Water-Based Flow Batteries Promise Triple EV Range at a Quarter the Cost

By · September 03, 2013

Work on water-flow battery

Let’s start out by saying that a collaboration between GE Global Research and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is promising great things from water-based “flow” batteries. The claim is triple the driving range for electric cars equipped with lithium-ion battery packs, at a quarter the price.

Dr. Grigorii Soloveichik, a chemist and project leader at the GE unit, told me, “We’re confident about the energy density and costs, but we also have to show that the batteries can quickly charge and discharge.” He said that the new batteries should be easily able to beat a Department of Energy goal of 240 miles on a charge.

Before you get too excited, GE and Berkeley are still in the lab stage. Dr. Soloveichik said that what’s happened so far is “some experiments to show it’s real.” The joint operation is planning to produce, within a year, a chemical cell “that will demonstrate what will be needed to produce a working battery.” The actual pack “for a small vehicle” is likely to take three years, he said. To get to a pre-production pack stage, two or three more years are needed, Dr. Soloveichik said. Don’t expect to see these cells in the 2015 Nissan LEAF.

Dr. Soloveichik said that the key to the research lab’s flow battery is “really cheap stuff, inexpensive materials.” According to GE, the flow battery uses a water-based solution with inorganic chemicals “that are capable of transferring more than one electron, providing high energy density.”

water-based flow battery

The key to affordability in the GE/Lawrence Berkeley battery is low-cost materials. (GE graphic)

Down This Road Before

I definitely hope the water battery happens, but by now I’ve visited at least half a dozen college labs where a white-coated academic told me excitedly about a breakthrough, with cars on the road in a year. Or maybe two years, tops. Pushing the battery envelope must be really hard, because none of that tech has made it to market yet. Read up on Envia and the Prieto Battery.

If it's any consolation, while they are waiting for their breakthroughs to materialize, the scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory can now use a City CarShare membership to access Dash, a carmaker-supported electric vehicle sharing operation in the Bay Area. The East Bay operation, in conjunction with Toyota and to launch September 11, involves more than 24 Scion iQ electric vehicles with approximately 50-mile range. The cars will be based around the Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton.

The program mirrors other manufacturer-supported EV sharing operations run by Daimler (Car2Go in San Diego and other cities) and BMW (DriveNow in San Francisco). It’s an especially popular concept in California, because EVs are so popular there—even with the current state of EV battery technology.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.