Ever bite into Aluminum foil? Do you get that funny tingling feeling when you do? That’s energy being released from the Aluminum when in contact with the air and your saliva. That’s the basic premise behind the technology used in a developing battery being touted for many uses not the least of which is electric cars.
Perhaps you’ve heard the recent news regarding Phinergy, a small Israeli-based startup, and Alcoa teaming up to commercialize an Aluminum air battery that can provide 1000 miles of driving range. The partnership was forged on February 5 of this year and, in seemingly no time at all, a Citroen demonstration car equipped with their battery was debuted at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada early this month. A quick turnaround indeed! Blogs on the announcement can be found throughout the internet and a good summary of the technology can be found at (of all places) GM-Volt.com.
In summary, Aluminum air batteries show promise for use as range-extending technology due to the abundance of low cost, recyclable materials used in it and the energy density (energy per weight) that it possesses. By way of example, Phinergy’s 1000 mile battery is almost five times lighter than Tesla’s 300 mile battery. However, the batteries are not rechargeable, which is why they’re being touted more as range extenders, but they can be easily serviced to reenergize them. The battery is comprised of fifty Aluminum plates, each providing 20 miles of range, and are easily replaced once exhausted. When being used on long trips, the battery must be refilled with de-ionized tapwater every couple of hundred miles. Since most Americans only average about thirty miles per day though, the Phinergy battery would rarely be needed. However, they have a shelf-life of about 30 years if water is replenished every month or so. All said this has some appeal compared to range extending ICE engines, which require a fuel tank, emit greenhouse gases, and need more maintenance. In September of 2013, perhaps as a premonition, Tesla filed for a patent on a drivetrain that would use such technology alongside their rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries.
Most announcements covering the joint endeavor, reference the fact that Phinergy is partnered with Alcoa’s Canadian operation and plan to work with the Quebec government on R&D efforts to commercialize it. However, the question hasn’t been raised as to “why Quebec, Canada?” The answer is found in Canada’s generous R&D tax incentives. The federal government provides up to 35% in tax credits for research, while Quebec offers one of the best provincial R&D tax credits at up to 37.5%. Most provinces are between 10 and 20%. In addition, the Aluminum plates will likely be produced in Alcoa’s Baie-Comeau plant. The partnership between Phinergy and Alcoa Canada is indeed strategic on many levels. Check out the YouTube video regarding the concept car Phinergy and Alcoa demonstrated in Quebec.