A novel workaround for the EV’s Achilles heel

A lot of smart people out there say electric vehicles are inevitable, including folks not trying to sell you on a premium tech sedan. But if you think about it, it makes sense. Gasoline is still a finite resource, and eventually, we’re gonna need to make the switch. But there’s a problem with the EV, and it gets to the very heart of four-wheeled conveyance – convenience. One of the greatest hurtles (if not the greatest hurtle) in the way of widespread EV adoption is long recharge times. But what if you could have the benefits of electric motivation, but without the long waits between charges? NanoFlowcell, an electric car producer based out of Liechtenstein, says it has just such a solution.

When it comes to getting more miles, EV owners traditionally have to plug in and wait while the electrons do their thing – a major problem when compared to the handful of minutes required to fill a gas tank. Of course, great strides have been made to counter this, as newer, quicker-charging battery technologies are introduced.

But even the fastest chargers out there (the Tesla Supercharger network is a good example) take upwards of 20 to 30 minutes to get a normal EV back to full. Add in the scarcity of charging stations, and low average range per charge, and there’s still a long way to go to get EVs in contention with ICE-powered cars for dominance in the passenger vehicle market.

But according to NanoFlowcell, one workaround is to fill up on fresh electrolyte fluid (somewhat similar to salt water), mimicking the same procedure used at the gas pump and significantly decreasing the time it takes to get back on the road again.

Could this technology increase EV adoption to the point of superseding their gas-powered competition? Read on for the details on this tech, including how it works, what it’s good at, and some questions that still need answering.

Continue reading for the full story.

How It Works

The NanoFlowcell technology is essentially a specialized battery that takes in and combines charged fluid stored in two separate tanks. The fluids are positively and negatively charged, and when they combine in the battery, the produce enough juice to power a car.

“Instead of a bulky and, at an average of 700 kg, incredibly heavy lithium-ion battery pack, we have the shoebox-sized nanoFlowcell and two fuel tanks containing around 150 liters of bi-ION electrolyte liquid,” the company explains in a blog post.

The technology is already in place in prototypes like the QUANTiNO, Quant F Gullwing, and QUANT E-Sportlimousine.

The Pros

Refilling Batteries Instead Of Recharging Them?
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First and foremost, the NanoFlowcell technology offers a very workable answer to the enormous question of how to get quicker miles out of EVs. With an easily swappable electrolyte fluid providing the go, say goodbye to charging stations.

Charging stations are the current bread and butter of EV refills, but even beyond the long wait times required to replenish the electricity supply, these EV feeders still have a ton of problems to work through.

The NanoFlowcell technology offers a very workable answer to the enormous question of how to get quicker miles out of EVs.

Standardization is one issue. Finding the right plug to work with your EV can be more than a hassle, especially when you consider the limited number of chargers in place at the moment. Further complications come from the pressures that chargers place on local electricity grids, not to mention the detrimental effects that “quick charging” has on the lifecycle of an EV’s battery pack. Add in the high cost of constructing a new charging station, and it becomes obvious that traditional methods are, at best, imperfect.

And while the NanoFlowcell system isn’t perfect either, it does address all of the above issues. Refilling a fluid doesn’t require extensive standardization, and the installation of fluid pumps fits in as an inexpensive upgrade to the current network of gasoline pumps scattered around the world. What’s more, the equipment won’t suffer for the sake of convenience.

According to NanoFlowcell, the electrolyte fluid can be created almost anywhere, which is a significant advantage compared to gasoline, which must be pulled from the ground at specific locations and refined. It’s also very safe, and won’t combust or harm the environment, making it easy and simple to ship and distribute. NanoFlowcell even goes so far as to say the fluid can be sold at places like “supermarkets, shopping centers and leisure facilities.”

Finally, the technology could be used to supply extra electricity at times of peak consumption, providing backup sources where they’re needed most

And here’s one of the best features – incredible, outrageous, Pikes Peak-worthy levels of power. Just check out the NanoFlowcell prototypes to see what I mean. Apparently, the QUANTiNO is equipped with 911 horsepower and 8,552 pound-feet of torque!

Unanswered Questions

Refilling Batteries Instead Of Recharging Them?
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But like I said earlier, no system is perfect, and while I can’t expect NanoFlowcell to begin listing the drawbacks of their system (at least not at this early stage of development), I have to at least raise a few questions that have so far gone unanswered.

Most of my questions pertain to the details of how much it costs to produce the electrolyte fluid and the battery. NanoFlowcell neglected to give any numbers on either of these vital characteristics, and if the company’s system is to be successful, its gonna need to be more than just a good idea – it’s gotta have the right bottom line, too.

Is the fluid more or less expensive to produce than gasoline? How energy intensive is it to create? How about the battery? What goes into its creation, and how environmentally friendly is the whole process?

Until these questions are answered, I’ll have a hard time fully endorsing the system as a viable workaround to charging stations.

The Alternatives

The system proposed by NanoFlowcell isn’t the only alternative to wide-scale charging station infrastructure currently on the table.

Some have put forth the idea of swapping the battery itself, rather than the fluid that goes into it. While potentially fast and convenient, this idea comes with myriad drawbacks, such as standardization and the huge cost of creating and distributing a large store of batteries.

Another idea is wireless charging, whereby the roads themselves are retrofitted with the same kind of tech used to power up a cellphone without the use of cables. However, this too would be extremely expensive to implement, not to mention hugely taxing on the current electric grid.

Still, despite the questions that surround it, the idea of an electrolyte fluid swap is far and away the best alternative to charging stations that I’ve seen so far.

Conclusion

Refilling Batteries Instead Of Recharging Them?
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It all sounds pretty good, right? Not so fast. While NanoFlowcell isn’t trying to sell you on a premium tech sedan, you gotta remember it is selling something. With that in mind, we’re gonna need some hard data to determine just how far this idea can go.

For the moment, faster charging seems to be the direction taken, but like I said earlier, it’s a messy answer to a fundamental problem.

And while finding a silver bullet to fix our energy problems is most likely never gonna happen, you gotta give it up to NanoFlowcell for the elegance of its system. That said, whether or not it has the legs to move past prototypes and blog posts remains to be seen.

Source: NanoFlowcell

Press Release

Full Speed Ahead up a Dead End

The question of the future is: Recharge or refuel? A crossroads for electric mobility

Opener
Electric cars are definitely not selling like hot cakes. Virtually no-one wants an electric vehicle. Aside from high purchase prices and maintenance costs, they take too long to charge, have too little range and there are too few charging stations.

Manufacturers who invest in the development of conventional electric cars are acting out of expedient optimism. For them, electric mobility is far from a foregone conclusion. So far, no manufacturer has managed to get to grips with the technical difficulties associated with battery-powered vehicles, such as lengthy charging times and insufficient range. And almost nowhere in the world is there a suitable infrastructure of electric charging stations. Even if you find a charging station, it is far from certain that your own car’s charging system is compatible with it. Although billions in taxpayers’ money are earmarked for the expansion of the electric infrastructure, governments are incredibly sluggish when it comes to implementation. State-sponsored purchase incentives for electric cars are thus more symbolic than pragmatic. Electric vehicle producer Tesla Motors is therefore turning to homemade solutions and wants to establish its own comprehensive charging network. This shows how lacking in concept and strategy current efforts are when it comes to progressing electric mobility.

Who is actually asking the questions: Do we need billions in grants (tax money) to support research that is leading electric mobility up a dead end? Why billions in subsidies (tax money) for manufacturers to develop electric vehicles that, because of their concept, nobody wants to drive? Do we need billions more in investment (tax money) in an electric infrastructure for vehicles running on technology that is already obsolete? Isn’t there another way?

nanoFlowcell has a simple answer to that: "Yes, electric mobility can be executed in a way that is less complicated and costly, and that is also more compatible with the consumer and the environment," says Nunzio La Vecchia, Chief Technology Officer of nanoFlowcell Holdings Ltd and inventor of the nanoFlowcell energy storage technology. "My vision of a future electric mobility starts where all the demands of alternative technologies are floundering right now. The idea of sustainable electric mobility is threatening to collapse due to technical inadequacies. Consumers are growing tired of claims and promises that drag far behind reality. We can’t allow that to happen. Our nanoFlowcell alternative drive and energy storage technology is able to tackle the challenges of modern electric mobility."

One important question associated with the expansion of electric mobility is: What can nanoFlowcell do differently?

For the technological examination of nanoFlowcell, based on flow cell technology, we refer at this point to the technical information of nanoFlowcell Holdings. However, what we want to do here is address the infrastructure problems of electric mobility and use an alternative scenario to show how a win-win situation for consumers, manufacturers, the environment and society can be achieved.

Electric vehicles driven by nanoFlowcell operate just like conventional electric vehicles and, at the same time, like vehicles with traditional internal combustion engines. How so? The fundamental concept of an electric vehicle is retained, only the energy source changes. Instead of a bulky and, at an average of 700 kg, incredibly heavy lithium-ion battery pack, we have the shoebox-sized nanoFlowcell and two fuel tanks containing around 150 litres of bi-ION electrolyte liquid. You see, just like a vehicle with a regular combustion engine, the nanoFlowcell needs fuel. In this case, it takes the form of electrolytes - positive and negatively charged electrolyte liquids that react inside the nanoFlowcell and release electricity. In contrast to conventional fuels like petrol, diesel or gas, the bi-ION electrolyte liquid is neither explosive nor flammable, and is harmful neither to health nor the environment. The spent liquid is atomised while driving and does not represent a risk to health or the environment. The tank of a nanoFlowcell electric vehicle empties while driving, and can be refilled in similar fashion to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

In contrast to fossil fuels, the bi-ION electrolyte solution is not extracted and refined in just a few countries, but can theoretically be manufactured anywhere in the world (given the appropriate production equipment) more-or-less on the doorstep. The principle of decentralised production by franchisees has been around since way before Coca-Cola.

How would the bi-ION electrolyte liquid be distributed and sold? Because of their chemical properties, bi-ION electrolytes are not hazardous materials. Manufacture, transport and distribution can therefore be achieved without complicated equipment. bi-ION can be delivered in tankers from the local production location to the existing fuel-station network, from where it can be sold. In contrast to the current plans for conventional electric charging stations, the "nanoFlowcell" scenario would not replace conventional fuel stations and leave fuel-station attendants out of work, but instead make use of the existing systems and make them fit for the future. Today’s existing fuel-station infrastructure would thus become usable for electric mobility.

Where diesel, petrol and E10 are currently being pumped, a few minor adaptations to the technical set-up would, in future, permit refuelling with bi-ION. Another benefit is that filling up with bi-ION requires only a suitable tank orifice, similar to that used by petrol or diesel-driven vehicles. The electric charging stations currently planned, however, are battling with charging standardisation and multiple charging systems for battery systems and battery charging concepts that differ from manufacturer to manufacturer.

From a cost standpoint, the two different electric mobility scenarios are as follows:

As things stand, domestic charging stations and public charging stations are available for charging the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles. A domestic charging station costs between € 500 and € 2,500. Added to that are proportionate costs of € 250 to € 1,000 per electric vehicle attributable to public charging stations. The entire electric infrastructure per electric vehicle thus stands at € 750 to € 3,500. One could argue that the more electric cars there are on our roads, the lower the infrastructure costs will become. However, this is true only to a certain extent, because the local electricity supply network would also have to be expanded to keep pace with the increasing electricity consumption. If an entire apartment block were to plug its electric cars into charging stations every evening, the current grid would be overwhelmed. (For further information on this, see "Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels", National Academies Press, 2013)

Overview of mains voltage, charging time and range

A Level 1 120V, 20A charging station for domestic use - a mains voltage of 120V is the norm primarily in North and South America - takes 29 hours to charge an electric vehicle with a range of 240 kilometres, and up to 77 hours for an electric vehicle with a range of 480 kilometres. Charging stations with a voltage of 240V and 40A would need seven to 19 hours for this. Shorter charging times mean lower range. (>)

Shorter charging times are possible with a commercial charging station - from one to 2.5 hours at 60 kW or from 24 minutes to one hour at 150 kW (Tesla). However, these high-performance charging stations cost between € 25,000 and €50,000. Another consideration is that modern lithium-ion batteries cannot handle such high charging currents without incurring damage leading to a drastic shortening of their lifespan. All electric mobility scenarios currently prefer the use of rapid charging stations to the detriment of longer battery life. Even theoreticians know that consumers in favour of electric mobility will not be convinced if told they will have to plan in an additional 14 hours of charging time to cover a four-hour drive of 400 kilometres.

Is electric mobility a never-sending series of compromises?

In contrast to the charging infrastructure for lithium-ion batteries, the refuelling infrastructure for bi-ION is considerably easier, faster and more cost effective to build; it adds up to just a fraction of the infrastructure costs of current electric mobility scenarios. Fuel stations would have to retrofit individual fuel pumps, because fuelling nanoFlowcell-powered electric vehicles requires a pump gun with a double hose to enable simultaneous filling with two liquids - one positively and one negatively charged electrolyte liquid. The bi-ION storage tanks themselves could replace the individual underground diesel or petrol tanks, or even be positioned above ground. Spread across the number of nanoFlowcell vehicles that can be served each day by one bi-ION fuel pump, the investment for retrofitting the fuel pumps adds up to just a few euro cents. The investment required to build a new fuel station for bi-ION only would be similar to that fora conventional fuel station. Simon Árpád Funke and Martin Wietschel present a possible cost calculation for an electrolyte fuel station in their working paper "Bewertung des Aufbaus einer Ladeinfrastruktur für eine Redox-Flow-Batterie-basierte Elektromobilität" [English: Evaluation of Establishing a Charging Infrastructure for Electric Mobility Based on Redox Flow Batteries] (>). The cost structure for a bi-ION fuel station differs markedly from this model calculation because the technical possibilities presented by the combination of nanoFlowcell and the bi-ION electrolyte solution deviate significantly from the assumptions made by the authors. In the first phase of market introduction, nanoFlowcell Holdings assumes retrofitting of single fuel pumps only.

For consumers and fuel-station operators alike, it is important - albeit for different reasons - that the process of refuelling a vehicle powered by nanoFlowcell is considerably less onerous than charging a lithium-ion electric vehicle and, at four or five minutes, equates to the time needed to refuel a conventional vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

In addition to the public bi-ION fuel stations, another possibility is a domestic supply of bi-ION. An existing fuel-oil tank could be replaced by a bi-ION tank. In the case of buildings not connected to the electricity grid, nanoFlowcell could supply the electricity infrastructure by, for instance, covering peak consumption when the supply from solar or wind power is insufficient. At the same time, the bi-ION tank would serve as a domestic fuel station for an electric vehicle driven by nanoFlowcell.

Because the sale of bi-ION is not regulated by cost-intensive environmental or safety constraints, it could also be sold at convenient hubs such as supermarkets, shopping centres and leisure facilities.

Comprehensive distribution of nanoFlowcell-based electric mobility does not necessitate buying incentives, tax-financed state investment or greater compromises on the part of consumers. Technologies like nanoFlowcell require only a rethink by industry and politics. Although the current approach to electric mobility has already swallowed billions, consideration must finally also be given to the existing - and highly promising - alternatives. The frenetic but non-strategic activity evident in many places loses sight of important facts, talks up others and is manoeuvring electric mobility further and further up a dead end. However, one thing is certain: The future will not bow to our will.

Overview of the Infrastructure Benefits of a nanoFlowcell Fuel Station vs. Battery Charging Stations

*Based on information from the BMVI (Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur, Deutschland) [English: The Federal Ministry for Traffic and Digital Infrastructure, Germany] (>)

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