Is the era of electric vehicles with longer and longer ranges upon us? That’s hard to argue at this point as the industry is only now beginning to gain traction in the eyes of consumers. Breakthroughs in research though could help address the range anxiety issue, which in turn could help drive more sales of these zero emissions vehicles. One such project from a Illinois Institute of Technology-Argonne National Laboratory team could help out in this pursuit with the potential goal of a 500+ mile range electric car.

Given that most electric cars on the market range in the 100 to 200 mile mark before needing a recharge, a battery technology that greatly boosts this number would be welcome news indeed. Furthermore, the research by this team, which was just awarded a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E), reportedly could simplify the recharging of the battery as well. Currently it takes up to eight hours to bring the battery of an electric car fully back to life after a day of typical driving.

A rear view of the IIT-Argonne new "nanoelectrofuel" flow battery (image via Argonne National Lab)
A rear view of the IIT-Argonne new “nanoelectrofuel” flow battery (image via Argonne National Lab)

So what is this mystery technology developed by Carlo Segre, Duchossois Leadership Professor of Physics at Illinois Institute of Technology, and his collaborators John Katsoudas, also of IIT, and Elena Timofeeva, Dileep Singh and Michael Duoba of Argonne National Laboratory? A rechargeable “nanoelectrofuel” flow battery. Yes, that is a mouthful, so in the team’s words,

flow batteries, which store chemical energy in external tanks instead of within the battery container, are generally low in energy density and therefore not used for transportation applications.  The IIT-Argonne nanoelectrofuel flow battery concept will use a high-energy density “liquid” with battery-active nanoparticles to dramatically increase energy density while ensuring stability and low-resistance flow within the battery.

With new funding in hand, these researchers will continue work on their battery technology that aims to “more than double the current range of electric vehicles (EV), increase safety, reduce costs and simplify recharging.” It is not alone in this undertaking, as it is one of “22 projects across the country awarded a total of $36 million through the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Robust Affordable Next Generation EV Storage (RANGE) program, which seeks to develop innovative EV battery chemistries, architectures and designs.”