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Innovation

Liquid fuel: An alternative to existing electric car batteries

Can a new battery reinvent the idea of a rechargeable battery? Call it Cambridge crude. It could make refueling as easy as getting gas is.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor on

The black, slimy looking substance in the test tube could soon power electric vehicles. It's called Cambridge Crude. Researchers at MIT set out "to reinvent" the rechargeable battery with a liquid fuel system that can store and discharge energy. In the future, people could recharge their electric vehicle, the same way they'd pump gas into their gas-powered car.

The semi-solid flow cell combines the best of liquid flow batteries and lithium ion batteries and packs it all in one. Instead of being boxed into a rigid container, the battery's active materials are suspended in a liquid. The particles in the liquid go through the system and flow past a membrane to create a chemical reaction.

This filter is critical in making the battery affordable and more efficient. As battery technology improves, electric vehicles could become competitive with gasoline vehicles.

MIT researcher Yet-Ming Chiang said in a statement:

But the device they came up with is potentially a whole family of new battery systems, because it’s a design architecture that “is not linked to any particular chemistry.”

If electric vehicles could be refueled like the gas-powered cars are today, then it would ease range anxiety. Additionally, the battery could be used to store energy for wind and solar projects.

However, this liquid fuel battery isn't perfect: switch in better materials so the battery can perform better.  Lithium batteries require packing and inactive materials, but this new battery would be made more purely with active ingredients.

"The demonstration of a semi-solid lithium-ion battery is a major breakthrough that shows that slurry-type active materials can be used for storing electrical energy,” Yury Gogotsi, professor at Drexel University, said about the MIT research.

Now, the researchers hope to develop a prototype fit for manufacturing. According to CNET, the batteries would cost $250 per kilowatt-hour, which is half of the going rate for batteries on the market today.

New battery design could give electric vehicles a jolt [MIT news]

Photo: Dominick Reuter

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