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Phinergy's metal-air battery could eliminate EV range anxiety

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April 3, 2013

Phinergy's demonstration vehicle boasts a range of over 1,000 miles (1,609 km) using metal...

Phinergy's demonstration vehicle boasts a range of over 1,000 miles (1,609 km) using metal-air battery technology

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Israel-based company Phinergy claims to have developed metal-air battery technology that promises to end the range anxiety associated with electric vehicles. The company’s battery currently consists of 50 aluminum plates, each providing energy for around 20 miles (32 km) of driving. This adds up to a total potential range of 1,000 miles (1,609 km), with stops required only every couple of hundred miles to refill the system with water.

There are a number of companies and university research teams currently working on air-battery technology – usually lithium-air batteries – with the goal of improving the range of electric vehicles. These batteries offer significantly increased capacity in a more compact form factor by replacing bulky conventional cathodes, which contain the oxidizer within the battery itself, with lighter “air cathodes” that instead draw oxygen from the surrounding air.

Phinergy claims to have solved the CO2-related premature failure problems seen in other metal-air battery technologies by developing an air electrode with a silver-based catalyst and structure that lets oxygen enter the cell, but blocks out CO2. The result is an air electrode that Phinergy says has an operational lifespan of thousands of hours.

Phinergy's metal-air battery draws oxygen from the surrounding air

The company says the aluminum plate anodes in its aluminum-air battery have an energy density of 8 kWh/kg, but the batteries are not rechargeable. Once the energy is expended, the plates, which add up to around 55 pounds (25 kg) per battery, need to be replaced. However, the company points out that aluminum is easily recyclable and that swapping the battery out for a fresh one is quicker than recharging.

Because they aren’t rechargeable, Phinergy says its aluminum-air batteries would be more suitable as a range-extender technology working in conjunction with a traditional lithium-ion battery. The lithium-ion battery would would handle the general day-to-day commuting energy needs with the aluminum-air battery providing extra range when required. It is this dual setup that the company has used in a demonstration vehicle that can be driven over 200 miles (330 km) in a single continuous trip as shown in the video below.

However, Phinergy is also developing a rechargeable zinc-air battery that it claims is resistant to the dendrite formation that has plagued other zinc-air batteries.

The company believes its metal-air battery technology could be commercially available in vehicles as soon as 2017, with smart grid energy storage, consumer electronic devices, UAVs and boats cited as other potential applications for the technology.

Phinergy’s demonstration electric vehicle and the aluminum-air battery technology that powers it can be seen in the video below.

Source: Phinergy via Bloomberg TV

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
28 Comments

That's not a battery, it's a fuel cell.

As demonstrated, it doesn't seem to last too long and recycling the alumina that's created will require lots of electricity.

So as a large-scale solution, this may not be practical without further breakthroughs.

bannor99
4th April, 2013 @ 04:46 am PDT

I think this technology has a lot of promise and could - potentially - give electric vehicles a big boost when it comes to range. It would be nice to see it used sooner than 2017.

BigWarpGuy
4th April, 2013 @ 06:06 am PDT

I understand this is a concept, but it's essentially a car that runs on aluminium, which takes incredible amounts of energy to refine from its ore, and requiring an additional industrial process to recycle it after it's spent. Most likely taxing the environment even more than gasoline.

Joris van den Heuvel
4th April, 2013 @ 06:07 am PDT

Works for me! Little wasted energy, recyclable aluminium, just add electricity, makes longer distances possible, now for a three moving piece or at worst CV transmission, always following the SMART and KISS rules, Less is more engineering, and the ultimate in energy storage, aluminium pallets can be exploited. Fantastic for military situations, perhaps good for light planes too? Medium sized trucks?

Abundance of Aluminium expected from China's new found Pebble Bed Gas and Thorium LFTR styled reactors, will drop Al prices world wide - even allowing this form of energy storage to compete with dirty, flammable and polluting Oil and coal - after all not even CO2 produced to store electricity in Aluminium and it is a very common ore, not rare by any means? large northern Hydro could be commissioned to produce Aluminium, reducing transmission losses? Definitely part of the solution.

Bruce Miller
4th April, 2013 @ 07:22 am PDT

"Range anxiety" because saying electric cars are catastrophically short ranged is bad press.

Slowburn
4th April, 2013 @ 08:33 am PDT

I have heard of this technology before. From what I remember of previous articles, the energy required to "recycle" the used up aluminum which I presume is basically bauxite is about the same as the energy you get back out of the fuel cell as electric power. I'm not sure what the overall efficiency would be but charging any battery is not 100% efficient.

I hope they get the details worked out because this would be a lot safer and compact than hydrogen fuel cells.

However, as Rudolf Diesel once said "The birth of an idea is that happy moment when all things seem possible and reality has not yet entered the picture".

Mr E
4th April, 2013 @ 09:21 am PDT

Hum, I spoke to the IBM lithium-air team last year around the same time and theirs was also ready, the only problem was de-humidification system that was bullet proof enough to be driven anywhere. They estimated they were about 7 years away from mass production.

33Nick
4th April, 2013 @ 09:35 am PDT

So the "battery" has to be replaced every 1,000 miles or so. If it's cheaper than buying 30 gallons of gasoline, it will work. If it's significantly more, it won't be economic, and will be cheaper to keep my Buick.

William H Lanteigne
4th April, 2013 @ 10:09 am PDT

Since ambient air is being used in these systems, will they, like the internal combustion engines, suffer performance deficits at altitude?

George Heuston
4th April, 2013 @ 12:00 pm PDT

anything that is a step in the right direction...i like it...

building blocks.

billybob1851
4th April, 2013 @ 02:17 pm PDT

George, I have no experience with Al-air batteries so this is not definitive. All of the common battery technologies are able to deliver their full rated energy in an hour or so. Over simplifying, the amount of metal in batteries is determined by energy storage and this causes the total amount of metal to be many times what is needed as conductors to carry the current for the application. You are correct in thinking the reduced air pressure at high altitudes will reduce the maxim rate for the reaction but since the reaction probably can occur several hundred times the rate needed to run the car, the theoretical reduction in potential power should not be of concern. Also, the Al-air battery is used as a range extender for an electric car that primarily runs off conventional batteries. The Al-air battery only needs to discharge at the average power level for the car. Acceleration and hill climbing can be done from the conventional battery that will be recharged from the Al-air battery when high power levels are not needed.

If this is economically viable depends on the range available per pound of Aluminum oxidized per mile. If 100 lb. of Al. oxidation produces 1000 miles of range, and Al cost about $1.00 per pound the cost would be $0.10 per mile. This is equivalent to getting about 35 miles per gallon of gas at $3.50 per gallon, high compared with a purely electric car recharged off the electric grid.

Dominic From NASA
4th April, 2013 @ 02:31 pm PDT

re; Bruce Miller

1 kg of aluminum from ore requires about 15 kilowatt hours of electricity. Most of that is going from aluminum oxide to aluminum. A hydroelectric powered smelter in Iceland made a profit shipping ore from Australia and the refined aluminum back to Australia because of the cheep electricity.

Slowburn
4th April, 2013 @ 04:08 pm PDT

What has yet to be mentioned is the infrastructure necessary to support the widespread employment of these batteries. Just like gasoline engines did not come into full use and therefore acceptance until fueling stations became abundant, the same can be said of these kinds of batteries. Building such an infrastructure, just like building any infrastructure to support a new technology, will be costly -- VERY costly. The batts and vehicles may be ready but if people can't conveniently "refuel" them, then they won't sell. This has been the sticking point of getting acceptance of CNG and LNG. The changeover to those clean fuels is very expensive and largely still in its infancy due to the lack of infrastructure. That is changing, most certainly, but it's all still more than four or five years away.

Lastly is the cost to the consumer. Not only do these batts cost a lot to refuel and replace, nothing has been said about what the whole car would cost new. It's a good idea, imho, one I'd like to see them keep working on, (first heard of it in the nineteen-eighties) but the announcement seems a bit premature.

Neil Larkins
4th April, 2013 @ 04:34 pm PDT

If the thing could run on common stock sheet aluminum, cut to size, that would remove almost all the need to have a special infrastructure like electric cars, hydrogen, LPG, natural gas/methane or any other 'alternative' energy source requires.

Using standard aluminum sheet would only require the metal and a way to cut it to size.

Gregg Eshelman
4th April, 2013 @ 04:39 pm PDT

LIsc this with Tesla Motors for sure, radical.

Must mass produce under lisc.

Stephen N Russell
4th April, 2013 @ 05:45 pm PDT

As bannor99 says: "That's not a battery, it's a fuel cell". Sounds good till find out that how much energy is required to make the cell, then it's like, back to the drawing board boys.

Terry Penrose
4th April, 2013 @ 06:09 pm PDT

I know that battery technology was geared for years to reducing h2 production, fuel cells being just the opposite in consuming h+. When do we get a glimpse of an LNG battery/fuel cell?

Kwazai
5th April, 2013 @ 03:18 am PDT

I think the next step in electric vehicle power is the H2 fuel cell at least here in the USA as it allows us to utilize natural gas while it is available and reduce and address pollution issues. Building a transportation infrastructure around a H2 economy utilizing H2 fuel cell vehicles seems to be a logical next step regardless of the source of H2 whether it is LNG, aluminum, or a replaceable fuel source.

We are on the way to building such an infrastructure now and fuel cells could replace the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) that drives hybrid vehicles now but it's important to point out that the best internal combustion engines are around 22% efficient regardless if the power a motor vehicle directly or indirectly (as in a hybrid automobile or a railroad locomotive) I've seen studies that show a fuel cell powered electric vehicle can approach 50% efficiency or better.

The quest seems to be a safe and reliable source of H2 on demand.

Jody Price
5th April, 2013 @ 06:42 am PDT

@Jody Price

A major hurdle to the H2 economy continues to be the storage of Hydrogen for long periods. Hydrogen is the smallest molecule, which allows it to pass through many forms of storage media. With current technologies, you could fill up your car with it and if you parked it for a couple days, the tank would be essentially empty. These continual losses greatly reduce the overall efficiency of the hydrogen production and distribution system. Also, unless the hydrogen is produced via electrolysis, you still have carbon dioxide pollution: creating 2*H2 from 1*CH4 (methane) requires a source of O2 (from the air), and produces 1*CO2.

WinDrummer
5th April, 2013 @ 07:57 am PDT

The efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells is lost when you count the energy needed to produce and concentrate the hydrogen.

Slowburn
5th April, 2013 @ 04:57 pm PDT

I worked on aluminium air fuel cells for about 5 years, it's good to see them in the press again. The use here is exactly what we intended, I worked for a utility company and we wanted them for electric vehicles and as standby electricity generation for low temperatures (when diesel waxes). We had even planned this as the secondary source of power with lithium as the primary for peak power.

Our application failed because the PHD student we were working with insisted on using tin in the electrodes, this, however, caused a larger that necessary crystal of aluminium hydroxide to develop which clogged things up. Once we had a couple of failures funding dried up.

No real problem with the technology and it is rechargeable albeit mechanically so but the aluminium has to be fairly pure; that said I got a local smelter to produce some cheap anodes which worked perfectly, just took a little care and me to watch over the process.

The solid waste product, assuming a similar chemistry, is a very fine crystal which is widely used in the medical and cosmetics industry so we had customers ready to pay for our waste. We used a caustic electrolyte which would be a problem as it's much more hazardous than acids when around fats, which we're all partly made of, some more so than others of course.

All in all it is a great contender for the electric vehicle market and the refuelling infrastructure required isn't anything like as heavyweight as hydrogen would be as this is largely solid stuff that can be transported and handled in regular trucks for the main part with water added at the point of distribution. Also, a lot of this stuff could be held at home quite safely with the right containment, with 1,000km range it would be perfectly possible to live without a refuelling station. As an emergency you could take some spare anodes and some electrolyte pellets, add water and you full of beans; just like a snackpot!

Pumpkin
6th April, 2013 @ 05:39 am PDT

What about the decline in battery power as you get past the half life of the battery?

Will it be zero to 60 in 8 minutes instead of 8 seconds?

robo
6th April, 2013 @ 11:51 am PDT

Iron air batteries have been around for over a century. Will be interesting to see what they have done that nobody else has tried since the technology is comparatively old. Hmmmm....

Usually anything that looks too good to be true usually is. We shall see.

Cynical Fred

Martin Hone
6th April, 2013 @ 04:19 pm PDT

If you look at it like a fuel cell, Al is much easier to handle than hydrogen. One can imagine a 10kg pack would provide 80kwh or more than 300 miles on a Nissan Leaf. If the packaging is not too heavy, one can imagine buying this from a gas station convenience store and sliding it into a slot in the car. If you take the current Leaf and charge in both directions a 300 mile round trip would use about half power from the Al battery and half power off the grid. For those people that do this just once in a while, the option to go the distance is very valuable and not particularly expensive.

Doug Liser
8th April, 2013 @ 12:25 pm PDT

To those that state this is a fuel cell - you are only half right. The definition of a fuel cell is that the system should remain "invariant" - that is to say the composition of the electrolyte and electrodes stays constant. An example is the H2/O2 (air) fuel cell, where the water formed is removed (from the cathode) at the same rate that it is formed, while H2 and O2 are fed in continuously. In the case of Al/air system the Al anode is consumed and the product (Al2O3) remains in the electrolyte. It is therefore a primary battery. The air cathode on the other hand does remain invariant and is therefore a fuel cell electrode. The whole system is therefore a hybrid primary battery/fuel cell, but since it does not remain invariant, it is therefore correct to call it a battery."

GeoffG
8th April, 2013 @ 03:25 pm PDT

Doesn't anyone watch the news. The three leading car manufacturers recently agreed that hydrogen fuel cells are to be the technology used to power cars.

It will take something rather special to stop that kind of market force from shaping the direction as they decide what power souce to put in their cars, not you.

Like it or not that is the direction. It's not really a bad thing. The sooner people get on board the quicker it will happen, and the sooner that dirty petrolium based engines can be a thing of the past.

Foxy1968
14th April, 2013 @ 11:25 pm PDT

*Infrastructure is the most challenging aspect of a mass change-over of energy in an industrialized country. NOT TRUE.

*The main problem of any industrialized society are it's politicians who can freely be solicited from all the current energy manufacturers and suppliers whom pay to keep things in flux while their delay tactics earn themselves profits. They are called Lobbyists.

*Shell already has hydrogen gas pumps in Los Angeles. And they work just fine. It is nice and safe and can be delivered in the same trucks that contain the more deadly toxic explosive gas we currently deliver.

* The pumps and cars do not "leak" hydrogen. They are engineered and tested already to contain extremely dangerous, flammable and explosive gasoline, so that argument is mute.

*Also gas stations CONVENIENTLY have these things called gas pumps which can easily be converted from hydro-carbon gas to hydrogen gas. and conveniently they could convert 1-2 pumps at a time as demand increases.

*THUS THE INFRASTRUCTURE IS ALREADY and COMPLETELY INTACT.

*And for those who argue that Hydrogen is dangerous, we all are currently driving car bombs that create so many toxic gases, one could be killed within minutes of breathing it's fumes.

*The fumes/byproducts from hydrogen cars are water and carbon dioxide (which is what we breath out and is not dangerous in anyway) and are completely safe.

gj3200
16th April, 2013 @ 08:39 am PDT

This was a proof-of-concept. But, based on what the Phinergy chairman told President Obama (see http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/166456#.UW4RKrWsi) So, the plan is to use this as a range-extender, and allow for al battery to be replaced once a year. It would be done in the shop when you get your brakes checked.

My gutt says, that it will be available in multiple options 1k, 2k, and 3k battery configurations based driver preference.

This should ramp the EV industry. Improvements to the air-battery technology will make EVs ubiquitous.

Chaim Spielman
16th April, 2013 @ 08:04 pm PDT
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