Electric cars are great, but the one problem they suffer from is the time it takes to charge them back up, and the limited charging station locations in the UK. However, a team of scientists working on a new type of energy storage believe they’ve found a solution to the problem, and it resides in a new electric goo.
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Chemists from the University of Glasgow have developed a “flow battery” system that’s capable of storing either electricity or hydrogen gas. The plan is that the liquid made of storage nano-molecules could be used in a vehicle to release power as either electricity or as hydrogen gas – depending on the vehicle it’s being used in.
According to the study, which was published in the Nature Chemistry journal (via Sky News), any concentrated liquid made using the nano-molecules increases its storage capabilities tenfold. Because the concentration is also capable of storing hydrogen gas or electricity, it’s an incredibly versatile product that could be utilised and distributed at existing petrol stations to a wide variety of cars.
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The research team believe the benefit of their technology would mean that cars would no longer need hours to charge as they could simply pump electricity in via their liquid. In their thinking, a car could be recharged in the same amount of time as simply filling a normal petrol or diesel car.
Lead researchers Professor Leroy Cronin, Dr Mark Symes and Dr Jia Jia Chen all believe it’ll pave the way for new storage systems in electric cars. They also hope it’ll be a new way for storing renewable energy and improve the hybrid fuel market of hydrogen-electric vehicles when electric-to-gas fuels are needed.
«For future renewables to be effective, high capacity and flexible energy storage systems are needed to smooth out the peaks and troughs in supply,» said Professor Cronin. «Our approach will provide a new route to do this electrochemically and could even have application in electric cars where batteries can still take hours to recharge and have limited capacity.
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«Moreover, the very high energy density of our material could increase the range of electric cars, and also increase the resilience of energy storage systems to keep the lights on at times of peak demand.»
Using this aqueous solution makes sense for energy storage solutions, but it brings up many issues when factored into electric vehicles. One problem is the removal of spent fuel – as it doesn’t burn in the same way traditional fuels do. Another is the weight management needed to be factored in by vehicle manufacturers who have removed the idea of fuel tanks in their EVs, replacing them with battery technologies instead.
There are also infrastructure issues of carting around the goop to filling stations in the first place, something someone installing an electric charger wouldn’t need to worry about.
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The biggest drawback of the technology, however, is that many automobile manufacturers have already started down a single path. While the hope is that battery technologies will improve to help reduce waste and increase capacity, it’s far more likely that roadside charging times will be dramatically reduced thanks to high-voltage chargers long before this flow battery technology can come to market.
However, the technology could actually be very valuable to electric or hydrogen-electric long-distance vehicles used in the freight industry.
A slow-burn fuel that can be high-capacity and easily refuelled would be a huge win for a part of the automotive industry that’s struggling to find viable alternatives to the hulking diesel beasts on the road today.