Aluminum-air battery could extend range by 1,600 kilometers, but there’s a catch

As electric vehicles become more prevalent, the dreaded range anxiety of the greener vehicles is what holds back many mainstream customers from adopting plug-ins and other non-fossil fuel powered cars. Alcoa Canada and Phinergy, an Israel-based developer of metal-air batteries, looks to take range anxiety out of the equation entirely.

The partners have developed a new battery-powered prototype using an aluminum-air solution mounted in a Citroen C1 minicar. The aluminum-air solution isn’t meant to be the primary source of power to the electric motor. Instead, it’s there to supplement another battery solution with less range.

Using 50 aluminum plates, each providing about 32 km of range, a reaction is harnessed with air and water to provide a non-fossil-fuel-powered range extender. However, the plates, acting as the anode, are sacrificed in this reaction, meaning they need to be replaced over time.

Water must be replaced on a regular interval as well.

“Distilled water must be added every 300 km or so to achieve that 1,600-km range (as demonstrated by Phinergy in a subcompact, so would be less in a larger and presumably heavier car); the aluminum plates would be basically ‘used up’ after use, so it would need fairly regular plate changes, perhaps comparable with 3-5k oil change intervals,” explained contributor and EV aficionado Michael Bettencourt.

Phinergy seems to be tackling this problem easily enough by partnering with Alcoa. Using the aluminum supplier’s plant in Baie-Comeau, QC, the partners are confident in their position to provide aluminum plates.

“Quebec’s focus on growing electric-powered transportation with the goal of being a leader in green technology provides a strong backdrop for today’s debut,” said Martin Briere, president of Alcoa Canada.

“Alcoa and Phinergy look forward to collaborating with the Quebec government to advance this technology and the potential development of the aluminum-air battery in the province. Furthermore, our aluminum production facility in Baie-Comeau is well positioned to supply the aluminum for the battery.”

When with the supply chain secure, there’s still a lot to think about.

“Any battery technology that can match and potentially exceed 1,600 km in range on one charge could be a game changer, and while it’s definitely promising, it’s still too early to pronounce this the official ‘next big leap’ in BEV technology,” Bettencourt said in detail.

“There are still many question marks on how much distilled water would be needed to make the cars run, plus how – and how often – the aluminum plates need changing will also be major factors on its potential for widespread use as a zero emissions ‘range extender’ technology for BEVs.”

After debuting at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, the prototype is on display at the Canadian International Aluminum Conference today.

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