The new aluminum air battery would recharge by filling it up with water. A no plug in electric car? That might sell, but its not the whole story.

Alcoa Canada and Canadian clean technology company Phinergy have introduced a zero-emissions electric demo car powered by the revolutionary aluminum air battery. The team of companies are working together on new materials, processes and components to commercialize the aluminum air battery. Their preliminary results discussed in the press release say the battery can extend the distance an electric car travels by approximately 1,000 miles (1,000 kilometers). This is a very big claim.

The aluminum air battery uses air and water to unlock the energy stored in aluminum. According to Phinergy, just one of the 50 aluminum plates in the battery can power a car for approximately 20 miles, and when used to supplement a lithium ion battery, can extend vehicle range to about the 1,000 mile claim. The technology is said to allow an energy density (with energy density claim of 8 kWh/kg) that surpasses conventional battery technologies and creates electric vehicles with travel distances, purchase prices and life-cycle costs that are comparable to fossil-fuel cars.

The aluminum air battery is lightweight, and more energy dense than today’s lithium ion batteries. The product of the aluminum anode, ambient air (oxygen) cathode and water electrolyte is an electrical charge to power the car, and the resultant aluminum hydroxide byproduct is recycled to create more aluminum. When the aluminum air battery is depleted, the modular aluminum cartridges can be swapped out for new ones at a service station. That’s the catch, they wear out.

The aluminum eventually turns into aluminum hydroxide. Worn out aluminum air batteries can be recycled to create new batteries. The battery’s aluminum replacement is also a “quick operation” that will be performed at periodic maintenance checks at a local service station on average once a year according to mileage driven.

Functionally the aluminum air battery acts as a range extender. During daily use, the base lithium ion system will get you the first 20, 30, or 40 miles. Then the air aluminum system will then turn on when the lithium ion battery set discharges to its optimum state.

Alcoa Phinergy Aluminum Air Powered Vehicle Underway. Click image for the largest view.  Courtesy Alcoa.

Alcoa Phinergy Aluminum Air Powered Vehicle Underway. Click image for the largest view. Courtesy Alcoa.

The prototype vehicle has been displayed at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve race course in Montreal. There, Martin Briere, President of Alcoa Canada said, “Automakers want technologies that enable zero-emission electric cars to travel distances that compete with gasoline powered cars. The aluminum air battery has the potential to meet that challenge using fully recyclable material with no CO2 emissions. Alcoa and Phinergy look forward to collaborating with the Quebec government to advance this technology and the potential development of the aluminum air battery in the province. Furthermore, our aluminum production facility in Baie-Comeau is well positioned to supply the aluminum for the battery.”

Aviv Tzidon, CEO of Phinergy said, “Electric vehicle adoption has been slowed by the limited range of regular batteries, causing what is commonly known as ‘range anxiety’. With Phinergy’s technology, and Alcoa’s industrial leadership across both the aluminum value chain and the automotive market, we see an exciting opportunity to help move electric vehicles into the mainstream.”

The new system would be an electric motor drive, supplied first by a lithium ion battery followed on with the aluminum air battery. This might well be a range closing in on 1,000 miles for a small car.

Plugging in looks perhaps to still be in the plan. Although one assumes many buyers would skip that and expect to charge off the aluminum air battery. In reality people will opt for the simple low cost choice. The early information isn’t saying exactly there would be a plug in or not. Pouring tap or even cheap distilled water vs. owning an in home charger would obviously help car sale immensely.

A spokesperson for Alcoa also said in an email response to Computerworld that the battery’s aluminum module replacement is also a “quick operation” that will be performed at periodic maintenance checks at a local service station on average once a year according to mileage driven. Alcoa has everyone talking saying the same thing.

If so, the aluminum air battery over a full charge discharge cycling over an annual 15,000 mile range would work out to about 15 cycles before the aluminum would be reacted into aluminum hydroxide.

A lot depends on the automakers design choices. Then the consumer’s risks involved in a battery change out. Auto service sends almost every auto owner into horror. Without a very long warranty and a few free battery change outs a major mass market will stay out of reach. Its a simple fact that the auto dealers and service shops are no where nearly as trust worthy as the intensely competitive oil companies and the gasoline retailers.

The aluminum air battery looks like it could be an automotive turning point. But only if Alcoa gets the marketing right. If the replacement battery is priced to ‘perceived value’ such as the annual gasoline fuel cost the idea will be still born into the market. The oil companies will crush the idea. But come in with ISO standard modules, lots of aftermarket battery choices with competitive battery change outs Alcoa and the auto makers might just make hundreds of millions of new cars sales.

This idea has legs going into the executive suites at the automakers. Alcoa is already a major supplier. Its a multinational firm, with loads of capital and intellectual power. Lets hope they’re smart enough to go for the really big market share with a fair profit instead of the destructive limits of “perceived value” or “what the market will bear”.

Then again, the idea is barely out of the lab.


Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind