Flow cells for cars could boost battery refuelling

August 02, 2016 // By Nick Flaherty
Refuelling the flow cells in an electric car developed by nanoFlowcell
Batteries in electric vehicle could be recharged via electrolyte rather than electricity says a Swiss startup.

nanoFlowcell has developed a flow battery technology that uses the combination of positive and negative electrolytes on a catalyst to generate power. This removes the need for recharging, instead refuelling tanks of the electrolytes. 

The company is currently road testing electric vehicles with the technology ahead of a stock market floatation next year. It says it doesn’t plan to make vehicles but aims to license the technology to car makers.

Researchers at MIT have also demonstrated flow cell batteries.

"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," said 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. Consumers are growing tired of claims and promises that drag far behind reality. Our nanoFlowcell alternative drive and energy storage technology is able to tackle the challenges of modern electric mobility."Instead of heavy lithium ion battery packs, the nanoFlowcell is the size of a shoebox connected to two fuel tanks containing around 150 litres of separate electrolyte liquids. The electrolyte liquid is neither explosive nor flammable, and is not harmful to health nor the environment.

This makes refuelling significantly easier, says La Vecchia. Instead of a new infrastructure of charging points, electric cars using the nanoFlowcell could refuel at existing petrol stations (see picture above). The electrolyte is easy to transport and could use similar pumps, although it would need two nozzles to keep the electrolytes separate. The non-volatile nature avoids the costs of other refuelling approaches such as hydrogen for fuel cells. This would also be much quicker than charging high voltage vehicles.