What is an aluminum air battery?

As the EV market continues to gain momentum, some car buyers are still concerned about the range and safety of lithium-ion batteries. To allay these legitimate concerns, a lot of money and time is spent developing new battery technologies.

In recent years, companies have invested in an old but improved aluminum and air battery that can significantly advance the EV industry. The aluminum-air (Al-air) battery seems like a game-changer for EV batteries, but is it all hype?

What is an aluminum air battery?

Electric vehicles play a vital role in achieving a net-zero future. However, range fears and safety questions about lithium-ion batteries are roadblocks that hinder the growth of the EV market. Lithium-ion batteries have led the EV revolution, but it’s still limited to a 400-mile range, which can pose problems on long road trips.

The hassle of finding a charging station in remote areas and waiting for your EV to charge can deter potential buyers. Other perceived problems with lithium batteries, such as battery degradation, leakage, and overcharging, don’t help much either. With all the other battery technology out there, Al-air batteries get so much attention because they don’t require charging.

The concept of these batteries dates back to the 1960s. But because the electrolyte was dangerously corrosive and toxic, it could not be used commercially. Trevor Jackson, an engineer with the British Royal Navy, began experimenting with the battery in 2001, making it safe to use. Al-air batteries are made of an aluminum alloy plate as anode, an air cathode, a non-toxic electrolyte such as water, and a silver catalyst.

How does an aluminum air battery work?

Traditional EV batteries have two electrodes, a cathode and an anode of different materials, with an electrolyte in between. When the battery is used, ions flow from the anode through the electrolyte to the cathode. During charging, the ions flow back to the anode in the opposite direction.

Al-air batteries work in the same way as a fuel cell. It uses aluminum at the anode and oxygen at the cathode. The result is a much higher energy density. About eight to nine times larger than current lithium-ion batteries used in EVs, a significant power increase. Energy density measures how much energy a battery can store per unit mass. Power density measures how much instantaneous energy it can deliver per unit mass.

The anode releases electrons as aluminum oxidizes, while the cathode reduces oxygen to release electrons, generating electrical energy. A load can be powered by the electric current generated by electrons moving through an external circuit. The end result is a white powder that forms on the anode.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Aluminum Air Batteries

Aluminum is the third most abundant natural resource in the Earth’s crust and is the most abundant metal on Earth, so we’ll probably never run out. Due to its softness, aluminum is easy to work with and stable in contrast to lithium. In addition, it is non-toxic. The following are other advantages of Al-air batteries over lithium-ion batteries:

  • Cheaper to make
  • Stability
  • Lower carbon footprint in terms of mining and refining
  • Stores much more energy
  • Lighter than most other batteries as the battery is made of aluminum and air
  • Highly recyclable

Despite the advantages, there are a few drawbacks to this battery. First, it has the disadvantage of being a primary battery. Essentially, it cannot be charged if the battery is dead or dead. In addition, the air in the battery corrodes the aluminum anode. Therefore, the aluminum plate in the battery must be replaced, which can be costly. In addition, battery production costs can be affected by the fluctuating price of silver in the battery.

Problems with lithium-ion batteries

Scientists have developed better batteries because of the drawbacks of lithium-ion batteries that dominate the EV market. Lithium, nickel and cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries are rare earth metals found only in certain parts of the world. Currently, electric vehicles account for 6% of vehicles on the road, and the mining of these metals is well underway; imagine when the number of EVs increases to 50% or 80%. Other disadvantages of lithium-ion batteries include the following:

  • Expensive to produce, although prices have fallen
  • Lithium Instability
  • Stress on the national grid
  • Expensive and advanced charging networks
  • Environmental impacts associated with mining and refining, although more lithium batteries are recycled

Changing battery versus charging

There are factors to consider when considering battery swap versus charging. Getting the same range per charge would require a battery pack 1/8 the size of a lithium-ion battery. The lighter weight of Al-air batteries allows EVs to travel further, increasing overall efficiency.

It will also be easier and more convenient to pack the battery in a location in the EV that is easily accessible so that it can be easily swapped out if needed. Some companies estimate that the battery change time of an aluminum-air EV is as little as three minutes, helping EV owners get back on the road in no time.

It is estimated that Al-air batteries last about 5,400 miles. The question is, why would anyone go this route instead of charging? With an Al-air powered EV you can go much further without finding a charging station. Another reason is that swapping your dead Al-air battery for a recycled one is much cheaper than the cost of swapping a Tesla battery. Since the only replaceable part is the aluminum plates, which are 100% recyclable, you pay for the miles you drive.

Are aluminum air batteries the future?

It is possible to use Al-air batteries in today’s electric vehicles. These batteries are likely to grow in popularity as battery change stations become more common. Until then, they can also be used to extend the range of EVs with lithium-ion batteries, solving the problem of having to charge when you can’t.

Ultimately, EV buyers will have the option to swap batteries or recharge their vehicles, ultimately creating a more versatile EV market to everyone’s benefit. This will accelerate the transition to a world based entirely on electric vehicles.

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