“Instantly Rechargeable” Batteries Almost Ready For Production

3 weeks ago by Christopher Smith 68

Instead of plugging in for electricity, these batteries use replaceable fluid for power.

Ask even the most die-hard EV enthusiasts about the biggest drawback to electric cars, and the answer will be batteries. The problem isn’t with operating range – after all, internal combustion engines have a limited range as well. It’s the extended time required to recharge the batteries, up to several hours versus just a few minutes for a refueling stop, that kills the electric car for many people. That problem, however, could now be solved thanks to researchers at Purdue University. And if the solution is as viable as the report from Futurism suggests, we could be looking at a complete game changer for the world of electric motoring.

The technology is a new kind of flow battery that isn’t recharged through electricity, but by removing and replacing the battery’s fluid electrolytes. Without getting too technical, as the power runs low, you stop and drain the spent fluid in the battery then refill with charged fluid. The process would be much like stopping to fill up the gas tank, with the only difference being the need to remove the existing fluid first. That could be as simple as a remove-and-replace function using a specially designed electrolyte “gas” pump, giving new life to the batteries in just a few minutes.

Not only does this solve the problem of lengthy recharge times, it’s also an environmentally friendly process. Researchers say the fluid is clean, stable, safe, and inexpensive to boot. Spent fluid collected from the batteries would be recharged through any kind of normal electrical charging infrastructure. Once charged, the fluid would be sent back out for use, much like gasoline is sent out now.

Flow batteries aren’t new technology, but this is a new design that makes the batteries much safer to use and store. Researchers say all the pieces are in place to make this happen, with minimal changes to infrastructure needed to implement the refueling stations. Two Purdue professors and doctoral student have formed a company called IFBattery LLC to commercialize and bring the technology to market. The only thing holding them back, as is often the case with such endeavors, is funding for the extra research needed to fine-tune the concept.

The report doesn’t mention specifics such as battery weight, available power, or range on a full “charge.” Still, it offers a solution to the biggest problem facing electric cars, and that’s a big deal. If range and recharge times were no longer issues, how many of you would choose electric over internal combustion?

Source: Futurism, Purdue University

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68 responses to "“Instantly Rechargeable” Batteries Almost Ready For Production"

  1. John says:

    Game changer. Oh were it to really come true… It’s a matter of time, though. Necessity is the mother of invention, and once the sticky issue of battery turn-around time is solved, ICE heads will simply be scratching theirs…

    1. DJ says:

      But doesn’t this mean you’ll still be a slave to the man and his infrastructure? One of the benefits of the current battery is that you can generate your own electricity and use it to charge your car at a fraction in many cases of what it would cost you otherwise.

      I would envision a home version of this wouldn’t be exactly cheap.

      1. Derek says:

        Yup. This tech will never catch on, because people don’t want it. We don’t need an entirely new infastructure setup, batteries will continue their yearly improvements, and THAT is how the slow & steady changing (from ICE to BEV) will happen.

        1. John says:

          It could be possible to recharge the fluid without replacing it. Replacing the fluid completely would be “super quick charge”.

        2. JIMJFOX says:

          “People don’t want it”
          100% unconvincing argument.

          1. Timmy says:

            Right? 🙂 And you’re being quite generous with the word “argument”.

    2. JIMJFOX says:

      Is a FLOW CELL the same as a BATTERY?
      Don’t think so.

      1. SJC says:

        Flow cells are batteries, they don’t have high energy density.

    3. JIMJFOX says:

      Flow Cell research is gaining pace. Pressure to manufacture billions of batteries could mean flow cells become a complementary technology, in time. Surely battery production will ‘hit the wall’ in the near future; already many EV makers have had difficulty sourcing batteries and Musk can’t supply the whole world!

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        That’s not how technology works. The lag between supply and demand for li-ion cells does not open up sales opportunities for flow batteries in the EV market, because flow cell tech isn’t compatible with the needs of EV engineering… despite the claims made in this article.

    4. jerry says:

      I wouldn’t bet on that. They are way too expensive, heavy.
      And since there is no problem charging lithium in 12 minutes, 5C, and while smaller, lighter lithium still has 2x the energy at 50% of the weight at about $70/kwh in just 5 yrs, does the flow battery make any
      sense?
      A more sensible and more advanced is metal/air batteries at 8kwh/lb beats oil in density.
      Then there is lithium sulfur. And a lot of others, especially if one reforms instead of recharge, most of the above it ready
      now.
      Sorry but I just don’t see batteries with moving parts, pumps, tanks for EACH cell, as being viable.
      You can’t even get a price on Flow batteries as I guess they are too embarrassed.

  2. SparkEV says:

    They’ve been talking about flow batteries for ages. I’ll believe it when I get drunk on it and puke it out. Until then, battery swap has more chance of success.

    1. JIMJFOX says:

      Rubbish! Two batteries at HOW MUCH each?

  3. Brian Smith says:

    Terrible audio in that video – not a good representation of how much they care about this topic.

    1. Hans Wurst says:

      Yeah, loud music over mumbling voices, that were recorded with a microphone at the opposite end of the room really makes a great impression!

    2. Timmy says:

      Really!

  4. Bacardi says:

    At best, flow batteries are about half the density of Lithium…Generally if they don’t advertise the density in these “breakthroughs” there’s nothing to see here…

    Quite possible you buy a flow battery Bolt EV at a premium and you get the range of a Spark EV…

  5. scott franco says:

    This same thing appeared in Popular science in the 1970s. It works, and who cares. Might as well just replace the batteries themselves.

    1. JIMJFOX says:

      NOT “the same thing” at all.

  6. John says:

    My question is, can the fluid in the vehicle be recharged internally. Will I still be able to charge at home 99% of the time, and only use the “fluid swapping station” when I’m taking a trip?

    1. Mikey says:

      Yeah, I’m interested to know if you could fill up at home too. That’s one of the nicest things about EVs right now, and I would be loathe to go back to the gas station model for all of my fueling.

      A second question is, what does this do for battery life? Does the non-electrolyte part of your batter degrade at the same rate, or does the fluid degrade? I’m guessing the former, which is actually good because it eliminates any sticky problems with fueling up with degraded electrolyte.

    2. philip d says:

      No home charging. 98% of the year I charge conveniently at home. The other 2% I have to charge while on the highway.

      Why would I want to switch back to a car that makes that 2% of the time faster but the 98% of the time less convenient? No thanks.

      When we have 800V 350 kW charging I’ll be fine with that 10 times a year at most I’ll have to wait for 15 minutes for a charge vs. 5 minutes for a fill-up if I can continue to charge in the comfort of my own garage using my rooftop solar.

    3. JIMJFOX says:

      I’d bet that IF the technology is ‘miniaturised’ for vehicles, you would be able to install your own large ‘fuel tank’ on any available small piece of land and refill your flow cell from it. Tanker delivery no problem, unlike ‘gas’ as you call it- verboten as too dangerous at domestic sites.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Batteries cannot be miniaturized, in the way that electronics can be and are. Batteries depend on chemistry, surface area (of electrodes) and volume (of electrolyte). Reducing surface area or volume reduces power and energy.

        Increasing energy density allows batteries to be smaller, but that’s still not actually “miniaturization”.

  7. pjwood1 says:

    Odds are great people don’t respect the time saved charging at home, and still treat on road charging (whether liquid, or 350KW) as something which has to beat the speed of filling up, mile for mile.

    But realistically, if the gas owner “fills-up” >10 times, odds are the EV owner has made no long trips and hasn’t waited a single minute by his car. But people considering EVs don’t think this way.

  8. Priusmaniac says:

    Interesting for planes mainly at present.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Not if the energy density (weight/energy ratio) for flow batteries is worse than it is for li-ion batteries, which certainly has been the case, and likely still is.

      1. Priusmaniac says:

        Yes indeed, it need to be high in energy density, ideally Lithium ion level.
        However there is an interesting loop around that could allow transatlantic flight even at relatively low energy density.
        An airline could rely on automated in flight refueling by drones using a hose like for fighter planes.
        It is more easy to transfer a fluid than to stay longer to recharge in flight like another proposal from Yates is attempting.
        http://www.flightofthecentury.com/lindbergh-electric-transatlantic-qa-with-chip-yates/
        With 5 or 6 refueling it would be possible to cross the Atlantic. Refueling drones could start from different places or even be hydroplanes drones refueled from a barge if there really is no landing place.

      2. JIMJFOX says:

        Are they discussing ‘normal’ Redox flow cells? NO, they’re NOT! These are supposedly an order of magnitude higher energy density than Redox, even if they work on the same basic principle. Battery enthusiasts are sounding just like ICE fans, denying any possibility that the future might not be entirely L-ion.
        Be flexible, people.

      3. JIMJFOX says:

        This type of battery can offer almost unlimited energy capacity simply by using larger electrolyte storage tanks. It can be left completely discharged for long periods with no ill effects, making maintenance simpler than other batteries. Because of these unique properties, the new V-flow batteries reduce the cost of storage to about 5¢/kWh.

        These batteries are rather large and best suited to industrial and utility scale applications. They could never fit in an electric car, so the Tesla battery is safe for now. But the V-flow battery outcompetes Li-ion, and any other solid battery, for utility-scale applications. They’re just safer, more scalable, longer-lasting and cheaper – less than half the cost per kWh.

  9. anon says:

    This technology serves no purpose compared to charging current batteries or future faster charging batteries.

    1. anon says:

      Correction. It serves a purpose of trying to keep fuel distribution logistics relevant, in spite of being inferior to “copper wires”

      1. Someone out there says:

        I don’t think you would move the fluids around much, they would be recharged at the location where you swap them.

        1. JIMJFOX says:

          Petrol & diesel are ‘moved around’ massively- so HOW would ionic fluids be any different- except being safer by a huge factor.
          They are non-flammable or did you forget that?

          1. Hari says:

            What he meant is that the station can sort of recharge the fluid that is drained from the vehicles and thus doesn’t need a constant supply of tanker trucks unlike gasoline or diesel.

          2. Someone out there says:

            This isn’t petrol or diesel, these are reusable fluids and can be recharged anywhere, including on location.

      2. Phaedrus says:

        +1 If you cannot charge at home, this “invention” is indeed a business model to keep “the people” dependent of large scale industrial infrastructure, which are in the hands of the powers that be. No thanks.

  10. Brave Lil' Toaster says:

    “Instead of plugging in for electricity, these batteries use replaceable fluid for power.”

    And… this is better than gasoline because you reuse the replaceable fluid, right?

    Right?

    No? Wow. That’s a surprise and all.

    But that’s okay. I’m also certain that it doesn’t take 15 minutes to replace the replaceable fluid either. Because they’re “instant”.

    Nothing to see here.

  11. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    Given enough time, this tech could possibly replace existing EV tech, if it’s cost-effective.

    But it is highly unlikely that enough time will pass before we get solid-state batteries or some other type of electrical storage, which can be easily charged in under 10 minutes, and then there will be no market for this tech.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Correction: I had not thought about the problem of not being able to recharge at home.

      Fuggedaboutit.

    2. Asak says:

      Yeah, I don’t see this being a viable tech. If they’d come out with this and managed to develop it two decades ago maybe it could have been used with the first gen EVs and established a foothold.

      Too much progress has been made on solid state batteries now. We’re getting close to the point where you will be able to recharge in short enough time that it’s moot. That’s why I don’t see HFC catching on, and if hydrogen doesn’t work, how is this better in any way? (Same infrastructure problems, likely even lower energy density).

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        “…if hydrogen doesn’t work, how is this better in any way? (Same infrastructure problems, likely even lower energy density).”

        Hmmm, well it likely would be more cost-effective and less wasteful of energy than hydrogen fueled fuel cell cars, and it likely would be far less expensive (on a per-car basis) to install refueling stations for this tech. That is, this tech might actually be able to compete on cost with gasoline and diesel, which hydrogen certainly can’t.

        But certainly the initial rollout of the tech would have one of the same problems that “fool cell” cars currently have, and of course that was your point: There would be very few places to fill up, at least in the first few years after such cars were put into production.

  12. Someone out there says:

    I’m not sure about flow batteries for cars, however for massive stationary energy storage there could be a market if it can be produced cheap enough.

  13. Mark.ca says:

    If home charging is eliminated then NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. wavelet says:

    Currently flow batteries are nowhere close to the various Li-ion variants in terms of power density, or price (per either kWh or volume); it looks like it’ll take several years at the very least them to catch up even as prototypes, never mind commercial manufacturing.

    That aside, this isn’t solving any real-world problem. Home charging is already fine for daily mileage. Cars with this type of system instead wouldn’t be able to charge using standard home circuits, but would need the pumping system to empty/refill the battery, which is an expense… And recharged electrolyte still has ot be either transported to the home or manufactured on the spot — not cost-effective for 1-2 cars.

    So this is only potentially useful for vehicles which do regular very long-distance travel, not private cars, in which case it’ss conceptually very similar to a battery-swap system.

    1. Terawatt says:

      Nor energy density. They are really only good at one thing – cost. If you have the space and the energy store doesn’t need to move, so that power and energy density matters much less, very large flow batteries are far cheaper per unit energy storage capacity (kWh).

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      “Currently flow batteries are nowhere close to the various Li-ion variants in terms of power density…”

      Yes, that’s my understanding: That the reason that — so far as I know — we have not yet seen any cars powered by flow batteries, not even prototypes, is because of limited power output from the batteries.

      Various comments here claim the problem is low energy density. But if my understanding is correct, then that problem is far less critical than the limited power.

      Regarding that point, Wikipedia says “On the negative side, the energy densities vary considerably but are, in general, lower compared to portable batteries, such as the Li-ion.”

      1. JIMJFOX says:

        Completely discounting the ‘Quant’ prototype as a con, that is…

  15. AlphaEdge says:

    > The report doesn’t mention specifics such as battery weight, available power, or range on a full “charge.”

    And thus meaningless, and never to heard from again.

    1. JIMJFOX says:

      You have obviously done no research on the current state of affairs. No, it does not need ‘oxygen from the air’, in all cases. Advanced flow cells are showing great promise & I’d love to see them replace most ‘batteries’.

  16. Thanh Lim says:

    I’m personally rooting for the solid polymer battery over at ionicmaterials.

    If they can get that into a fully production ready product, it would revolutionize the BEV and even airplanes.

    Lithium-Lithium polymer battery. Holy Grail I suppose eh?

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Yeah, it’s hard not to get excited about the “plastic battery” after seeing that demo on PBS’s “Nova”: “Search for the Super Battery”.

      But whether they can produce them commercially at a competitive price, and how well they would stand up in operation over years of use… those are unanswered questions.

      But that tech looks much more promising than the refillable flow batteries described in this article! I have long hoped that flow batteries with improved power output might become the “holy grail” of EV batteries, but I was envisioning flow batteries that can be recharged at home using power from the wall, just like current EV batteries.

  17. leafowner says:

    Problem here is the flow cells are heavy and not all that reliable. My bet is you will see wireless charging on highways which is the current biggest issue with EVs. Also maybe a hybrid battery / supercapacitor system where the supercap charges super fast and transfers its energy to the batteries which can store and discharge the power efficiently.

    1. JIMJFOX says:

      Heavy? What about the mass of a 100kWhr L-ion battery??

  18. James says:

    Give me solid state or give me an EREV.

    Voltec is still the best solution in existence today. Even a 200+ mile BEV is a 100 mile out and 100 mile back machine.

    CCS with Bolt EV is still in pioneer days stage. People with CHAdeMO fighting to find unclogged charging stations that are functional and available….

    The CNET lady who did a fine review of the Bolt EV said she got kicked off a charging station because it was private!…It’s a zoo out there in these early days of EVs.

    Tesla is far out front with it’s Superchargers – their ace in the hole. Without them, the Volt is the next best thing to easy livin’!

    I’m not forgetting the i3 of course, but everyone who knows me knows my opinion of the BMW. News of a soon 200 mile i3 will help heal my opinion a lot. Only thing is, the Taiwanese Kymco scooter range extender will most likely get the boot. Then you’ll have a $55,000 Bolt EV… If BMW keeps the range extender with a decent-sized gas tank and 200 mile range – they might have something to brag about…Except, again, it’ll cost BMW prices and BMW replacement parts and service is an arm and a couple legs.

  19. Tom says:

    Hate to keep whining about this but the mobile version of this site is pure poison to a phone. Been trying to read a couple articles all day and crash bang every time on my Samsung Note 5 with Chrome. So gave up there and used my wife’s iPhone 7 and crash bang every time. There are days when the desktop site is a bit slushy too frankly.

    I know there’s a need for ads and such but the phones don’t have ad blockers. The scripting and loading is killing the thing. Dozens of extra pieces of crap loading…or rather not loading I should say.

    Anyway can we dial back some of that just a tick so we can actually read the flippin articles without 20 minutes of swearing.

    1. arne-nl says:

      Yeah, this site could use an overhaul. It’s a memory hog too…..

  20. Jhn says:

    This presentation is no better than a powerpoint. “production ready” is a joke. why even write about it?

  21. Didier says:

    “Instant” battery ? Do you have an idea of how much time it takes to pump out 250 litres and then pomp in 250 other liters ?

    1. JIMJFOX says:

      You think they don’t?? Depends mainly on the pump capacity, allowable pressure, etc. Besides, the operation will be simultaneous.

  22. Why Not? says:

    This might be a viable solution for overland trucks and buses where quick charging a massive battery might be difficult. Could also be used in conjunction with a regular battery as a range extender. If proven viable and economical this could spell the end of “Fool Cells”.

  23. notting says:

    “The problem isn’t with operating range – after all, internal combustion engines have a limited range as well.”
    Sure the operating range is a problem, especially in winter, with older batteries and when driving at higher speeds (the Zoe price list assumes for it real world range only max. 90km/h).
    Very often, a similar car with ICE has double range in that conditions and half price compared with an EV.
    The charging time is an additional problem.

    “Flow batteries aren’t new technology, but this is a new design that makes the batteries much safer to use and store.”
    The now say that for ages…
    And what’s the chemical reaction result of that kind of battery? Does it need oxygen from the air around it?

    notting

  24. JIMJFOX says:

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10008-015-2805-z?no-access=true
    There are 103 [!] links to read, if you have the need. Don’t ask me, it’s all WAY over my head!

  25. Priusmaniac says:

    There are still some other applications that could be interesting beyond utility energy storage, it could be used to power boats. Not small boats but at contrary very large ones like container ships. Those are now powered with the most dirty fuel emitting the equivalent of 1 million cars. There is also a possibility to make electricity tanker ships that would look like an oil tanker but that would transport charged fluid instead. Wind generators in Alaska or Greenland have an enormous potential but just no way to export the energy because the power lines needed are just to long and costly. With wind generators producing charged fluid, a tanker could transport that energy to LA or Antwerp. There it would be used by the container ships and other boats or simply transformed into electricity to feed the local utility.

  26. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    “These are supposedly an order of magnitude higher energy density than Redox, even if they work on the same basic principle.”

    Let’s see, where have we heard a claim of an order of magnitude improvement in energy density with a new type of battery?

    Well, many times, but most notoriously from EEStor. How did that work out again, JIMFOX?

    “Battery enthusiasts are sounding just like ICE fans, denying any possibility that the future might not be entirely L-ion.”

    No, I’m fairly certain that future batteries won’t be using li-ion batteries like we’re using today. Even if they use lithium and ions, they will more likely be something like the solid state “plastic battery” being developed by Ionic Materials.

    But, JIMFOX, we who have been watching battery development for some years know something that you apparently have yet to learn: That wildly exaggerated or at least wholly uncritical claims about some breakthru battery tech appear about twice a month, or even more frequently, yet over the past several years have, with only a single exception (LG Chem’s new cheaper li-ion cells), never lead to any real product applicable to EVs.

    In short, we have good reason to be highly skeptical of claims of this sort.

    “This type of battery can offer almost unlimited energy capacity simply by using larger electrolyte storage tanks.”

    Yes, but cars don’t have unlimited storage space inside. And increasing the volume of the electrolye does not help any with the severe power limitation of flow batteries, which is the main thing preventing them from being useful outside narrow niche applications.

    * * * * *

    “My top advice really for anyone who says they’ve got some breakthrough battery technologies, please send us a sample cell, okay, don’t send us PowerPoint. Just send us one cell that works with all appropriate caveats; that would be great. That… sorts out the nonsense and the claims that aren’t actually true. Talk is super cheap; the battery industry has to have more B.S. in it than any industry I’ve ever encountered. It’s insane.”

    — Elon Musk, Nov. 5, 2014

  27. sean o says:

    Great idea until some oil company exec figures how to to contaminate the exchanged fluid.

    if it is fairly efficient, it would be far superior to use as part of the charging station itself. Then you could have a constant draw to recharge and have enough current available for fast charging in spurts.

  28. Mil says:

    This is a stupid idea just to mimic the experience we have with ICE cars. Firstly, the benefit with charging batteries via electricity is that it is extremely easy to move electrical power around (we already have a very capable grid). Moving liquid around the country is very energy intensive and is absolutely necessary with fossil fuels. This is one of the reasons why I don’t think hydrogen or this idea will work because it still requires moving around liquid which is not efficient. Stick to electricity. We already have hugely powerful rapid chargers e.g. 400kW ones that can charge a big battery extremely quickly. And it will only get better and faster.

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