Previously, I told readers about aluminum gaining popularity in the auto industry as manufacturers, like Ford (F), started using more and more of the metal to create lighter and more fuel-efficient cars.
Now, aluminum is becoming popular with the makers of electric vehicles, too. But not for use in the body of cars…
You see, aluminum is a key component in a new type of battery for electric vehicles that is so green, it runs partially on air!
On top of that, this the aluminum-air battery may extend the range of an electric vehicle by a thousand miles…
The Power of Air
The lightweight battery is being developed by Phinergy, an Israeli company, which has been working in conjunction with Alcoa (AA) for the past two years on the project.
It all started with a technology that was abandoned in the 1980s. Previous engineers labeled the technology as not feasible, but Alcoa and Phinergy steadily worked through the obstacles and created a successful product that could have a big impact on the electric car.
In simple terms, this technology harnesses the reaction between aluminum and oxygen to generate electricity. Aluminum serves as the anode, while oxygen along with a water electrolyte solution is the cathode, which is depleted as the vehicle is driven. A porous electrode with a large surface area to “breathe” air captures the necessary oxygen.
The electrode also contains a silver-based catalyst that blocks any unwanted interaction with carbon dioxide. It was the need for this carbon dioxide roadblock that initially made the technology infeasible. But time and research allowed Phinergy to overcome that hurdle.
To “recharge” the aluminum-air battery, drivers simply replace the aluminum cartridges.
Despite the creation of this new long-life battery, it won’t replace the main lithium-ion batteries currently in electric vehicles. That’s because lithium-ion batteries have a greater power output that’s needed to power a vehicle.
Aluminum-air batteries have more energy, but release the energy much more slowly, making it impractical as a main car battery.
Instead, the aluminum-air battery works in tandem with a lithium-ion battery by recharging, giving electric vehicles the ability to extend their range by a currently-unheard-of 1,000 miles per charge!
The closest comparable distance available to consumers today is Tesla Motors’s (TSLA) Roadster upgrade, which will extend the car’s range to about 400 miles per charge.
Beyond extending the range of electric vehicles, aluminum-air batteries also make them even more environmentally friendly. The batteries do not produce any carbon dioxide and have a negative carbon footprint.
This past summer, Renault-Nissan announced a possible partnership between the company and Phinergy to create an electric car by 2017 that will use the aluminum-air battery.
In June, Phinergy and Alcoa unveiled a demo car in Montreal that used the technology in conjunction with a regular lithium-ion battery.
Thousand-Mile Boost for Alcoa
If additional tests go as well as early testing has, the aluminum-air battery may solve range anxiety – electric vehicles’ No. 1 hurdle.
If that’s the case, sales of electric vehicles may really take off, which translates to a big plus for Phinergy and Alcoa.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quotes analyst John Tumazos as saying, a successful aluminum-air battery could mean production of 400,000 metric tons of aluminum annually for Alcoa.
Tumazos went on to say, “[Phinergy] would be one of their five largest customers if it grew to two smelters of 200,000 tons each. That would be over 10% of their smelter output and 8% of their shipments. That volume would rank in the same league as InBev, Coke, Pepsi, Ford, GM, and Boeing.”
That would certainly be fantastic news for Alcoa on top of the company’s already sparkling recent improvement.
Since it was booted out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the stock has doubled. Largely thanks to a shift to higher-value products, which have boosted profit margins.
It seems the potential of the aluminum-air battery is just another reason to like Alcoa.
And “the chase” continues,