‘Instantly rechargeable’ battery could change the future of electric and hybrid automobiles

John Cushman
John Cushman, Purdue University distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary science and a professor of mathematics, is commercializing a technology that could provide an “instantly rechargeable” method forelectric and hybrid vehicle batteries through a quick and easy process similar to refueling a car at a gas station.

It’s an everyday occurrence for people who drive cars with internal combustion engines: You’re on the road for work or pleasure, your fuel gauge is veering toward empty, and you stop at a gas station to refuel.

That’s an easy solution. Not so easy is driving an electric car, being far away from home and having to not only find a recharging station but also waiting up to several hours for it to recharge.

Despite their green appeal, that inconvenience could be why electric car sales are only a small percentage of automobile sales worldwide. Thankfully, there may be a fairly easy solution.

Profs. John Cushman and Eric Nauman, along with doctoral teaching and research assistant Mike Mueterthies, have cofounded the startup Ifbattery to finetune and commercialize a new instantly-rechargeable method they have developed that is safe, affordable and environmentally friendly. The technology uses fluid electrolytes to re-energize spent battery fluids much like refueling a gas tank.

“Instead of refining petroleum, the refiners would reprocess spent electrolytes and instead of dispensing gas, the fueling stations would dispense a water and ethanol or methanol solution as fluid electrolytes to power vehicles,” says Cushman, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary science and a professor of mathematics. Spent battery fluids or electrolytes could be collected and taken to a solar farm, wind turbine installation or hydroelectric plant for recharging.

“Electric and hybrid vehicle sales are growing worldwide and the popularity of companies like Tesla is incredible, but there continue to be strong challenges for industry and consumers of electric or hybrid cars,” says Cushman, who led the research team that developed the technology. “The greatest hurdle for drivers is the time commitment to keeping their cars fully charged.”

Alternative to infrastructure
Another plus to the researchers’ innovation: it’s nearly drop-in ready for most of the nation’s existing underground piping system, rail and truck delivery system, gas stations and refineries.

“Designing and building enough of these recharging stations requires massive infrastructure development, which means the energy distribution and storage system is being rebuilt at tremendous cost to accommodate the need for continual local battery recharge,” says Nauman, a professor of mechanical engineering, basic medical sciences and biomedical engineering.  “Ifbattery is developing an energy storage system that would enable drivers to fill up their electric or hybrid vehicles with fluid electrolytes to re-energize spent battery fluids much like refueling their gas tanks.”

Unique features
The researchers have designed a flow battery system to overcome some of the limitations of current EV batteries. They’re not the only ones to have done that, but their technology boasts some unique features. “We are the first to remove membranes, which reduces costs and extends battery life,” Mueterthies explains.

“Membrane fouling can limit the number of recharge cycles and is a known contributor to many battery fires,”  says Cushman, who presented the team’s research findings at the recent International Society for Porous Media 9th International Conference in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “Ifbattery’s components are safe enough to be stored in a family home, are stable enough to meet major production and distribution requirements and are cost-effective.”

Ifbattery has licensed part of the technology through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization and has developed patents of its own.

“We are at a stage in the company’s growth that we are looking for additional financing to build large-scale prototypes and subsequently manufacturing partners,” Cushman says.

– Cynthia Sequin, Purdue Research Foundation, http://bit.ly/2rgjIME