Aluminium-Air power cell tech set to make a comeback

Posted: October 28, 2019 by tallbloke in Batteries, Energy, innovation
Experimental Aluminium-Air power cell

The military developed and used ALuminium-Air power cell tech decades ago. New discoveries and advances in electrolyte mean it might become viable for commercial and domestic use. The Daily Mail has this:

Two years ago, Jackson claims, motor manufacturers lobbied the Foreign Office to bar him from a prestigious conference for European businesses and governments at the British embassy in Paris, which was supposed to agree a blueprint for ensuring all new cars are electric by 2040. The bid to exclude him failed. Now, with the signing of the Austin deal, it seems he is finally on the road to success.

He has also secured a £108,000 grant for further research from the Advanced Propulsion Centre, a partner of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. His technology has been validated by two French universities.

He says: ‘It has been a tough battle but I’m finally making progress. From every logical standpoint, this is the way to go.’

Jackson began working on new ways of powering electric vehicles after a distinguished engineering career. He worked for Rolls-Royce in Derby, helping to design nuclear reactors, then took a commission in the Royal Navy, where he served as a lieutenant on board nuclear submarines, managing and maintaining their reactors.

Before founding his own firm in 1999, he was working for BAE Systems, where he first started looking at alternative, green ways to power vehicles. By then he and his partner, Kathryn, were married. The couple have eight children, aged 11 to 27, and live in Tavistock, on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon.

In 2001 he began to investigate the potential of a technology first developed in the 1960s. Scientists had discovered that by dipping aluminium into a chemical solution known as an electrolyte, they could trigger a reaction between the metal and air to produce electricity. At that time the method was useless for commercial batteries because the electrolyte was extremely poisonous, and caustic.

After years of experimentation at his workshop in the Cornish village of Callington, Jackson’s eureka moment came when he developed a new formula for the electrolyte that was neither poisonous nor caustic.

‘I’ve drunk it when demonstrating it to investors, so I can attest to the fact that it’s harmless,’ Jackson says. Another problem with the 1960s version was that it worked only with totally pure aluminium, which is very expensive.

But Jackson’s electrolyte works with much lower-purity metal – including recycled drinks cans. The formula, which is top secret, is the key to his device.

Technically, it should be described as a fuel cell, not a battery. Either way, it is so light and powerful that it could now be set to revolutionise low-carbon transport, because it supplies so much energy.

Full story

Comments
  1. oldbrew says:

    Better as range extenders?

    Or maybe have two per car as they don’t weigh a lot, and swap the expired one while using the other one?

  2. Graeme No.3 says:

    That 1500 km. range presumably relies on a lower weight electric vehicle. Nevertheless that makes an electric car a viable proposition. With an average mileage of 50km. per day (18,000 km. per annum) it would require a visit to a supply station every month, hardly an imposition. A quick change operation should be easy to arrange.
    The problem is the reversal of the discharge. Whatever the design it will take significant amounts of electricity to regenerate the aluminium ‘fuel’, and with various gullible believers hell bent on stuffing up the electricity supply where will that come from?

  3. ivan says:

    To me, as an engineer, it appears that this guy has gone off half cocked. It is all very well to demonstrate toys but where is the real thing driving an actual car electric motor on a dynamometer? Where are the real world figures for such things as power to weight ratio, constant current output to a sustained load, temperature rise for a sustained load and so on.

    At the moment this appears to be a pie in the sky project looking for a lot of money from the public.

  4. Gamecock says:

    ‘At the moment this appears to be a pie in the sky project looking for a lot of money from the public.’

    Exactly. Publishing early usually means you have a problem and you better cash in while you can.

  5. JB says:

    “Publishing early usually means you have a problem and you better cash in while you can.”

    It also is often an indicator the cash reserve for the venture has expired before the demonstration/pre-production phase, and credulous investors are being sought to attain sell-out.

  6. It doesn't add up... says:

    As with all these ideas, the real keys are the round trip efficiency and the availability of key materials. That it takes 14.5 GJ to convert aluminium hydroxide to alumina and 13kWh in a modern smelter to produce 1 kg of Al is no handicap – indeed it is potentially an advantage, so long as we can extract a useful proportion of the energy input via the battery. I haven’t yet seen figures on round trip efficiency for the system, but if we take 300Wh per mile as typical EV consumption we can infer that 1500 miles entails output of 450kWh from 50 kg Al, or about 9 kWh per kg, which is effectively about 50% overall efficiency.

    We don’t know what resource implications there may be from the electrolyte beyond the fact that an equal weight of water and aluminium are consumed by the battery chemically in turning aluminium back to the hydroxide. However, if we consider 30 million vehicles driving 9,000 miles each in the UK, annual consumption of aluminium works out as 9 million tonnes just for the UK, against global aluminium production of 60 million tonnes. Even if mining bauxite is not needed as an input once you have built up a stock of arterial in the recycled supply chain, it would call for a very substantial increase in smelting capacity and alumina production. There is another feature: smelting will add at least 132 tonnes of CO2 for every 54 tonnes of aluminium produced.

  7. tallbloke says:

    Could be good for electric scooters. Low weight, urban use. Easy swap power packs available at supermarkets. What’s not to like?

  8. Stuart Brown says:

    The battery absorbs oxygen from the air, giving aluminium oxide as a result. (So the battery gets substantially heavier as it discharges, for one thing.) That maybe purer than aluminium ore, but it’s essentially the same thing, isn’t it? And having driven enough to swap the battery it now needs recycling, so…

    From Wikipedia:
    ‘Aluminium smelting is the process of extracting aluminium from its oxide, alumina, generally by the Hall-Héroult process. This is an electrolytic process, so an aluminium smelter uses huge amounts of electricity; smelters tend to be located close to large power stations, often hydro-electric ones, in order to reduce the overall carbon footprint.’

    So far so good – assuming large power stations means exclusively nukes, geothermal or hydro. Wind or solar won’t cut it because: ‘… power must not be interrupted for more than 4-5 hours, since the pots have to be repaired at significant cost if the liquid metal solidifies.’ Can’t use coal or gas because we’re doing this to reduce CO2, right?

    But, the Hall-Héroult process works by oxidising a carbon anode to produce aluminium metal at the cathode, so you get 3 molecules of CO2 for every 4 atoms of aluminium. (Not to mention the perfluorocarbons and hydrogen fluoride byproducts from the fluoride electrolyte which make the whole process less than benign.)

    So, what was the point again? Does all this result in less CO2 per mile than diesel or not?

  9. stpaulchuck says:

    two big factors:
    1) cost per delivered KWh
    2) energy density.

    It does not compute if you get a KWh for $0.001 but the thing is as big as a diesel electric train engine to power a bicycle, or a nice small package that costs $87 a KWh.

    Where’s the numbers on this? And as has been pointed out, what’s the ‘recharge’ cost? I hope they keep on researching this and other ways to produce ‘clean’ electricity. Perhaps they will find one or more effective devices or processes. Until then, I’ll go with nukes and natgas. I like having the lights available 24/7 on demand.

  10. It doesn't add up... says:

    Performance does seem to suffer at higher power inputs, which degrade capacity remaining faster than pro rata. Perhaps you need something else to move away from the lights or tackle a steep hill.

  11. Rick says:

    The only downside is the energy needed to convert the resulting aluminium oxide back to aluminium metal. The overall round trip efficiency will be something less than 20%, compare with 90% for Lithium-Ion. Yes it can use aluminium scrap- but that would otherwise have been melted and reused with a much smaller energy input.

  12. Jim says:

    Other commenters are so jealous of this guy’s innovation that they are dismissing it as fake when they should be remaining skeptical and open-minded. This technology has been around for half of a century so why are you so surprised that someone could find a better way? I’d love to see the numbers as much as some of you, but I can accept that he’s keeping his cards close to his chest in a world where lithium rules the EV circuit for now.
    Dismissiveness is NOT skepticism. Don’t be jealous. You should be curious as to what his electrolyte is. Maybe the government will give you some money if you can be as creative.

  13. oldbrew says:

    This covers the ‘range-extender’ idea but with an earlier version of the aluminium battery.

  14. Gamecock says:

    “Other commenters are so jealous of this guy’s innovation that they are dismissing it as fake when they should be remaining skeptical and open-minded.”

    Dear, dear. Please learn the difference between jealousy and envy.

    Electric cars are seriously flawed: expensive, limited range, long recharge times. The Lefty press gives us several “breakthrough” stories a month. Because they are trying to convince people that these prohibitive problems are solvable, and are being solved. (Same as with “storage” being able to fix the problems with renewables.)

    This story has double ought zero to do with AL-air power cells. The technology of these stories is irrelevant. The stories say electric cars are going to be good for everybody.

    It is propaganda. And we will continue to see them.

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