1. Print Friendly
  2. Commentary Archive
  3. Bio

Flow Cell Batteries: A Substitute For Lithium-Ion?

Thursday March 06, 2014 13:03

A revolutionary new car is making headlines at the Geneva Motor Show that is currently taking place in Switzerland. The “QUANT e”, produced by nanoFLOWCELL AG (NFC) of Liechtenstein, is not only drop-dead gorgeous and fast (380km/h – 235mi/h), it also runs on a novel technology called flow cell and the fuel used – salt water.

A flow cell is, in simple terms, a battery that operates like a fuel cell. The electrolytes “holding” energy are liquids, and power is generated using electrodes and a membrane. Propulsion is achieved by four conventional electric motors, one at each wheel. Flow cell technology was invented back in the ‘70s by NASA but patents have since expired, and several companies are now building on the idea. The car would be filled with electrolytic fluids in a process similar to filling up on conventional gasoline. The advantages over lithium ion battery cars, NFC advertises, are quick refueling times (short of battery swapping as proposed by Tesla), 5 times greater range per kg of electrolyte and hence better overall performance. Nunzio LaVecchia, CTO of nanoFLOWCELL AG, claims a driving range of 600km (375mi) for the QUANT e, presumably not at top speed.  In addition, the technology eliminates the hazards and lifetime issues of lithium batteries; a flow cell can run for a very long time. If the technology was indeed close to entering the market Tesla’s investment in their new $5B battery factory might be in jeopardy.

Compared to hydrogen fuel cells as utilized by Hyundai, Toyota, Honda and everybody else, the issue of gas compression that leads to high infrastructure costs and perceived explosion hazards is removed.

To make the bad news worse for everyone else, NFC claims their flow cells use neither precious metals nor rare earths.

The company provides extensive background material on its website and we suggest downloading the press kit to anyone with a keener interest. The company’s homepage also features an incredible video of the vehicle. If you decide to watch the video you will likely want this to be real as much as we do. Unfortunately, this is where the problems start.

While the video suggests that the car will run more or less on salt water, reality is somewhat different. LaVecchia is quoted on the website as saying that “newly developed electrolytic fluids made of exacting combinations of specific metallic salts at very high concentration” are employed. No details are given, no patents were granted, and all of the vehicle’s specifications and performance data have yet to be verified. They do seem optimistic relative to other supercars around that struggle with power-to-weight ratios or the limitations of electric motors, but we won’t know that until the car is finally in the hands of drivers capable of testing its limits. LaVecchia promises “four more drivable prototypes in 2014” which – remembering what Tesla went through to produce just one car - seems like a herculean undertaking.

There is some doubt and criticism about LaVecchia who, in 2009, already presented a “revolutionary” solar vehicle with Koenigsegg, a manufacturer of supercars from Denmark who at some point made a bid to buy SAAB. The car never made it to production.

However, flow cells are indeed proven although there is no solid proof just yet that the QUANT e actually works and performs as advertised, we should give its inventors the benefit of doubt. If nothing else, they have given the world an amazingly designed car.

We have asked NFC for an interview and hope to learn about the chances of realization from LaVecchia in a lot more detail, also because of the technology’s potential negative impact on conventional fuel cell vehicles and the platinum group metals they employ.

(Vehicle pictures courtesy of Tom Moloughney. Chart: nanoFLOWCELL AG).

By Bodo Albrecht



Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in precious metal products, commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.
kitco news

Precious Metal Charts

Click to see this Precious Metal chart
  1. 24h
  2. 30D
  3. 60D
  4. 6M
  5. 1Y

Interactive Chart