Automotive

Electric test car with aluminum-air battery takes to the track

Electric test car with aluminu...
An electric car featuring Phinergy and Alcoa’s aluminum-air battery system made its track debut earlier this month
An electric car featuring Phinergy and Alcoa’s aluminum-air battery system made its track debut earlier this month
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An electric car featuring Phinergy and Alcoa’s aluminum-air battery system made its track debut earlier this month
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An electric car featuring Phinergy and Alcoa’s aluminum-air battery system made its track debut earlier this month
Unlike lithium-ion batteries, the aluminum air technology relies on a chemical reaction between aluminum, water and oxygen to create electricity
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Unlike lithium-ion batteries, the aluminum air technology relies on a chemical reaction between aluminum, water and oxygen to create electricity
The Phinergy-Alcoa team has resolved the lifespan limiting CO2 issue by developing air electrodes with a silver-based catalyst that allows oxygen into the cell while blocking CO2 molecules
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The Phinergy-Alcoa team has resolved the lifespan limiting CO2 issue by developing air electrodes with a silver-based catalyst that allows oxygen into the cell while blocking CO2 molecules
The companies claim that travel distances, purchase prices and life-cycle costs of their aluminum-air battery system are comparable to that of petrol powered vehicles
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The companies claim that travel distances, purchase prices and life-cycle costs of their aluminum-air battery system are comparable to that of petrol powered vehicles
Unlike lithium-ion batteries, the aluminum air technology relies on a chemical reaction between aluminum, water and oxygen to create electricity
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Unlike lithium-ion batteries, the aluminum air technology relies on a chemical reaction between aluminum, water and oxygen to create electricity
When used to supplement a lithium-ion battery, the aluminum-air battery system could extend vehicle range by approximately 1,000 miles
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When used to supplement a lithium-ion battery, the aluminum-air battery system could extend vehicle range by approximately 1,000 miles
The aluminum-air battery could extend an electric car's range by 1,000 miles (1,609 km), though stops for a water top-up would be needed every couple of hundred miles
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The aluminum-air battery could extend an electric car's range by 1,000 miles (1,609 km), though stops for a water top-up would be needed every couple of hundred miles
The aluminum-air battery, when added to a lithium-ion system can extend vehicle range by approximately 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi).
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The aluminum-air battery, when added to a lithium-ion system can extend vehicle range by approximately 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi).
The aluminum-air system is not designed as stand-alone technology since the battery plates are not rechargeable, but rather as a range extender
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The aluminum-air system is not designed as stand-alone technology since the battery plates are not rechargeable, but rather as a range extender

Last year, Phinergy and Alcoa announced the development of an aluminum-air battery that could give an electric car a potential range of 1,000 miles (1,609 km), though stops for a water top-up would be needed every couple of hundred miles. Now the companies have debuted the technology on the track at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.

With the exception of Tesla’s Model S and its 300 mile (500 km) range, most lithium-ion battery systems typically offer users a somewhat limited range before requiring a recharge. As we reported last April, there are several companies working on next generation air-battery technologies, most focusing on lithium-air solutions. However one of the inherent problems with these new metal-air batteries has been the issue of CO2-related premature failure.

Phinergy and Alcoa’s aluminum-air battery system uses energy released through the reaction of aluminum and water with oxygen in order to generate electricity, using a silver-based catalyst and unique structure to allow oxygen into the cell while refusing entry to the problematic CO2 molecules. The company claims that travel distances, purchase prices and life-cycle costs would be comparable to petrol-powered vehicles.

The aluminum-air system is not designed as stand-alone technology since the battery plates are not rechargeable, but rather as a range extender
The aluminum-air system is not designed as stand-alone technology since the battery plates are not rechargeable, but rather as a range extender

Because the battery plates are not rechargeable and need to be replaced, the system is being promoted as a supporting technology. During regular city driving, a lithium-ion system would manage most of the power needs, but during longer trips the aluminum-air battery would kick in as a range extender. The spent aluminum can also be recycled when depleted.

According to Phinergy, just one of the 50 aluminum plates in its aluminum-air battery can power a car for roughly 20 miles (32 km). When added to a lithium-ion configuration, the technology could extend an electric vehicle's range by approximately 1,000 miles. The development might also be used to further enhance range in future hybrid vehicles.

However, although the battery's aluminum plate anodes are claimed to have an energy density of 8 kWh/kg, there has been no mention of power or performance figures from the test vehicle.

The video below shows the Alcoa-Phinergy car with the aluminum-air battery out on the track.

Source: Alcoa

28 comments
Nairda
Silver and aluminum are abundant. Adoption of a safe system of swapping out plates and water at the service station seems straightforward. Pollution if any is negligible. Density of energy release is a matter of configuration so it can't be a limitation. So how is it that this got out of the bag into public domain and not shelved like all the other great ideas?
BigGoofyGuy
I think this is way cool and way green. I doubt having to stop every couple of hundred miles would be a big problem. I know I am unable to travel that far without having to stop to stretch my legs. Nairda, I don't know how it got out into the public domain but I am glad it did.
VirtualGathis
I'm curious what they energy return is. It costs energy to produce all the consumables. Aluminum for instance is very energy intensive to convert from ore to metal. If you look here the process is quite involved and produces toxic by-products. I think thsi is quite telling "One pound of aluminum requires 6-8 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy" They claim 6-8KWh/kg above, 1kg~=2.2lbs, so if that Kg is only the aluminum it is using a minimum of 12.5KWh/Kg. They are not very clear though so it might be slightly more efficient. Over all without rechargability I give this a great big yawn. Not green due to inefficiency and toxic by products, only marginally useful due to complexity of replacement. You'd be better off buying a small trailer and a deisel generator set to optimal output and using that as the range extender than this thing.
Slowburn
If they make the battery so that it eats aluminum foil that is unrecyclable any way it could be a way to power your overly expensive car.
Mel Tisdale
"The company claims that travel distances, purchase prices and life-cycle costs would be comparable to petrol-powered vehicles" Is that comparison based on today's prices, or those soon to be upon us as the easy oil runs out completely and we are up against tar sands and shales as our sources, with their poor EROEI figures? If today, then this technology will be much in demand. Of course, we must not forget that that any hybrid vehicle is going to need copper for its wiring, which is getting ever more expensive to extract with a ore now running at between 0.3% to 0.6% copper. It is difficult to see just how we are going to power our heavy goods vehicles and farm equipement that we so badly need grow and distribute in order to feed the ever expanding population.
owlbeyou
Living in Montreal, the winters get cold here, so what happens if the water in the battery freezes? One of the biggest challenges is to design battery technology that isn't adversely affected by freezing temps.
myale
A bit lax on actual detail of the energy cost to make the battery verus what you can get out of it.
rdp
I trust everyone noticed the statement that "the battery plates are not rechargeable" -- this is a single use battery. Once it runs down, you have to replace it. As a range extender, you'd want to use it very sparingly...
CaptD
The most exciting thing about this battery article, is that it points out that we are just beginning to see what the future holds for electric vehicles as both electric motors and battery technology evolve now that scientists now have access to R&D funds in amounts never before possible when gasoline and diesel were the only options to power vehicles. With modular batteries, eVehicle owners will be able to replace old batteries with much better, more powerful batteries as they are developed, which will make owning an eVehicle an even better investment since they will hold their value far longer! Here is just a sample: http://evobsession.com/tesla-roadster-get-upgrade-later-year/ Tesla would be very smart to offer these upgrades because then all their eVehicles would be far more valuable since their owners would then have an upgrade path that would allow the use of better batteries, better tech and other "upgrades" that the owners of these eVehicles might want. Tesla would again set the standard/bar much higher since no other Manufacturer does this and this alone would be yet another reason to only buy a Tesla…
ADVENTUREMUFFINffin
VirtualGathis is correct, a good review of the Life cycle costs of the battery, including removing the oxides and re-smelter, would show this idea to be a net energy looser. Gizmag would benefit if it added a bit more balanced review of these ideas, rather than simply reshare the company's advertising.