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Purdue spinout looks to commercialise flow batteries for electric cars

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By Nick Flaherty


“The jump that this technology has made in the past two years is a testament to its value in changing the way we power our vehicles,” said John Cushman, Purdue University distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and a professor of mathematics (above). “It’s a game-changer for the next generation of electric cars because it does not require a very costly rebuild of the electric grid throughout the US.  Instead, one could convert gas stations to pump fresh electrolyte and discard depleted electrolyte and convert oil-changing facilities to anode replacing stations. It is easier and safer to use and is more environmentally friendly than existing battery systems.”

Cushman and Eric Nauman, professor in mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering co-founded IFBattery to commercialize the technology.

The battery has the potential to generate enough energy to drive an electric car up to 3,000 miles using a patented liquid and anode technology that is safe and affordable for recharging electric and hybrid vehicle batteries by replacing the fluid in the batteries about every 300 miles through a process similar to refueling a car, and costing around $65 Every 3,000 miles, the anode material is replaced, taking less time than is needed to do an oil change.

“The battery does two things: it produces electricity and it produces hydrogen. That is important because most hydrogen-powered cars run on a 5,000 or 10,000 PSI [pounds per square inch] tank, which can be dangerous,” said Michael Dziekan, senior engineer for IFBattery. “This system generates hydrogen as you need it, so you can safely store hydrogen at pressures of 20 or 30 PSI instead of 10,000.”

The flow battery technology was first tested in scooters and then larger off-road vehicles. The next step will be industrial equipment and then automobiles, according to Cushman. 

Swiss flow battery deveoper NanoFlowCell has designed entire cars around its technology to demonstrate how it can be used. 

Eleqtric~Global in Israel is working with Dutch company Eleqtec to launch Electriq~Global’s water-based fuel technology in the Netherlands. Together they plan to launch Electriq~Fuel’s recycling plants and introduce applications for trucks, barges and mobile generators. Comprised of 60% water, Electriq~Fuel has an energy density potential up to 15 times that of electric batteries currently in use in electric vehicles, tackling one of the major challenges.

“Historically, flow batteries have not been competitive because of the low energy density,” said Cushman at Purdue. “For example, conventional flow batteries have an energy density of about 20Wh/kg [while] a lithium-ion battery runs on 250 Wh/kg. Our flow battery has the potential to run between three and five times that amount.”

THe difference for the Purdue technology is that it does not need a membrane or separator that can get clogged. The single-fluid technology oxidizes the anode to produce electrons, and through a reduction at the cathode, it generates the current of energy to power vehicles.  The oxidant is a macro-molecule that lives in the electrolyte, but is reduced only at the cathode. The spent battery fluids or electrolytes can be collected and taken to a solar farm, wind turbine installation or hydroelectric plant for recharging.

“We are at the point now where we can generate a lot of power. More power than you would ever guess could come out of a battery like this,” said Cushman. “It is the full circle of energy with very little waste. IFBattery’s components are safe enough to be stored in a family home, are stable enough to meet major production and distribution requirements and are cost-effective.”

IFBattery licensed part of the technology through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization and has developed patents of its own.

www.ifbattery.org

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