Currently reading: How to end EV range anxiety - Nanoflowcell's tech explained
A company from Liechtenstein says it has found the antidote to EV drivers’ range anxiety.
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4 mins read
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.

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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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androo 5 May 2015

Reserving judgement

This raises several awkward questions, but we'll see if they can deliver something practical.

I'm slightly concerned that they are doing fancy styling exercises before they've properly proved the system works, and that smacks a little of Guy Negre and his air powered car, which seems to have more or less bitten the dust now.

jmd67 5 May 2015

We often tend to think in the

We often tend to think in the short term however 25 years ago often seems just like yesterday. I think in 25 years time buying petrol and diesel with be like buying paraffin now. You can get it if you need it but it's been superseded by better and more convenient alternatives.

Move away from petrol and the entire middle east disaster disappears too.

Over 25 years should see us properly covered by renewables and maybe safe nuclear like thorium reactors. How we get to the ideal electric solution will mean more than a few hits and misses but we'll get there I'm sure.

Moparman 4 May 2015

Promising claims

But without a prototype that can be tested at least insofar as travel distance and fueling procedures they are just words. Make a working prototype, instead of the "selling it under license" nonsense, and let's see what it can actually do!