Flow Batteries Could be a Game Changer for Electric Cars

By Sarah Moore for AZO Cleantech

Energy consumption is at an all-time high, but stores of fossil fuels are diminishing. The switch to renewable energy is fundamental to not only protecting our planet from harmful emissions but to maintaining the energy dependant societies that we live in. The adoption of electric cars is offering a route to switching from fossil fuels to renewables in one of the most energy-consuming sectors. However, in addition to debates over affordability, there are two main barriers preventing widespread adoption.

Currently, electric cars require access to charge points to power up. These charge points, while increasing in number, are certainly not as available as conventional gas stations. Current charge time also significantly surpasses the amount of time it takes to fill up a combustion-engine powered car. Drivers are required to wait for anything from 30 minutes up to several hours to charge their vehicles, making them far less convenient. In addition, there are concerns over ‘range anxiety’, where potential electric car owners are nervous to make the shift from their fossil-fueled vehicles because long journeys would require more frequent power charges than they would have to make gas refills. Consumers are concerned about the fuel economy and performance of electric cars in comparison to combustion-engine cars. To encourage more people to make the switch, confidence in both usability and performance is fundamental.

Importance of Flow Batteries

The flow battery presents an industry game-changer. Significant enough to get consumers over the hump and facilitate widespread adoption of electric cars. Chemists based at Glasgow University have utilized a nano-molecule that has the capability of storing electric power or hydrogen gas in its new flow battery system. Instead of visiting charge points, cars could theoretically fill up at a gas station, as the system works on replacing fluid within the battery. An electric car owner would use the pumps to fill the battery with fresh electrolyte instead of the usual fossil fuel that is pumped into combustion engines, and the depleted electrolyte would be discarded at the same time. This means that no change to the infrastructure is required and current gas stations could be used to support electric vehicles, eliminating the concern over ease of use due to limited charge points.

Further to this, the new system eliminates the concern over the need to wait significant periods to charge the vehicle which causes delays to journeys and make the cars less convenient. As the energy is replaced through changing the electrolyte by pumping it directly into the system, recharge time is dramatically cut, meaning that filling up a regular car and recharging an electric one would take a similar time with the flow battery.

Next, the fluid that releases power as both electricity or as hydrogen has the capacity to power the car for up to 3,000 miles, according to the latest tests. This has the impact of eliminating ‘range anxiety’ as a factor for not deciding to switch to electric. Tests have shown that with the new battery, drivers would be replacing the fluid with about the same frequency that they would refill a conventional car.

Conclusion

With the flow battery concerns over the usability and performance of electric cars are alleviated. Because the system allows the fresh charge to be pumped directly into the system the current infrastructure can be used to support recharging, the time of which is reduced to the same as refueling a combustion engine car. The new battery system also supports a greater amount of energy storage, meaning that cars can travel further without needing to recharge. The impact of this is that two of the main preventions of the widespread adoption of electric cars are eliminated, assisting the uptake of a renewable alternative in one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel consuming sectors.

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