Phinergy, Alcoa, Demonstrate 1000-Mile Range-extending Electric Car Battery

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.

This converted electric car is fitted with an aluminum air battery which can travel up to 1,000 miles without the need for charging.

This converted electric car is fitted with an aluminum air battery which can travel up to 1,000 miles without the need for charging.

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.

The Phinergy Alcoa car generated a lot of interest.

The Phinergy Alcoa car generated a lot of interest.

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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  • Michael Thwaite

    Hmm, it’s going to come down to price – if I can have a emergency spare that’ll get me an extra 10-20 miles for less than $100, I’m in.

    • Matt Beard

      I would like to think that you get an extra 100 miles for a recharge cost of $100-$200. It would be great if you had, say five 20-mile modules each replaceable on their own, that you hit a button to activate the next one. Replace “used” ones at a gas-station or similar.

      • Kyle Sager

        I really like Matt’s observation here. An easily replaceable modular battery would likely garner more market traction. If you have to pay specialists to replace a large battery the overall cost will go right on up with inconvenience.

  • Surya

    I like the idea of low cost, low weight range extending batteries. I do think their use is limited though. Let’s say it adds 100 extra miles. Now my EV can do 200 miles… Once. After that it’s down to 100 miles again. Not all that practical for travel.

  • Andrew Campbell

    As an occasional range extending option plugged into the system and designed to fit the space it’s an obsolete winner IMHO

  • Foro EV

    This has the advantage of having a density of 8 kWh per kg and 23 kWh per liter, you only need one motor (Volt requires two motors, electric and combustion), no emissions in use and if it melted aluminum in the plant that Alcoa has in Quebec, pollution is almost zero.nnThe melting efficiency of alumina for aluminum is 50-60%, better than the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen.nnnThe cost? maybe $ 100 each 1,600 kmnn

  • lad76

    Using another battery as a spare to a battery to extend your range will be expensive additional mileage. How about we just get on with the plan for a high energy density, low-cost, lighter battery with fast charge networks for long distance travel. Also. it is interesting to note Argonne Labs is on record that either Mg and/or Al will be used in future rechargeable batteries instead of Li.nnnMy guess is Argonne will have a better battery design available about the time Tesla launches their Giga Factory.

    • MorinMoss

      The bigger the battery, the harder it’ll be to fast-charge; battery swap would be quicker and easier on the grid / charging network.

  • D. Harrower

    Promising technology, but there are several points of concern mentioned in a similar article from CO2 is a by-product of the chemical reaction which corrodes the aluminum plates. The article is not specific as to whether it is contained within the battery or released to the atmosphere. If the latter, this could be a step in the wrong direction.nn2) Battery must be topped up with water every 200 miles or so. Certainly more convenient than waiting hours to charge, but I can foresee certain scenarios where this would still be a pain.nn3) Estimated operating/replacement cost of $10 PER MILE. Not something you would want to tap into on a regular basis then.

    • Joseph Edwards

      1) Aluminum-air batteries must keep co2 out because it damages the battery so nonnn2) its water so if you’re not lost in a desert you will be oknnn3) there is no way it will be that high, that would be $10,000 total. It is 50 small aluminum plates and electrolyte.

    • Foro EV

      “Estimated operating/replacement cost of $10 PER MILE.”nnInsideevs not think before writing. It will be 0.10$ per mile.

      • Foro EV

        *Editoru2019s Note: Alcoa has contacted InsideEVs to dispute our ~$10 per mile operating/replacement cost claim. As Alcoa suggests:nnu201cOur Phinergy colleagues would tell you that energy cost per mile of the aluminum to be equal to or less than gasoline.u201d

        • D. Harrower

          Okay. Good to hear. Much more compelling option then.

  • Gilles Fecteau

    I think this is a great idea. I am looking at a Nissan Leaf or Kia Soul electric but would require a larger range few (4-5) time a year. This sounds like a better solution than a trailer range extender.nWill it be possible to remove the battery when not needed, to increase trunk space?

  • Kyle Sager

    The technologies can compete, but also be complementary. If Ford EV’s metrics below are correct then price per kilometer (or mile) should be comparable to today’s gasoline. If the battery pictured went 1000 miles that’s pretty impressive.nnOne other key metric that should be shared is km or miles per liter of battery volume. That metric could make/break this technology.nnImagine being able to simply place an additional battery in a secure trunk space for a very long cross-country trip (any vacation trip, really). These batteries could also be significant for trucking industry.nnWith Nissan anticipating a Leaf with over 150 miles capacity within 3 years, a technology like this could complement the Leaf and change the way people travel.nnSuddenly electric cars are doing things gas cars could NEVER do.

  • G E Moon

    I’m from Canada…water freezes…..???