Electric car battery tech lets you go 1,000 miles between charges

But the battery must be replaced on average once a year

An Israeli company has teamed up with Alcoa to develop battery technology that allowed an all-electric car to travel 1,100 miles between charges.

The technology, a combination of an aluminum-air and lithium-ion battery, was demonstrated last week using an all-electric, sub-compact car at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve racetrack in Montreal.

The aluminum-air batteries, created by Israeli-based Phinergy and Canadian aluminum maker Alcoa, create energy by combining aluminum, ambient air and water.

Alcoa and Phinergy are collaborating on new materials, processes and components to commercialize the aluminum-air battery.

"The idea of metal-air batteries has been around for 100 years," said Doug Ramsey, Alcoa's business development manager. "With the partnership between Alcoa and Phinergy, we've optimized a system that can efficiently turn a solid piece of aluminum, with the addition of air and water as a catalyst, into a charge."

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The subcompact car and its aluminum-air battery (Image: Phinergy).

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.

The aluminum-air battery uses an air-electrode capable of breathing ambient air and extracting the oxygen while also excluding carbon dioxide, which can permeate and destroy electrodes.

Conventional batteries carry a certain amount of liquid reactant within a heavy cathode in order to release energy from the metal.

"It's like the difference between a SCUBA diver and a fish. While the diver carries oxygen tanks in order to breathe, the fish simply breathes through its gills," Phinergy explains in a video about the technology.

A single aluminum-air battery contains 50 aluminum plates. Each plate can power a car for about 20 miles, according to Phinergy. Used to bolster a lithium-ion battery, a car with the aluminum-air battery can travel about 1,000 miles.

"Automakers want technologies that enable zero-emission electric cars to travel distances that compete with gasoline-powered cars. The aluminum-air battery has the potential to meet that challenge using fully recyclable material with no CO2 emissions," Martin Briere, President of Alcoa Canada, said in a statement.

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.

"Electric vehicle adoption has been slowed by the limited range of regular batteries, causing what is commonly known as 'range anxiety,'" Aviv Tzidon, CEO of Phinergy, said in a statement. "With Phinergy's technology, and Alcoa's industrial leadership across both the aluminum value chain and the automotive market, we see an exciting opportunity to help move electric vehicles into the mainstream."

The aluminum-air range extender by Alcoa and clean technology company Phinergy has the potential to power electric vehicles for 1,000 miles.

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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