Aluminum air batteries in and demonstration electric car

Alcoa and clean technology company Phinergy today debuted a zero-emissions electric demo car powered by revolutionary aluminum-air battery at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal. Alcoa and Phinergy are collaborating on new materials, processes and components to commercialize the aluminum-air battery, which can extend the distance an electric car travels by approximately 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles).

The test car, which appeared to be using the body of a Citroen C1, used lithium-ion and aluminum-air batteries for the run.

The aluminum-air battery uses air and water to unlock the energy stored in aluminum. According to Phinergy, just one of the 50 aluminum plates in the battery can power a car for approximately 20 miles, and when used to supplement a lithium-ion battery, can extend vehicle range by approximately 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles). The technology allows an energy density that surpasses conventional battery technologies and creates electric vehicles with travel distances, purchase prices and life-cycle costs that are comparable to fossil-fuel cars.

The aluminum-air battery is lightweight, and more energy dense than the lithium-ion batteries in use today. The product of the aluminum anode, ambient air (oxygen) cathode and water electrolyte is an electrical charge the power the car, and the resultant aluminum hydroxide byproduct is recycled to create more aluminum. When the aluminum-air battery is depleted, the modular aluminum “cartridges” can be swapped out for new ones at a service station.

The aluminum-air battery isn’t something you can recharge at home.

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 aluminum-air battery effectively acts as a range extender. “For daily use, the lithium-ion system will get you 20, 30, 40 miles. The air-aluminum system will then turn on when the lithium-ion [battery] is exhausted,” Ramsey said.

While the technology is initially being demonstrated in cars, other applications could include stationary energy storage, consumer electronics, aerospace and defense, the companies said.

Aluminum-air batteries do wear out under normal use. The aluminum eventually turns into aluminum hydroxide. Worn out aluminum-air batteries can be recycled to create new batteries.

“The recharge of the aluminum-air [battery] is user-friendly and consists of refilling water and replacing aluminum when depleted,” a spokesperson for Alcoa said in an email response to Computerworld. “The water refill is an easy task that can be performed by using tap water on average every one or two months according to mileage driven.”

The battery’s aluminum replacement is also a “quick operation” that will be performed at periodic maintenance checks at a local service station on average once a year according to mileage driven, the spokesperson added

When asked at a shareholder meeting if Tesla is worried about a battery breakthrough coming from elsewhere in the industry, Musk answered simply. He said that so far, none of the supposed breakthroughs have held up at a laboratory level or actually exceed Tesla’s own composition.

As far as the Gigafactory goes, should one of these breakthroughs happen, it would be relatively simple to retool the factory to utilize the new anode or cathode, where most battery research is focused. In fact, Musk expects “…to evolve the anode and cathode. It’s not merely, ‘What if that happens.’ We expect that to happen.”

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