Electric Vehicles May Soon Have 'Instantly Rechargeable' Batteries

Electric vehicles have exciting potential, but the nagging downside of always needing to monitor their charge could limit potential sales. A startup founded by Purdue researchers could provide a quicker and similar way to fuel these vehicles.


May 24 2019, Updated 3:02 a.m. ET

The boom of the electric vehicle industry has many excited for all its potential, but there’s a downside that tends to be avoided: range. While it’s certainly improving in new EV models, all of them still require a charge shortly after 100 miles have been reached, and that in itself takes time. Researchers at Purdue University may have found a way to simulate how we fuel these cars at traditional gas stations.

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Unlike an old laptop that hogs battery power and needs to be plugged in at every turn, electric vehicles can’t continue to operate when the battery is being recharged. It creates a need for many charging stations to be set up along the road, and it’s a system that can be complicated and time consuming. Special routes need to be set up for any long distance travel so EVs aren’t stuck in areas where there are no charging stations. 

John Cushman, a professor at the Center for Applied Math and the Department of Earth at Purdue, may have found a way to bypass that. He’s cofounded Ifbattery (pronounced “if-battery”), a startup company that is continuing to develop an instantly rechargeable technology “that is safe, affordable, and environmentally friendly for recharging electric and hybrid vehicle batteries.

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Cushman believes that if evolution of the EV remains status quo, it can limit its growth. “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.”

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It’s a technology that would immediately be ready for existing gas stations, refineries, and underground piping systems. Consumers would bring their vehicles to a local gas station, but instead of filling up with diesel fuel, they would receive fluid electrolytes to power their battery while also getting rid of their used electrolytes. These used particles would be sent to renewable energy plants and refineries to be recharged.

The Ifbattery is significantly different than the lithium-ion batteries found in EVs today. It’s a flow battery, meaning that chemical components are dissolved and separated by a membrane. It’s notably more expensive when compared to the costs of li-ion, but Mike Mueterthies, a Purdue research assistant in physics and another co-founder of Ifbattery, says that it’s “the first to remove membranes which reduces costs and extends battery life.” Other issues such as limited recharging cycles and the potential for batteries to explode don’t exist in this version since the membrane, which doesn’t exist anymore, can’t go bad.

Cushman has stated that the Ifbattery is “safe enough to be stored in a family home, are stable enough to meet major production and distribution requirements, and are cost effective.” The idea is certainly more attractive than having to continually monitor the battery left in electric vehicles, and the increased length of range would be an added benefit.


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