If you believe an Illinois start-up that has been in stealth for several decades and which only went public with its discoveries this year, it has the perfect replacement for both lithium ion batteries and hydrogen for powering transport.
That company is called Influit Energy, and it relies on a fascinating re-design of flow batteries where the anode and cathode are nano materials suspended in an aqueous fluid. You charge the particles inside the suspension, which act like cathodes and anodes, but which are actually fluids, and then set up an ion flow through an exchange membrane to create the power (see diagram).
This creates what CEO John Katsoudas calls a High Energy Density Nanofluid, and he is abundantly clear that you can either re-charge it once it is empty, or replace it with charged fluid, like a fuel. The work came out of pure materials science which dates back to 2006, which attempted to re-design heat transfer fluids and involves Elena Timofeeva, a brilliant scientist who was for many years the principal chemist at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.
While you are digesting that idea, which takes a few seconds, it is worth pointing out that his 14 man firm has eked out an existence on $12 million of grants from NASA, ARPA-E, and the US Air Force lab on the back of this idea, so any thought that this is unproven or a hoax goes out the window – this is a real technology and it has advantages.
In our Forecast and Data section paying customers can watch the interview on video and the only thing that is wrong with it is that our interviewer is flummoxed at the idea that something can be as dense as lithium ion already, and promises to be 5 times the density in its generation 2 version out soon, which means this may well challenge hydrogen in terms of Wh per kilogram or liter, but also in ese of use and transport.
Generation one of this technology is already powering vehicles in warehouses, such as fork lifts, electric floor scrubbers and materials handling devices, while Katsoudas develops the partnerships to bring his technology to a much wider audience. And Katsoudas tells us this is being provided with a supply chain which is less than half the cost of lithium ion batteries.
One of the reasons this is far more dense than a Flow battery is partly because the fuel is most of the weight, but also because the nanoparticles that make it up can amount to 80% by weight within the fluid, and yet the company has achieved sufficiently low viscosity that the fluid still flows and doesn’t form a sump. Most flow batteries are limited by how much of a mineral salt you can dissolve in water.
But it has major advantages beyond that. For a theater of war all that is needed for logistics is an electricity supply, and it means that jeeps and trucks and even planes might be powered, and then either re-charged back at base, or refilled with charged nano particles in 3 or 4 minutes and then used again, while the fuel that has been taken out of them is re-charged. All while being non-flammable, unable to generate thermal runaway, and without being explosive like hydrogen or needing to be kept under massive pressures while being transported.
What’s its biggest drawback we asked Katsoudas? “Communicating to people how far along we are,” he said. “We have a first system operating and we are building a 15 KW system for the military and we had our first Kittyhawk moment back in June.” Kittyhawk is the place where the Wright Brother’s first managed to get planes to fly.
“The DoD is the largest single customer of petroleum in the world, and it does not want to put anything explosive next to munitions, and it wants to solve transport and storage issues that exist today with kerosene,” said Katsoudas.
He says the science is patented and complete, and that he now needs to put the logistical advantages into new platforms and has approached major oil and gas companies to work with him, and will first demonstrate this technology through electric utility vehicles, and then try to hop across to the automotive and aerospace sectors. Nothing if not ambitious, but we cannot see why he wouldn’t be.