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Shattering Barriers to Electric Cars

photograph of an electric car charging its battery

Touted as the answer to the smog producing internal combustion engine, electric vehicles have remained a niche vehicle for decades due to three barriers to mass popularity: price, range, and ease of charging.

cartoon demonstrating cars filling up their batteries at electric car charging stations
Gas stations could be easily converted into electric car chargers.

Car manufacturers have made significant strides in increasing range and bringing prices down. For example, the Nissan Leaf, the first modern all-electric, family automobile produced for the mass market by a major manufacturer (introduced in December 2010), had a range of 82 miles. In contrast, the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV has a range of 238 miles, and the price tag of around $30,000 (after the tax credit) makes it affordable for many people. The 2017 TESLA Model S touts a range of 210-315 miles, but with a price tag of $68,000 is unlikely to be the industry game changer.

The increased range works for daily commutes and in-town driving, however, easily charging for longer trips has continued to be a major stumbling block for the popular acceptance of electric cars. The need for new infrastructure to provide charging stations along the highways and byways requires significant investment. The public and investors face the ‘chicken or the egg’ dilemma. Without charging stations, the public is reluctant to purchase the cars. Without car purchases, investors are reluctant to put up charging stations.

Electric Cars Improve With New Batteries

New battery technology developed at Purdue University—an innovation to the flow battery—may solve the recharging problem. The Energy Storage Association defines a flow battery as “a type of rechargeable battery where rechargeability is provided by two chemical components dissolved in liquids contained within the system” and separated by a membrane. The Purdue team has figured out how to remove the membrane which reduces the cost and extends battery life.

Instead of refining petroleum, the refiners would reprocess spent electrolytes.

Moreover, this innovative battery can be recharged almost instantly.  At a recharging station, the spent electrolytes can be removed and fresh electrolytes added to the battery.

Converting Gas Stations into Recharging Stations

Even more importantly, it may be possible to use existing fossil fuel infrastructure in the refueling process. John Cushman, distinguished Purdue University professor and one of the research team leaders proposes this bold idea, “Instead of refining petroleum, the refiners would reprocess spent electrolytes and instead of dispensing gas, the fueling stations would dispense a water and ethanol or methanol solution as fluid electrolytes to power vehicles. It is believed that our technology could be nearly ‘drop-in’ ready for most of the underground piping system, rail, and truck delivery system, gas stations and refineries.”

Cushman and two other members of the Purdue research team have co-founded Ifbattery LLC to optimize and commercialize this instantly rechargeable battery that could change the future of electric and hybrid automobiles. This bold idea could have an immediate and significant effect on air quality and human health.



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