Refilling Batteries Instead Of Recharging Them?
A novel workaround for the EV’s Achilles heelby Jonathan Lopez, on
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.
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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.
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!
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 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.
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.