When it comes to electric car range, Tesla’s all-electric Model S sedan with optional 85 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is unarguably champion among production electric vehicles. While its EPA rating is just 265 miles per charge, it’s possible to push range well beyond 300 miles with the right person behind the wheel.
But that 300 miles range pails into insignificance next to an aluminum air battery demonstrated at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada yesterday. Capable of more than 1,000 miles without needing a charge, the all-new battery could make it possible to drive from Portland to Los Angeles on a single charge.
The product of a joint partnership between Israeli firm Phinergy and lightweight metals manufacturing engineering specialist Alcoa, the new EV-ready aluminum Air battery is far more energy dense — meaning it can store more energy per unit volume — than the lithium-ion battery packs found in today’s modern electric cars.
The key to the aluminum air’s high energy density is its construction. Unlike a traditional battery in which two different metals are used to form the battery’s cathode and anode, aluminum air batteries — like lithium air batteries — use oxygen from the air we breathe to form the battery’s cathode.
Free oxygen molecules pass from the air outside the battery into the battery casing, passing through the H2O electrolyte — that’s water to you and us – and reacting with the aluminium to produce aluminum hydroxide and a healthy electrical current.
So far so good, but the aluminum air batteries have one major design flaw: they’re not rechargeable.
That’s not a problem says Phinergy and Alcoa. Because the aluminum air battery is so much lighter than traditional battery designs thanks to its use of lightweight aluminum and the air we breathe, it can be built into existing electric cars to function as a range-extender.
With a shelf life of 30 years — far better than previous generation aluminum air batteries which would slowly degrade over time — aluminum air batteries will only be used to power an electric car when its on-board lithium-ion battery pack has run flat.
Instead of relying on a gasoline range-extender then, future electric cars could feature a small, non-rechargeable aluminum air battery for range-extending capabilities in an emergency. Modular in its design, Phinergy’s aluminum air battery is made up of 50 aluminum plates good for around 20 miles of range each, which can easily be exchanged at a service centre for fresh ones. Replenishing the electrolyte is as simple as flushing out the old electrolyte with a hose and refilling the battery with fresh water.
For now, aluminum air technology is still at the test phase, but the engineers behind the joint Phinergy Alcoa project say that commercial batteries for use in electric vehicles could be ready for mass production in just a few years.
And with Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] already known to have filed a patent for a hybrid battery pack made up of a traditional lithium-ion battery married with a range-extending metal-air battery pack, we think this interesting technology has a very bright future.
Would you prefer a non-rechargeable metal-air range-extending battery for your electric car over a gasoline or hydrogen range-extender? What would you pay for the privilege? Or do you think that our primary concern should be devising ways of improving rechargeable electric car battery packs with massive ranges?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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