Phinergy's battery can help cars traverse the countryside. Phinergy's battery can help cars traverse the countryside. Phinergy's battery can help cars traverse the countryside. (Photo: Iakov Kalinin/Shutterstock)

Long-range electric car battery debuts in Montreal

Companies join forces on invention that uses regular tap water to enable nearly a thousand-mile range.

A chief complaint against the use of electric, zero-emission cars to date has been their lack of range. Even the most eco-friendly driver feels inhibited by having to find a place to plug in, and charging stations are few and far between. 

That complaint, however, might be assuaged thanks to a recent collaboration between Israeli company Phinergy and Alcoa Canada. The two companies have joined forces to create an "aluminum-air" battery that can reportedly provide three times the amount of range for electric cars on the road. They showed off the invention in Montreal in early June.

Most electric car batteries only have a range of 80-100 miles, though Tesla's Model S can go closer to 300 miles (most users report the range is 265-275 miles) and their 2015 Model X will be rated around 230 miles. Most gasoline-powered vehicles can drive for more than 300 miles without having to refuel. When do they do need refueling, however, gas stations are much more plentiful (and easy to find) than fast-charging stations.

Phinergy and Alcoa's "aluminum-air" battery could be a massive improvement over the current electric car battery range, allowing electric cars to travel nearly 1,000 miles before stopping at a charging station.

There is, however, a catch: this new battery does not replace the electric car's usual lithium-ion battery, but rather adds to it. The Phinergy-Alcoa battery is basically an add-on battery that picks up the slack when the lithium-ion battery has been tapped dry of electricity. Consider it a really large reserve tank.

Here's how it works: First, Alcoa uses hydroelectric power to charge the batteries in Quebec. The power comes as a result of using oxygen and water to turn the aluminum into alumina. This allows the battery to continue working as long as owners refill it with regular tap water each month. And, since the cars electric would be using their installed lithium-ion battery for most of their travels (the aluminum-air battery only kicks in when the lithium-ion battery runs out), Alcoa says the batteries would only need to be replaced yearly.

"We hope that this will increase the penetration of electric cars with zero emissions," Phinergy CEO Aviv Tzidon told CBC Montreal. "When you're buying a car, you want to buy freedom. When you have a car which is limited in range, and you need to have infrastructure to (fast-charge it), you are losing this freedom."

Only time will tell if the Phinergy-Alcoa battery will help solve the range issues that have kept current electric cars from finding more mainstream acceptance, but it's a big step in the right direction.


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