A British engineer has developed a new battery that can be used to power electric cars for upwards of 1,500 miles before they need to be recharged. Deals are being made to begin production and distribution in the UK.
Trevor Jackson, a 58-year-old inventor from Tavistock, Devon, had a career that included working for Rolls-Royce to help design nuclear reactors and a position in the Royal Navy as a lieutenant on nuclear submarines.
A new electrolyte formula is at the core of Jackson’s invention for the high-powered car battery. The formula is said to be top secret but the electrolyte uses lower-purity metal and is described as being non-poisonous or caustic to the extent that Jackson reportedly drank some when demonstrating it to investors—not something you’d do with the toxic substances in most batteries.
More accurately, the new device should be described as a fuel cell and not a battery, DailyMail notes. Compared to the conventional lithium-ion batteries currently powering today’s electronics, Jackson’s aluminum-air fuel cell reportedly generates nine times as much energy (nine times as many kilowatt-hours of electricity per kilogram).
Whereas the existing Tesla Model S can travel for about 370 miles from one charge, the same vehicle could travel up to 2,700 miles if equipped with a version of Jackson’s aluminum-air fuel cell that weighed the same as its lithium-ion battery, or 1,500 miles for a version of the cell that was the same size as the Tesla’s lithium-ion battery. What’s more, Jackson claims that while the Tesla battery costs around £30,000, an aluminum-air cell could power the same car for £5,000.
DailyMail notes that the average British family only travels around 7,900 miles every year, in which case those individuals would only need to swap their fuel cell a few times a year. It’s thought that the new aluminum-air fuel cell will also be useful for industrial applications with large vehicles that typically strain the limitations of lithium-ion batteries. The aluminum-air cells could power large trucks or buses, which would otherwise require lithium-ion batteries that are practically as heavy as the freight being hauled.
Jackson is in discussions with two aircraft makers to use his new fuel cell in propeller planes for short-haul passenger and cargo flights. He has also signed a multi-million-pound deal to start manufacturing the fuel cell on a large scale in the UK, where Austin Electric will be shipping thousands of them in electric vehicles next year.
There are also plans in the works to produce three-wheeler taxis and electric bikes for the Asian market, as well as conversion kits that can transform standard gas and diesel vehicles into hybrids with rear wheels powered by aluminum-air fuel cells and electric motors. Jackson anticipates that conversion kits will be available early next year and each conversion will cost around £3,500.
As mentioned, the fuel cells are designed to be replaced when you run out of energy and this involves physically swapping the cells instead of recharging them as you would with lithium-ion batteries. Instead of recharging all night, Jackson says swapping a cell takes about 90 seconds and he’s in “advanced discussions” with two major supermarket chains to begin providing fuel cells—similar to how propane tanks work. The biggest issue here is that there’s no word on how much replacement cells will cost. If too pricey, it would easily negate the benefit of getting increased distance from each battery, as rechargeable batteries could be far more practical. On the upside, once spent, the cells can be cheaply recycled.
Jackson is working toward marketing an entire electric vehicle powered by aluminum-air fuel cells. Although he has received a £108,000 grant for further research from the Advanced Propulsion Centre, as well as validation from two French universities about the capabilities of his fuel cells, Jackson says he has faced opposition from an automobile industry that has already invested in other technologies. “It has been a tough battle but I’m finally making progress. From every logical standpoint, this is the way to go.”