nanoFlowcell: a car that will “kill” oil
Nuncio la Vecchia, technical director and visionary of the Liechtenstein company nanoFlowcell, is a master at making such loud statements that the hairs on his head stand on end. Evaluate the power of the message: "Our methodology of focused research has allowed us to break through the barriers established by quantum chemistry." Or a little more precisely: "The physical and chemical boundaries established by the Nernst equation (the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which linked thermodynamics with electrochemistry. - Ed.), Were pushed so far by us that we could not believe our eyes."
However, do not rush to condescendingly smile. First, evaluate the features of Vecchia's first concept car, the nanoFlowcell Quant e-Sportlimousine. Four electric motors produce 925 hp. peak power and develop a monstrous torque of 2900 N • m - it is a thrust that cannot be realized even theoretically, so the electronics have to constantly moderate the frenzied ardor of motors. A four-seater sports car with a length of 5257 mm shoots up to a hundred in 2.8 s and accelerates to 380 km / h. And this monster has already received permission from the authorities to freely drive along the roads of Europe. And most importantly: the Quant e run on one charge (or refueling!) Reaches 600 km, and the nanoFlowcell Quantino compact sports car, a little closer to life and to the series, according to promises, will travel up to 1000 km without feeding.
In fact, cars that the world has never seen are not the main brainchild of the company. They serve only as the first demonstrators of nanoFlowcell streaming battery technology, with which the company promises to revolutionize energy ideas on a historic scale.
Two words about chemistry
The technology of streaming batteries is rooted in the space industry: the first such energy source was patented by NASA in 1976 and was intended to provide energy to spacecraft. It combines the design principles and advantages of traditional batteries, fuel cells and even internal combustion engines.
Streaming batteries can be either recharged or instantly charged with a new electrolyte, like gasoline. They do not have a memory effect and do not reduce capacity over the years. In theory, they have no technological limit on capacity (depends on the volume of “fuel” tanks) and power (depends on the size of the reactor). The only problem is that until recently they were extremely ineffective in terms of combining all these parameters, that is, they gave a small voltage and power with too large a size. NanoFlowcell specialists claim that they managed to pack an unprecedented amount of energy into a liter of electroactive liquid using nanotechnology. The composition of the “fuel”, the technology of its production and the design of the energy cell, of course, are kept in the strictest confidence.
To understand how modern stream batteries work, it’s worth refreshing the principle of operation of simpler energy sources. Recall that in the simplest galvanic cell, such as a finger-type battery, the anode (negative electrode) and cathode (positive electrode) are separated by an electrolyte - a solution that conducts electric current due to the mobility of the ions contained in it. An oxidation reaction takes place on the surface of the anode, during which positive ions and free electrons are released. On the surface of the cathode there is a reduction reaction proceeding with the absorption of free electrons and positive ions. In this case, positive ions move from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte, and negative ions move through the load: an electric motor, a lamp, or some other electrical circuit.
In the simplest carbon batteries, the zinc glass, which serves as the anode, gradually dissolves, giving off ions and electrons. In rechargeable batteries, the oxidation and reduction processes are reversible. For example, in lithium-ion cells, positively charged lithium ions pass from the cathode to the anode during charging and from the anode to the cathode during discharge. Regardless of the characteristics, most familiar to us batteries and accumulators are related by a closed design. Their closed case contains both electrodes, and electrolyte, and a supply of electroactive elements (suppliers of consumables for reactions), the role of which, as a rule, is played by the electrodes themselves. This means that both the power and capacity of the battery are limited by the size of its body.
This disadvantage is deprived of stream batteries, in which the electrolyte contains dissolved electroactive substances, is stored in separate tanks and pumped through the fuel cell. The classic redox streaming battery (short for reduction-oxidation, reduction-oxidation) has two tanks: one contains a liquid for the oxidative reaction, and the other for the reduction one.
The fuel cell consists of two electrodes separated by a membrane. The membrane prevents the mixing of liquids with each other, but does not interfere with the ion exchange between the electrodes. The products of redox reactions are removed from the cell together with the flowing liquid, which returns to the tank in a closed loop.
Charging and discharging in a streaming battery takes place in the same way as in any other: during operation, the concentration of electroactive substances in the tanks decreases, and during charging it increases. The capacity of the streaming battery depends on the size of the fuel tanks, so the potential of this design can hardly be overestimated. Moreover, if necessary, quickly replenish the charge, the liquid can simply be replaced. It is as simple and convenient as refueling a gasoline car.
However, the power of the streaming battery is still determined by the size of the electrodes in the fuel cell and the intensity of the reactions occurring on it. That is why until recently, the prospects for such power sources in the industry, especially in the automotive, were not bright.
What is behind Nunzio La Vecchia’s ornate remarks about nanotechnology and quantum chemistry? An obvious way to increase the power of the fuel cell is to increase the surface area of the electrode: after all, it is on it that a chemical reaction proceeds and the treasured electrons are generated. The easiest way is to experiment with the geometrical shape of the electrodes: fold them into a spiral, corrugate, give them the most bizarre shapes in order to increase the surface area, without going beyond the acceptable dimensions of the cell. And of course, any battery manufacturer has already squeezed the full potential of geometry dry.
In their Zurich laboratory, nanoFlowcell experts did not experiment with the cell design or the chemical composition of the electrodes. The object of their research was the so-called liquid. In addition to electroactive substances, it contains crystalline nanoparticles capable of forming spatial structures in the immediate vicinity of electrodes. As a result, a charge is formed not only on the surface of the electrodes, but also in the space around them, in the liquid itself. The space in which the reaction occurs is many times larger than usual.
With an output voltage of 600 V and a current of 50 A, the nanoFlowcell battery pack delivers 30 kW of power. With a comparable mass, its capacity is five times the capacity of lithium-ion batteries. One liter of “ionic liquid” holds 11, 400 W • h, which is 400 times more than a conventional lead-acid car battery. Pleasant bonuses - almost complete lack of propensity for self-discharge and a guaranteed resource of 10, 000 charge cycles.
However, you cannot put such a battery in an ordinary car. Cars Quant E, Quant F and Quantino had to be designed literally around the battery pack. Judge for yourself: the volume of fuel tanks Quant E - 200 l each. 400 liters of ionic liquid must be placed without compromising on comfort and handling. The stream battery relentlessly generates electricity, which is stored in capacious supercapacitors. These devices are capable of delivering energy very quickly in large portions, and they provide such an impressive peak power and dynamic characteristics of the car. They also store the braking energy of the machine.
When the battery comes to an end, the owner of the car does not go to the nearest outlet, but to a gas station. The company has developed a special high-pressure refueling terminal with double hoses and guns, which allows you to quickly fill the tanks with a new set of ionic liquids.
Obviously, the ultimate goal of nanoFlowcell is not at all a modest place under the sun in the close competitive market of car manufacturers. Rather, it is world domination. The company’s website draws bright prospects for us: passenger cars and trucks, ships and planes, trains and even home electrical appliances will run on magic two-component fuel. One gets the impression that the Liechtenstein team found the only well in the world with patented oil of a fundamentally new quality.
Perhaps you should wish them good luck: the company's specialists assure that the production technology of both fuel cells and the ionic liquid itself is extremely environmentally friendly, and it does not use precious and rare-earth metals. To us, mere mortals, she promises fast, convenient and economical cars in the very near future (according to Nuncio la Vecchia). nanoFlowcellThe article “The silent roar of the future” was published in the magazine Popular Mechanics (No. 5, May 2015).