Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

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

By

June 9, 2014

An electric car featuring Phinergy and Alcoa’s aluminum-air battery system made its track ...

An electric car featuring Phinergy and Alcoa’s aluminum-air battery system made its track debut earlier this month

Image Gallery (8 images)

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...

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

About the Author
Angus MacKenzie Born on the cold, barren Canadian plains of Calgary, Alberta, Angus MacKenzie couldn’t decide between marketing, automotives or an entrepreneurial path - so he chose all three. When not writing, Angus has for the past six years been Editor-in-Chief for elemente, an internationally recognized architecture/design magazine.   All articles by Angus MacKenzie
28 Comments

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?

Nairda
9th June, 2014 @ 05:16 am PDT

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.

BigGoofyGuy
9th June, 2014 @ 05:47 am PDT

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.

VirtualGathis
9th June, 2014 @ 09:06 am PDT

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.

Slowburn
9th June, 2014 @ 04:02 pm PDT

"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.

Mel Tisdale
10th June, 2014 @ 06:41 am PDT

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.

owlbeyou
10th June, 2014 @ 07:42 am PDT

A bit lax on actual detail of the energy cost to make the battery verus what you can get out of it.

myale
10th June, 2014 @ 08:24 am PDT

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...

rdp
10th June, 2014 @ 08:44 am PDT

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…

CaptD
10th June, 2014 @ 09:30 am PDT

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.

ADVENTUREMUFFIN
10th June, 2014 @ 09:43 am PDT

It's good to see that we finally are getting a vehicle that can run on beer cans and beer (there's water IN beer). Too bad Doc isn't around to see this.

Jay_Wilson
10th June, 2014 @ 09:46 am PDT

With the battery plates being consumed with each range extension, however slight, the operator now has aluminum anxiety to add to the list. This battery will take up volume, it needs to be easily accessed, and it is a lot of weight to carry around for something rarely used. Alcoa demand creation BS and impractical for civilian use.

solutions4circuits
10th June, 2014 @ 09:57 am PDT

Finally a way to get rid of my aluminum soda cans.

Bob
10th June, 2014 @ 10:02 am PDT

Recycling aluminum is already higher cost. Aluminum costs will skyrocket as demand climbs. Everything else that needs aluminum will also climb in costs (pop cans, wire, castings,, engine blocks, ext.)

Add to the costs of production and toxins produced during product? Not a good solution, even if it were %100 recyclable.

A portable generator, and a solar panel skin would make more sense.

kellory
10th June, 2014 @ 10:24 am PDT

Oh boy the promotional video is absolutely nauseating.

From the music to the super slow-mo of everything.

It looks like I could run faster than this car.

jingleburp
10th June, 2014 @ 10:48 am PDT

why not just use a ton of energy to make gasoline from coal or natural gas something?

instead of using the ton of energy to make these special batteries

wle

wle
10th June, 2014 @ 11:13 am PDT

@wle:

"why not just use a ton of energy to make gasoline from coal or natural gas something"

Because of a little thing called climate change. Perhaps it doesn't occur all that high on the public agenda of the planet you come from, but here on planet earth it is quite a big thing, which is about to get a lot bigger as the El Nino builds and the body bag manufacturers rub their hands in glee at the profits they are about to make.

Mel Tisdale
10th June, 2014 @ 01:52 pm PDT

Not to knock what engineers like these are doing, BUT...

if you want electric cars to be anything more than a niche market product, it has to do the following:

Be rechargeable in less than 15 minutes

Have comparable acceleration to a gasoline car (not usually a problem; electric motors are inherently torquey)

Be as cheap to purchase initially as an IC car without government subsidies

Be as reliable as IC cars

Be as cheap and easy to dispose of as IC cars, without becoming a toxic environmental horror show in a Chinese landfill

make the electric cars as cheap to run on a per-mile basis as IC cars

Do all of the above without cap-and -trade artificially jacking up the cost of IC carsOh, yeah, and NO spontaneous combustion.

CombatMissionary
10th June, 2014 @ 02:14 pm PDT

Look up Zinc Air as well...this was a technology that started to take off in the late 90s but for some reason, it just disappeared...

Ed
10th June, 2014 @ 02:47 pm PDT

IMHO electric cars are really the only way to go. Possibly a dual purpose SOFC and small ICE or micro turbine allowing the use of hydrogen fuels to be used mechanically and electrically.

Electric cars give the option for various paths of generation, solar, wind, thermal, etc. My favorite and in my opinion the best option for energy production is the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor. It's passively safe and can incorporate present nuclear waste from using Uranium. We already mine Thorium (produced as a byproduct in mining bauxite and rare earth minerals). It's passively safe and has been tested. Best of all, it's insanely abundant.

Sean.AG
10th June, 2014 @ 02:58 pm PDT

Mass produce & test in GM Volt or Tesla models alone.

Radical.

Stephen N Russell
10th June, 2014 @ 03:24 pm PDT

Sean.AG... You hit the nail on the head with the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor. I would love to have one the size of a coffee can run my car for the life of the car. Never having to fill up. When the car is finished, the reactor could be moved into a new car. Or.. how about one, the size of a window AC unit, to supply all of the power my house would need for years! Maintenance would be low and we could all live off of the grid.

EE_Tim
10th June, 2014 @ 05:00 pm PDT

All the battery debate is a non starter. This is no different. Having worked in an alumina refinery I am well aware of the environmental issues alumina production creates. For those of you who are completely naïve, google "red mud".

The ultimate solution is to produce hydrogen from renewables which can then be pressurised (safely) for use in either existing IC engines or fuel cells. Batteries will never match the energy density of a compressed gas. All that's required is a technology which can produce hydrogen (electrolysis) at the right price (cheap materials - electrodes) and have an accompanying system of concentrating the gas under pressure.

Imagine, generate your own fuel for your car or H for your fuel cell via roof top PV! No batteries required and can potentially completely replace petrol/gasoline in existing IC engines.

Aaryn Johansen
10th June, 2014 @ 05:17 pm PDT

Here, all of them would compare it with IC engine, that's true when it comes to performance and acceleration of the car. Reliability and mass production would be second thought to ponder upon. The pricing of car would be more crucial, if they need to hit the street to earn profit.

Sahamate
11th June, 2014 @ 04:16 am PDT

The typical driver puts on 33 miles 5 days a week for commuting, which comes to 8,500 of their annual 12,000 miles. This leaves 3,500 miles a year on trips greater than the range of the lithium-ion battery this car uses for daily driving. The 1,000 mile, range extending battery would have to be replaced about 3 to 4 times in any given year, replacing the gas-powered car's service of an oil change at the shop. Jiffy-Lube could easily add battery changes to its service list. Quite practical.

TGinNC
11th June, 2014 @ 06:10 am PDT

I'm not sure why this is called a battery. It does not store any energy. It is a generator. It generates electricity for a time and then stops and has to be "rebuilt". While it has potential, it has been around for decades and yet is not practical for consumer use. To have set up and have stations where this generator has to be removed and replaced every 1K miles is a real drawback. Similar to stations proposed to remove and replace a battery instead of having to recharge it the infrastructure would be huge.

PaulS
13th June, 2014 @ 09:40 am PDT

IMHO, whether or not the public uses ICE power or electric power to haul their fat asses to and from work begs the question. In the end the solution lies in encouraging the shortest distance possible between home and work. Freeways are a dead end! Then there will be a better use of whatever form of energy.

lon4
14th June, 2014 @ 09:02 am PDT

Can it be modified for electric bicycles or scooters?

Brett Kuntze
17th July, 2014 @ 10:11 am PDT
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