Right now, your car battery is one of the single most important components of your vehicle. Whether you’re driving around in a gas-powered car or an electric vehicle, your car won’t function without it.
This past Labor Day weekend, many of us drove more than usual for our end of the summer hurrahs – parties, barbecues, or the opening weekend for college football.
And that’s great! But the very last thing any of us needs on Labor Day weekend – or any holiday weekend – is car trouble. And that’s why some of the batteries being developed right now are not only vital to how we drive, but to how we live.
Imagine cruising around all weekend long on a single battery charge, saving time, money, and a whole heck of a lot of aggravation, all while reducing emissions in the process.
Since the EV’s inception, its one major drawback has been the battery – both its life and the cost of such a battery.
Even Tesla Motors’ (NASDAQ: TSLA) highly ranked Model S, which has been able to address the battery life issue (it gets 265 miles on one charge to its lithium-ion battery pack), still leaves consumers looking for affordability in the dust.
The safety of the lithium-ion battery has also been called into question. Boeing’s (NYSE: BA) new Dreamliner jets have linked fires to the lithium-ion batteries used in their engines.
But things are changing. There is a downward trend happing in the EV industry that is making these vehicles more affordable. Consumers can start to look at these vehicles realistically for the first time, as operating costs drop and government subsidies make an EV a great buying option.
The thing is, unless you have the pockets for a Tesla Model S, cheaper models don’t offer the same kind of mileage. Nissan’s (OTC: NSANY) Leaf only gets 75 miles on its battery, and General Motors’ (NYSE: GM) Chevy Volt will only take you 38 miles using just its battery.
GE Has Answers
General Electric (NYSE: GE) looks like it might have the answer the market has been waiting for. It’s developed a battery that can extend an EV’s range exponentially at a quarter of the cost of the batteries on the market today.
Its alternative: a flow battery combined with a fuel cell to give an EV enough range to meet the Department of Energy’s goal of 240 miles and then keep going… All while reducing the price tag.
GE, which is working closely with scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the project, says its flow battery would also be safer, as electrochemical cells would be separated from energy storing tanks instead of drawing electricity from the grid and storing it.
It’s essentially a water-based battery. But you won’t be filling up with water, sorry. It’s a water-based solution of organic chemicals.
The battery would have two separate liquids flowing on each side of its membrane and generate electricity using an electrochemical reaction instead of storing energy from the grid as traditional batteries do.
It still needs to be tweaked though, as its main components (the liquid and the membrane) are still on the costly side, and efforts are being made to make the battery more vehicle friendly in regards to size and weight.
How It’s Different
Those are some major obstacles, but the major grunt work is behind them. Now it’s all about finding the perfect formula and format to make it work commercially.
The most attractive aspect of this battery is that it’s a way to combine the best properties of both a flow battery and fuel cells.
Clean Technica describes it perfectly:
A hydrogenated organic liquid carrier is fed to the anode of a PEM fuel cell where it is electrochemically dehydrogenated, generating electricity, while air oxygen is reduced at the cathode to water. To recharge the flow battery, the reactions are reversed and the organic liquid is electrochemically re-hydrogenated, or rapidly replaced with the hydrogenated form at a refueling station.
View a short video of GE’s flow battery technology here.
The energy density of 1,350 Wh/kg that it creates, according to Clean Technica, is a record setter for secondary batteries.
Green Energy News reports:
Grigorii Soloveichik, project leader on the water-based flow battery project at GE Global Research and director of the GE-led Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), said, “We’re excited about the impact this new technology could have on electric vehicles, especially as it relates to cost and the need to recharge. Our flow battery could be just one-fourth the price of car batteries on the market today, while enabling roughly three-times the current driving range. The DOE wants a battery that can power a car for 240 miles; we think we can exceed that.”
All that’s needed now is a working prototype. That is expected within the next year.
It’s important to note that GE Global Research has been recognized by the Obama Administration and funded by the Department of Energy (DOE). It also has been labeled as an Energy Frontier Research Center – the only such corporate research facility to receive that title.
This battery project itself is under the DOE’s ARPA-E RANGE initiative, designed to make EV ownership just as simple as owning a gasoline-run vehicle.
And others are conducting similar research. MIT is working on a bromine-based flow battery that would work entirely with the exclusion of a membrane.
And aside from the EV market, the flow battery could play a key role in other industries, including grid-scale energy storage – something that we’ll notice becoming more and more relevant, especially here in the U.S. as we begin to modernize our grid system, and in the U.K. where a complete overhaul is needed.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has partnered with UniEnergy to develop a grid-scale flow battery, while others are tinkering with their own ideas.
And as it may be a few years before we see GE’s flow battery in a vehicle of our own, the EV has made significant strides – GE, GM, Nissan, and Tesla have all been showing promising results.
Get in and go…
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