioned a few weeks ago some research into improvements of the carbon used in lithium-ion batteries, and now – with thanks to Steve Ramm, who pointed it out to me (and who undoubtedly does understand the physics of it) – there is further research into the use of niobium tungsten oxides to increase the rate at which the batteries can absorb energy.

That’s as technical as I’m going to get, but the net result – were the technology to prove viable and scaleable – would see sharply reduced charging times, and, by the same token, the ability of batteries to discharge at higher rates, thus being more suitable for high-energy uses. For those of a more scientific bent than me, an abstract of the research can be found on

Well, I’m off to find some electricity for my car, at current charging rates, so it can take me down to Provence. And thank you to the scientists for keeping on with the research.

Back to a proper length piece next week.




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