A company from Liechtenstein says it has found the antidote to EV drivers’ range anxiety.
2 May 2015

Car manufacturers are desperate for an alternative to the combustion engine, one that is sustainable, affordable and free of compromise.

A Liechtenstein-based company called Nanoflowcell claims to have an answer: an electric car that can be filled up at the pump with non-flammable, non-toxic fluid and is said to deliver a range similar to that of conventional petrol or diesel cars.

Nanoflowcell revealed its first concept car, the Quant E, at last year’s Geneva motor show. This year it returned with the Quant F and much smaller Quantino two-seater. All three cars are propelled by four wheel-mounted electric motors supplied with electricity from a flow cell battery.

The flow cell concept is based on the Redox (reduction and oxidation) flow cell technology trialled by NASA in the early 1970s. Redox flow cells generate electricity when fed with two electrolytic fluids, one positively charged and one negatively charged, stored in separate tanks.

The flow cell is split into two halves by a membrane, with positively charged electrolyte flowing through one side and negatively charged through the other. Ion exchange takes place through the membrane, generating an electric current.

Normally, flow cells can be replenished by recharging like any other battery, or simply by replacing the fluid. The Nanoflowcell works differently. As it discharges, the water-based ‘ionic’ fluid electrolyte evaporates, leaving the storage tanks empty and ready for refilling. Quant cars can be refuelled at a pump using a two-pronged nozzle to fill both the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ tanks at the same time.

According to chief technical officer and inventor of the Nanoflowcell Nunzio La Vecchia, “the ionic fluid is non-flammable and non-toxic, and there are no emissions or high pressures involved”. As a result, he adds, on-board storage is straightforward and establishing a filling station network simple and relatively cheap.

Traditional flow cell designs don’t have the greatest volumetric energy density, which means a large volume is needed to store a reasonable amount of energy. Nanoflowcell claims its new fluid formulation improves this, giving five times the energy capacity of a conventional flow cell. La Vecchia says 80% of the development so far has gone into improving the chemistry of the ionic fluids and 20% into the design of the flow cell.

The Quant F has a range of 497 miles and the Quantino 621 miles, but Nanoflowcell concedes they still need to carry a substantial amount of fluid – 500 litres in the case of the Quant F – in two 250-litre tanks weighing half a tonne. The Quantino carries 350 litres of fuel, which weighs around 350kg. By comparison, a Range Rover TDV6 carries 85 litres of diesel weighing 72kg.

That said, unlike petrol, diesel or hydrogen, liquid fuel is easy to distribute throughout the structure of a car if necessary, especially if it is as harmless as Nanoflowcell claims.

A flow cell is good at producing a steady stream of energy but not the transient spikes of power demanded by a driver. So the Nanoflowcell feeds power to a 2000A supercapacitor acting as a buffer to deliver instant power to the four wheel motors in response to the accelerator pedal.

The flow cell is powerful, with the Quant F’s system generating 735V and 92A. The Quantino, though, has an intrinsically safer low-voltage system, just 48V but “more than 200A”. In real terms, that means the system can deliver enough electrical energy to power four 25kW, 134bhp electric motors and deliver a quoted top speed of more than 125mph. By comparison, a Nissan Leaf’s battery produces 360V.

The Quant E gained TÜV Süd approval to be driven on public roads last year, and the company is now seeking homologation for the Quant F, allowing it to enter production. “One hundred per cent of the exterior qualifies and we are 90% there with the interior,” says La Vecchia. The Quantino, with its low-voltage system, is also being prepared for homologation. The next stage in the process is crash testing, and La Vecchia hopes homologation will be completed next year.

At Geneva, the Quant F grabbed the headlines with its supercar looks, claimed 1075bhp, top speed of more than 186mph and 0-62mph performance of 2.8sec. But that is really insignificant; what really matters is the potential of Nanoflowcell technology to deliver a decent range from a full ‘charge’, the capability for refuelling with liquid fuel like a conventional car in a short time, the relative simplicity of establishing or converting a network of filling stations and the benign nature of the fuel. Challenges may include vehicle dynamics as the Quant F, weighing 2300kg with full tanks, sheds over 20% of that mass as the fuel is used up.

Nanoflowcell has no plans to build cars in-house beyond prototype stage and is offering the technology under licence.

No licences have been adopted as yet, but La Vecchia says there has been interest from some car company bosses. Flow cell technology is being considered globally by energy companies for storing off-peak electricity from the grid. Nanoflowcell also wants to extend its own technology to other means of transport such as trains, trucks, shipping and even aerospace.

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Comments
15

2 May 2015
Sounds too complicated to me. Liquid fuels have an old and outdated feel about them, a bit like usb dongles and floppy disks. I think Tesla is on the right track. Their recently released home battery especially looks ace. Electric cars powered by electricity generated from renewable sources attached to the grid and your home through solar panels.

5 May 2015
is a total con. Fantastic PR but, as someone cleverer than I put it, "another toy for rich greens" There is nothing new about home batteries - I'm typing this on a Mac Air powered by the batteries that run my home in Spain. To generate this electricity I have roughly £27k worth of kit including a large solar array, two inverters and a back up generator which gets used each day powered by a 1,000 litre diesel tank.So it's nothing new - just old tec batteries wrapped up in Mr Musk's customary hype. According to the clever people, electricity via this junk will be approximately twice the cost of being on the grid in Europe and far more than that in low energy cost USA.
What's really happening is that Musk isn't selling enough Teslas to feed demand into his huge battery production unit and he needs to diversify to keep down the unit cost.

2 May 2015
Would not the weight of the fluid be offset by, a) the absence of batteries in the case of a EV car as we know it today, or b) the typically lighter weight of the electric motors over ICEs? Just wondering.

2 May 2015
With such large tanks containing liquid representing a large proportion of the car's mass, there's a lot of weight transfer going back and forth when the tanks are half full under acceleration/deceleration/cornering.

It would likely ruin the handling.

2 May 2015
suman wrote:

With such large tanks containing liquid representing a large proportion of the car's mass, there's a lot of weight transfer going back and forth when the tanks are half full under acceleration/deceleration/cornering.

It would likely ruin the handling.

I would imagine there will be baffles and other adaptable tank solutions to minimise the sloshing about.

 

2 May 2015
If it takes 3-5 minutes to fill up a 50 liter car, how long will it take to fill up a 500 liter? Not to mention it would requires two hoses. It could take as long as it takes to fast charge an electric car.

Also, there is no mention of the enviromental or economic cost of the fuel. If it requires fossil fuels or huge ammounts of electricity (like hydrogen) then it too is a no-go.

If it does turn out to be feasible and enviromentally friendly, it could be a good solution for freight transportation. For the vast majority of daily travel (to and from work etc) in everyday cars, the pure baytery electric car seems innevetable.

2 May 2015
shiakas wrote:

If it takes 3-5 minutes to fill up a 50 liter car, how long will it take to fill up a 500 liter? Not to mention it would requires two hoses. It could take as long as it takes to fast charge an electric car.

It's the surface area of the hose that counts, so a hose 3 times as wide will fill the car nine times faster. Given that you're replacing the entire pump anyway I can't see that being a problem.

That's assuming you can't simply increase the pressure now you're dealing with something less volatile

2 May 2015
What about the cost of the liquid fuels? And how is this fuel produced? If it uses massive amount of electricity to create this fuel source than this is a waste of time. Where do these people think electricity comes from? It doesn't grow on trees, its created, mainly, by burning fossil fuels. And the shear volume of the stuff required for the claimed range is ludicrous, those numbers need to be reduced by at least 5x if this is going to be feasible.

2 May 2015
Like most new technologies there have to be inevitable dead ends before the solution is reached; think video recording technology. However, the basic premise of EVs is good, i.e. you can use a wide variety of fuels to create electricity so you're not tied down environmentally or geo-politically, and just needs to find the right format.
Sorry petrol-heads - EVs are the future, and jolly good they're going to be as well (eventually).
PS. This one probably isn't the solution

3 May 2015
The electric motor is better than a combustion engine, whichever way you look at it. With just one moving part, it's simple, relatively light and extremely efficient (more than 90%, compared with an ic engine's 30% or thereabouts) and with maximum torque at zero revs, no transmission system is needed. Plus it's reversible, so that energy can be recovered when braking to be re-used later. The one big problem though is that no one has yet found a way of storing electric energy efficiently. That's why hybrids are the best way forward, They allow some of the electric car's benefits to be realised while at the same time (hopefully) advancing energy storage systems.

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