Aluminum-air batteries grow in power


In science fiction novels and movies, ground and sometimes air transport is powered by some undefined type of battery or there’s a compact power-generating source. It’s convenient to describe or show these things working without feeling the need to explain the technology behind them. It’s a form of science-as-magic approach to world-building. Coming to our reality, scientists are trying to convince lawmakers there’s a problem with the climate. This is pushing both the federal and some state lawmakers into requiring the development of zero-emission vehicles. Environmentally friendly design is the new mission for the motor vehicle manufacturers. Except, how are they to take the technology and engineering steps to produce light-weight and compact power sources? More importantly, even if some reliable technology is developed, how will it overcome the current mythology captured in the expression “range anxiety”?

Looking at the current makes and models of all-electric vehicles, there are some highly promising solutions available for you to buy. But there’s general resistance in the market. People have convinced themselves even the most modern of the all-electric vehicles will run out of power after about thirty miles and leave them stranded by the roadside. Obviously, this does not happen with the hybrids because the small electric motor acts as a generator to keep the battery topped up which is why they are relatively popular. But if the all-electric vehicle is to gain proper acceptance, the manufacturers will need to convince people they are not going to be stranded. This means either providing a very good infrastructure of stations where batteries can be recharged, or providing sufficient proof the batteries can travel for sensible distances.


One of the battery types that’s been around for some years is the aluminum-air. This is very cheap and easy to make. Even a high school project approach can produce a steady voltage. Except, of course, there are always problems when you try to scale up technology from a proof-of-concept model to a full-scale source of energy in a passenger vehicle. Well, here comes a tie-up between a multinational corporation and an Israeli start-up. On one side of this “partnership” we have Alcoa. On the other comes Phinergy

Together they are claiming to have produced technology allowing fair competition with gas-powered vehicles while staying zero-emission. After running trials with the demo car, they are claiming the combination of lithium-ion battery and this technology can give the vehicle a range of more than 1,000 miles.

Given this is adapting proven technology and not developing a new system from scratch, the partnership is confident on being able to have vehicles on sale in 2017. With strong marketing of the mileage range achievable, this should make the vehicles easier to sell, even in states where the current infrastructure of recharging station is poor or nonexistent. The only requirement to power up the aluminum-air batteries is the addition of ordinary tap water. With that simple step, you get 1,000 plus miles — a range very few conventional gas engines can match. Perhaps this really is the future.

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