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Canada Power Transportation Technology

Group Demonstrates 3,000 Km Electric Car Battery 363

Posted by samzenpus
from the keep-on-trucking dept.
Jabrwock (985861) writes 'One of the biggest limitations on lithium battery-powered electric cars has been their range. Last year Israeli-based Phinergy introduced an "aluminum-air" battery. Today, partnering with Alcoa Canada, they announced a demo of the battery, which is charged up at Alcoa's aluminum smelter in Quebec. The plant uses hydro-electric power to charge up the battery, which would then need a tap-water refill every few months, and a swap (ideally at a local dealership) every 3,000km, since it cannot be recharged as simply as Lithium. The battery is meant to boost the range of standard electric cars, which would still use the Lithium batteries for short-range trips. The battery would add about 100 kg to an existing Tesla car's battery weight.'
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Group Demonstrates 3,000 Km Electric Car Battery

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  • by thieh (3654731)
    I wonder whether anyone will remember doing this sort of maintenance (filling the tap water part) without some sort of big warning or display somewhere.
    • Re:Hm.... (Score:4, Funny)

      by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @08:15AM (#47170769)

      The car grinding to a halt would be a pretty efficient warning.

    • It's a real issue. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 05, 2014 @09:09AM (#47171097)

      I wonder whether anyone will remember doing this sort of maintenance (filling the tap water part) without some sort of big warning or display somewhere.

      I have an antique electric tractor. [wikipedia.org] It's 41 years old and runs great, with almost zero maintenance; it uses about 20 cents worth of electricity to mow an acre of grass. If I replace the motor brushes every 30 years, and periodically wash out and maintain the corrosion-prone battery compartment, it will last forever.

      But the achilles heel of these machines is battery maintenance, which consists of watering the big lead acid batteries and properly charging them. There are no mysteries in this process, and no great difficulties - you just have to remember to do it, and the batteries simply will not forgive forgetfulness. Properly cared for batteries can easily last twelve years, but it's very common for people to ruin a $600+ set of batteries in two years or less, simply from a lack of mindfulness. That changes the economics of it, which are heavily front-loaded. If your batteries last ten years, the tractor is much cheaper to own and operate than a gasser, but if you destroy your pack in two years, you waste that huge upfront battery investment and take a financial beating.

      The Toyota Prius's NiMH battery packs were designed with this human reality in mind; the intelligent battery management electronics are the key to that car's success. Tesla took it one step further; they not only have intelligent battery management that does not require functioning user brain cells, they also built a high cell count charging system that allows rapid charging without compromising battery capacities.

      Depending on humans to do battery maintenance doesn't work, in practice, except in the case of engineering geeks who are not even slightly behaviorally representative of the species as a whole.

      • The electric tractor thing is pretty cool, particularly considering the failure of the "Raven" recently sold a Lowe's but later pulled.

        Excellent points about battery care. Thanks for sharing.
      • by rjstanford (69735) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @10:46AM (#47171773) Homepage Journal

        I'm glad that internal combustion engines don't have any kind of fluids that you need to change every few thousand miles then. Just imagine how impossible a situation that would be, especially if failing to change them could actually damage or destroy the engine! Better to stick with the tried and true.

        In unrelated news I saw another "jiffy lube" going up down the street from my office. When will the homosexual agenda cease their corruption of young minds?

    • by MiniMike (234881) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @09:23AM (#47171199)

      That's a small detail. If it can use tap water, it can also use water from the condenser coil or filtered rainwater collection. Or they could just add a small reservoir (similar to the windshield wiper fluid reservoir) which gets topped off when they change the battery.

      Or they could just fill it up with the "amazing, mileage extending super water" which would be sure to hit the shelves soon after these batteries are released.

      • Quick, go and patent your mileage extending super water!
      • Or they could just fill it up with the "amazing, mileage extending super water" which would be sure to hit the shelves soon after these batteries are released.

        Don't give Monster Cable any business ideas...

    • because the issue of notifying the driver has never existed before...

    • I wonder whether anyone will remember doing this sort of maintenance (filling the tap water part) without some sort of big warning or display somewhere.

      I wonder if anyone will remember changing oil as a sort of maintenance without some sort of big warning or display somewhere. #thestupiditburns

  • by idji (984038) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @08:18AM (#47170789)
    Why don't they get honest and say "Smelting aluminium at 960 degrees".
    • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @08:30AM (#47170859)
      Its hard to see how the energy cycle makes sense. Melting down the aluminum to reform a "charged" battery does not seem intuitively efficient. Even if the process is powered from beautiful clean hydro.

      Battery trailers make more sense than swapping, IMO.
      • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @08:42AM (#47170939)

        It'll be pretty damn efficient at putting a lot of money into the hands of the dealerships where you have to switch those batteries out, though.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "Charging aluminum" consumes a LOT of heat + carbon (anode burning) + fluorine (escape from electrolyte). It's not just clean hydro-electricity.

      • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @09:00AM (#47171047)

        Its hard to see how the energy cycle makes sense. Melting down the aluminum to reform a "charged" battery does not seem intuitively efficient. Even if the process is powered from beautiful clean hydro.

        Battery trailers make more sense than swapping, IMO.

        It appears to be based on the oxidation of the Aluminum.

        The energy is released via a chemical reaction that draws oxygen from the air and uses water fed into the car by the user to turn the aluminum into alumina (similar to the reaction that turns iron into rust)

        So using the battery literally destroys it. The aluminum is all still there. So it's not rechargeable at all. It's disposable. They recycle it at the smelter, they don't recharge it. I suspect it will be treated like other car parts and there will be a core charge that you get back for swapping your old battery in.

        I've no idea how efficient the process is, that would really be the key question.

        • I've no idea how efficient the process is, that would really be the key question.

          Which was basically the question I implied. Then you rambled on about peripheral stuff, and re-asked.

      • by khallow (566160)
        Well, how inefficient does the process have to be before it doesn't make sense? Transportation generally is a high value use of energy and this battery pack would fill an important niche, enabling electric cars to travel more than a few hundred miles a day.
        • Well, how inefficient does the process have to be before it doesn't make sense? Transportation generally is a high value use of energy and this battery pack would fill an important niche, enabling electric cars to travel more than a few hundred miles a day.

          This not just a niche, range is a key element to electric car mass adoption. Efficiency is proportional to cost. Cost matters.

          • by khallow (566160)
            Well, I did say the niche was important. And cost isn't the only factor.
          • by Immerman (2627577) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @10:55AM (#47171861)

            That's why you buy an EV whose primary, high-efficiency range is >= your normal daily usage. You add one of these just so that that isn't a hard limit - no need to worry about running out of charge a few miles from home because you ran a lot more errands than usual. Even if it cost 10x as much per Watt-hour as a primary battery charge that only mean only that, in the rare case when you exceed the range of the primary battery, your mileage costs increase 10x. Something to keep in mind, but if you only use the backup for a few % of your total mileage it won't significantly alter your operating costs.

      • by necro81 (917438)

        Its hard to see how the energy cycle makes sense

        It makes about as much sense as other primary (i.e., nonrechargeable) batteries: alkaline AAs, lithium coin cells, and the like. Depending on where you live, those may or may not be readily recycled. In most of the United States, for instance, they end up in landfills. Too bad, too, there's a decent amount of refined metals (manganese, nickel, steel, lithium, etc.) in those things that could be recovered. I guess we'll just leave them as a buried resourc

      • by Immerman (2627577) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @10:45AM (#47171765)

        Smelting aluminum has actually gotten pretty efficient - despite the ore being relatively cheap there was a time it was more valuable than gold (hence the cap on the Washington Monument), and even today it's one of the most expensive common metals. Any improvement in smelting has great profit potential, so there's been a lot of advances aimed at improving the efficiency over the last century. The enormous energy inputs are getting pretty close to the minimums required to de-oxidize the aluminum (melting is incidental, and the thermal energy can mostly be recycled). There's a reason aluminum is nicknamed "solid electricity".

        So the real question is how efficient the battery is at extracting energy from the oxidizing the aluminum. I too would like to know the actual numbers, but if it's capable of supplying power to a car without needing a large dedicated cooling system then that's pretty promising. And of course this is intended as an *auxiliary* power system only intended for use when the range of the primary batteries has been exceeded, so a much lower efficiency is acceptable - it exists primarily so that you never have to worry about being not quite able to make it home / to a charging station, though I could see it being nice for long road trips as well.

        Given the inability to recharge them though, I do think I'd want 2+ batteries in the car, to be drained (and replaced) sequentially. I don't want my "emergency tank" anywhere near empty, but it's wasteful to recycle it while it's still 20% charged. So let me drain one completely while the next is still fully charged. Assuming I'm mostly driving on the primaries that also gives me a nice big time buffer as to when I replace the drained battery.

        • Quick and dirty math tells me one of these batteries has on the order of 600KWh of energy to deliver to the car (to drive the distance claimed).

          So, the question is, how many KWh of energy does it take to smelt, reclaim, and re-form the battery (or whatever the process order is)? That's simplified and ignores other inputs like added material, but it is a starting point. For starters, does anybody have an idea what melting 100Kg of aluminum requires? It would be interesting to see.
          • by matfud (464184)

            It is $240 ish dollars to buy 100kg of billet aluminium so less then $240 dollars worth of electricity to make that (and lots of that will come from ore not recycled aluminium)

          • by Alsn (911813)
            My google fu yields the following:
            http://www.world-aluminium.org/statistics/primary-aluminium-smelting-energy-intensity/
            Efficiency varies around the world between 13000-16000 kWh per 1000kg of aluminium.

            Assuming the entire quoted weight of 100kg is aluminium (which according to the article the batteries are "made mostly of aluminium"), that's at best 50% efficient assuming your ballpark estimate of 600 kWh. Compared to an internal combustion engine that's not too shabby.

            However, I feel like a demonstration
          • Quick and dirty math tells me one of these batteries has on the order of 600KWh of energy to deliver to the car (to drive the distance claimed).

            So, the question is, how many KWh of energy does it take to smelt, reclaim, and re-form the battery (or whatever the process order is)? That's simplified and ignores other inputs like added material, but it is a starting point. For starters, does anybody have an idea what melting 100Kg of aluminum requires? It would be interesting to see.

            Well, aluminium on the US commodities market currently sells for around $0.81/pound so the maximum cost for refining 100 Kg of aluminum from bauxite is $178. Refining from alumina (the waste product of this battery) is presumably cheaper because it removes all the refining steps in the process before electrolysis.

        • BTW, excellent point regarding the need to fully discharge the battery before 'recycling' to get full benefit. I hadn't thought of that, and it may be the single biggest weakness in this approach.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    With an automatic swap system on gas stations, it might provide an instant refuelling, something impossible with fixed lithium batteries currently. Possibly it might make sense to standarise such a swapping machine, and a respective battery compartment, before multiple standards arise -- one machine for a hydrogen cell, aluminium battery etc.
    • I'm all for standards, but I don't think battery shape, size, and placement for a car is a good thing to standardize. Too limiting for design I'd predict.

      • If it's a 15 minute change out at any garage with a lift, it's a potential alternative to renting a car for a long trip.

        • by rioki (1328185)

          Or ditch batteries altogether and fill a tank of hydrogen and run the electric car off a fuel cell.

          • Do you have any idea how big of a fuel cell you would need to run a car? Forget the issues with hydrogen, why would you want to convert to electric then to mechanical motion? Yea it's more efficient use of the hydrogen but it's also a ton of weight and volume.

    • by beefoot (2250164)
      How about battery swapping drones flying along major highway. If you need a sway, just wave at them.
  • by should_be_linear (779431) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @08:32AM (#47170863)
    This is great for public transport. Changing units every 3000 Km is non-issue there. Vehicles are in the garage over night anyway...
    • Until they tell us the expected cost, which is conveniently omitted, I'm gonna assume its not "great" for anything.

      If vehicles can be charged every night, it is less likely they would this technology to start with. For public transportation, its easy to plan around range.

      I could see some military applications, where they want a long range electric vehicle for certain types of missions, ready to go without a gas supply. Cost is usually less of a factor that functionality for these applications.
    • Public transport is already easy to do with conventional batteries. Between overhead power lines and induction charging at bus stops, there are ample opportunities to top up the batteries during the day.
  • At 3000km, that's shorter than even a severe-duty oil change interval. One long trip and it's done. Seriously, say I wanted to drive from Dallas to Las Vegas; the battery lasts just long enough to get me there in one shot. Sure, the rechargable pack lasts long enough for the short drives once I'm there, but the return trip is going to suck with the repeated stops for recharging, especially with the lack of SuperCharger stations along the way. So by the end of 2015 I'll be able to make it, according to Te

  • and needs swapping and "charging" in a factory sounds very much like a non-rechargeable battery.

    With that concept, you could very easily have electric cars powered with a very large number of alcaline batteries, and "charging stations" in which you change the alcaline batteries.

  • I suppose it depends how environmentally friendly it is to make / recycle this aluminium battery, how safe it is, how reliable it is and how much dealers charge to replace one with another. But in principle it's a good idea.

    I bet a lot of potential EV owners are put off range anxiety - that idea that every once in a while they'll have to do a really long trip and they can't because the battery won't take them far enough and will take hours to recharge. Probably the rest of the time they only need the batt

  • All these toxic batteries we are creating?
    • They are recycled. That's a main part of the plan. When you have a new one installed the old one is send back to the factory.
      Aluminium-air batteries aren't all that toxic. The main problem is that they are single use only. However, for the once or twice a year 300+ km trip that is not a problem. You add them to your current car if you have a longer trip that the normal battery can't do.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      All these toxic batteries we are creating?

      If you are finding batteries to be toxic, please allow me to humbly suggest that you stop eating them.

  • Wasn't there some professor who had mostly perfected a fuel cell based on some kind of aluminum cycle?

  • For starters: I am not all that impressed. They're dressing this up as 'rechargable', when in fact it is emphatically not so, this is a 'primary' battery, not a rechargable 'secondary' battery, and 'recharging' it in this context is just new-speak for 'recycling' it.

    OK, let's put that aside for a moment. The real questions are:
    1) What is the estimated, large-scale, ultimate carbon footprint of using this battery technology? Is it better or worse than Li+ technologies? If it's about the same or worse then m
    • "They're dressing this up as 'rechargable', when in fact it is emphatically not so, this is a 'primary' battery, not a rechargable 'secondary' battery, "

      you need to read the article again (or for the first time) because what you are saying is complete shit, i never read it as that nor did most of the posters. its an additional battery, one-use only and gets swapped out for a replacement. I wont even bother reading the rest of your luddite post
  • What if an electric car would have a space for this battery and a driver would only install this type of battery when going on a long drive (i.e., supplement the existing Li battery infrastructure instead of replacing it)??? That way you would have the best of both worlds, quick charging lithium batteries for short trips and alum. battery for long trips. Yes, the downside is more space reserved for batteries instead of cargo, but I think I would be willing to work with that... I can easily see installing

  • Since it can't be recharged, it seems like it's going to be more problematic than the idea of swapping a partially depleted rechargeable battery for a fresh one. Electric cars already cost more than gasoline automobiles, and if it's more than a few hundred dollars to swap anyways, it will *always* be cheaper to just use gasoline.
  • These batteries shift the need for gasoline to the power grid. But most utility companies are pretty lazy and I wonder if we develop great electric cars in quantities whether the power lines will start to glow like the wires in my toaster. We can hope that power companies are investing in far more robust systems. Oddly this car issue may actually save the power companies as charging all these electric cars may mean that less people self supply all of their homes electric needs. A home with three ele
  • by oic0 (1864384) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @10:46AM (#47171779)
    Why use them as range extenders. Why not just pack enough in to do a year of driving the recycle the filling and put in new plates? If it costs less than about $1500 to do most people would be fine with it.

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