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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
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A number of our columns and articles in Nip Impressions have dwelt on what we see as the coming changes in transportation--notably electric vehicles and self-driving vehicles. So what's next on the vehicular front? A liquid battery in what used to be your gas tank?

A recent article from Energy News is headlined, "Illinois researchers seek a battery you can pump into your gas tank." What? Well, not quite.

The team of scientists at the Illinois Institute of Technology say that the liquid--yes, liquid--flow battery they are working on will store 1.5 times the energy of lithium ion batteries or three times the energy of lead-acid batteries. Because is fluid, it can be fitted into virtually any space and can be recharged like a traditional battery or refilled like putting gasoline into a tank. (Of course, the spent fluid in the tank will have to be drained first.) The researches have founded a company named Influit Energy eventually to make a commercially feasible flow battery.

The liquid battery relies on nanoparticles--very tiny electrochemically active particles--to carry the charge. Flow batteries, in which chemicals dissolved in liquids function as the positive and negative ends of a battery, are not new. Last year, Seattle-based UniEnergy Technologies installed what is believed to be the largest US flow battery, a 2-megawatt system for a public utility district in Everett, Washington. But because of their low energy density, flow batteries have had to be large in order to pack a punch. For this reason, they have been seen as useful only for stationary storage, connected to the power grid.

The Influit team claims to be solving the size problem by taking solid-state battery materials, converting them into nanoparticles and then putting them into a liquid. Influit's first goal is to develop liquid flow batteries for smaller fleet-based vehicles like forklifts and golf carts. But Elena Timofeeva, Influits COO and a chemistry professor at IIT says the same designs can be scaled up for larger vehicles.

Time marches on--and so does technology.

Chuck Swann is Senior Editor of Paperitalo Publications.


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