Range anxiety is a much-discussed concern among drivers—and potential drivers—of electric vehicles, and in attempt to thwart it, automakers are trying to install more EV charging stations, offering free gas-powered rentals for longer trips and, of course, developing batteries with a substantially longer range. Israeli start-up Phinergy believes they might just have the answer: aluminum-air batteries that can go for thousands of miles on a single charge. This alone might sound like it’s on the ambitious side, but the company believes the batteries could be installed in production vehicles as soon as 2017!
Aluminum-air batteries are nothing new; they create energy through the interaction of oxygen in the air and the metal. An aluminum plate serves as an anode while the ambient oxygen functions as cathode and, as Discovery describes “the aluminum slowly being sacrificed as its molecules combine with oxygen to give off energy.” Phinergy’s current prototype uses a sizable aluminum-air system in the car’s truck to serve as an extender on top of a standard lithium-ion battery. According to Bloomberg, each of the aluminum plates in Phinergy’s prototype has enough capacity to power the car for 20 miles, and the battery holds 50 plates coming in at a weight of 55lbs-while that might sound fairly weighty, it reportedly provides a higher energy density 100 times higher than current lithium-ion EV batteries.
The primary difference between Phinergy’s battery and previously produced aluminum-air batteries is a patented cathode that allows oxygen to pass through and interact with the aluminum sheets while blocking carbon dioxide—often the source of corrosion, damage and ultimate failure in aluminum-air batteries. Water—which must be refilled every 200 miles—serves as the electrolyte “through which ions pass to give off the energy that powers the test vehicle’s electric motor.” Additionally, Phinergy claims that their system also increases the amount of energy that can be derived from the aluminum, which would typically stand at around 8kWh/kg.
Rather than face a lengthy recharging time, Phinergy explains that the aluminum-air batteries are mechanically recharged, with the replacement of the aluminum sheets. But in addition to providing a range far beyond that of any vehicles (that we can think of) presently on the road, Phinergy maintains a strong emphasis on the overall green credentials of the batteries: “[t]he life cycle of aluminum enables to maintain global energetic balance. Phinergy’s aluminum is produced in places where energy is clean and cheap, such as electricity from waterfalls. It then serves as a means for transporting this energy to places where it is required. When used in an aluminum-air battery, aluminum turns into aluminum hydroxide. Aluminum hydroxide can then be recycled in the aluminum factory, enabling a closed and sustainable life cycle.”