The Quant48Volt will purportedly feature an super-efficient electrolyte liquid flow battery
Since 2009, having appeared at the Geneva Motor Show with an experimental solar concept car, NanoFlowcell has been an enigmatic presence at the fringes of EV design. The Liechtenstein-based company has developed a number of unusual concept cars since then, yet none have made the leap to production.
Its latest endeavour may well be different. This week, the company announced that it would be premiering a new concept at next month’s Geneva Motor Show, the Quant48Volt. As with the company’s last few models, the car will feature electrolyte liquid flow batteries, a technology which has much revolutionary promise, but which has not yet been able to be applied practically.
Unlike more conventional lithium-ion batteries, flow batteries do not need to be recharged for continued use. Instead, they feature two tanks of two separate electrolyte liquids -one positively-charged and one negatively-charged- which are refilled in the same way as a petrol tank. Once in the two tanks, the liquids are pumped around two separate circuits, meeting either side of a membrane at the middle of the cell. At this point, the negatively charged liquid releases electrons which are absorbed by the positive liquid and the flow of electrons creates the power. The difference in chemical potential between the two liquids –which depends on what the chemicals are- determines the voltage produced by the cell. The number of molecules that react within the cell over a given time determine the current.
NanoFlowcell claims to have perfected this process, and moreover claims that such technology is ready to be rolled out as soon as possible. Because the flow cell batteries refuel in the same way as cars with internal combustion engines, existing petrol stations could simply be retrofitted to accommodate the electrolytes. The company also claims the bismuth-ion liquid that the car would run on would cost US$0.05 per gallon, compared to the current average diesel price in the States of US$2.56.
Because bismuth-ion electrolyte is essentially just salty water, it is completely non-toxic, non-flammable and has a practically infinite shelf life. NanoFlowcell also claims that these batteries have an energy density comparable to li-ion accumulators but are both safer and cleaner.
The Quant48Volt has impressive specs as well, although we only have the company’s word for it. It would boast 760hp, acceleration of 0-60mph in 2.4 seconds and a heady top speed of 180mph. In addition the battery would apparently have a capacity of 40 gallons, allowing for a total range of 600 miles. What the company hasn’t provided are details such as price, likely production timeline and whether there will even be a production timeline. Nonetheless, if the company’s claims are verifiable, such a vehicle would be ground-breaking indeed.
NanoFlowcell’s patchy history
Unfortunately, verifiable claims are not NanoFlowcell’s forte. In fact far from it. For example, electrolyte fuel cells have had precious little patented research done on them as of yet, but all of the research that has been done contradicts the efficiency claims made by the company.
The battery of a previous concept, the Quant E unveiled in 2014 was claimed to have an energy density of 600kWh/kg compared to an estimated 0.3kWh/kg offered by an average li-ion battery. So far, the highest density an electrolyte battery has achieved just in the laboratory is 50kWh/kg, and that design was a long way from making it into a viable vehicle. Another engineer discovered that the battery of the Quant E would not be able to power the motors of the vehicle sufficiently except over very short periods of time.
The man behind NanoFlowcell, who also claims to have invented the batteries himself, has an especially suspicious track record. Nearly two decades ago, Nunzio La Vecchia claimed to have invented a photovoltaic cell of such a high efficiency that it would be able to keep a car running forever without ever needing to refuel. When he was subsequently sued for fraud, he claimed in court that the cells had existed, but that the prototypes had been destroyed for “security reasons”.
In the subsequent years, La Vecchia pursued a career as a musician and songwriter, before re-emerging in 2009 having allegedly “bought” the title of PhD whilst claiming to have taught himself the physics behind electrolyte liquid flow technology over a four year period.
So far, NanoFlowcell have only ever produced concepts, despite having claimed that production on two models -the Quant F and the Quantino- would begin before 2018. Moreover, the company and its founder’s history seriously call into question the veracity of its technological claims. If the company is able to genuinely make good on its promises, the Quant48Volt will represent an enormous achievement for EVs. However, as exciting a prospect as flow battery vehicles are, it could be some time before we see them on the roads.