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Since a few days several websites report about an alleged revolutionary electric vehicle fuel cell that enables 1500 miles range:

Citing the Mail Online:

by David Rose for The Mail on Sunday
Published: 00:47 GMT, 20 October 2019 | Updated: 21:21 GMT, 21 October 2019

[...]

Last Friday, the battery's inventor, British engineer and former Royal Navy officer Trevor Jackson, signed a multi-million-pound deal to start manufacturing the device on a large scale in the UK.

[...]

Austin Electric, an engineering firm based in Essex, which now owns the rights to use the old Austin Motor Company logo, will begin putting thousands of them into electric vehicles next year. According to Austin's chief executive, Danny Corcoran, the new technology is a 'game-changer'.

[...]

In 2001 he began to investigate the potential of a technology first developed in the 1960s. [...] At that time the method was useless for commercial batteries because the electrolyte was extremely poisonous, and caustic.

After years of experimentation at his workshop in the Cornish village of Callington, Jackson's eureka moment came when he developed a new formula for the electrolyte that was neither poisonous nor caustic.

[...] Another problem with the 1960s version was that it worked only with totally pure aluminium, which is very expensive.

But Jackson's electrolyte works with much lower-purity metal – including recycled drinks cans. The formula, which is top secret, is the key to his device.

The Mail article mentions electrolyte toxicity and causticity and aluminium purity as the main obstacles for the technology to come to markets, that Jackson claims to have solved.

Given CO2-neutral energy exists in sufficient quantities: Is an infrastructure that recycles used Al-air batteries by Al smelting and powers electric cars with them realistic? Are the obstacles that Jackson claims to have solved the main ones or are there other, as yet unsolved problems?

Note that this claim is about fuel cells that can be recycled industrially and carbon-neutrally. The article does not claim that Al-air batteries can be recharged by individuals!

  • Note that this question is very broad which is causing problems by people answering just one part. Let's focus the question not on whether he exists, whether the electrolyte is non-poisonous (irrelevant) or whether it is new and revolutionary (opinion-based). Even whether it is "ready" is vague. How about "Can do Aluminium-air batteries exist that can drive a car 1500 miles?" or "Are Aluminium-Air batteries rechargeable?" (which seems the main misunderstanding). – Oddthinking Nov 1 at 4:56
  • @Oddthinking to be fair, will you also please delete other answers that do not answer the question? Or even close the question as "too broad". – Weather Vane Nov 1 at 10:23
  • youtube.com/watch?v=OmHnKKuBdco Thunderfoot (eventually) says no. – Neil Nov 1 at 10:31
  • @Oddthinking thanks for your feedback. I've tried to narrow down the question on whether electric vehicle transport based on recycleable Al-air cells is realistic. – akraf - Reinstate Monica Nov 3 at 11:20
  • I think the question is still asking for opinions. Let me try this another way: What sort of evidence would it take to convince you that it was in no way feasible to use Al-Air batteries? What sort of evidence would it take to convince you that it was clearly feasible to use Al-Air batteries, short of him actually delivering millions of units? – Oddthinking Nov 3 at 12:19
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While I don't know if this particular company is doing something useful or not, I can talk about what an aluminum battery could be used for in electric cars.

In general, electric cars use lithium ion batteries. The problem is that in order to get a decent range, you need a lot of batteries. From an engineering perspective, these batteries are heavy, which reduces efficiency, and expensive, which increases cost. From a marketing and sales perspective, a bigger problem is that people tend to vastly overestimate their range needs. A lot of people would actually be OK even with just a 30 mile range, (just under the national average 2-way commute) but an electric car with a 30 mile range wouldn't sell. As a bonus, people will think about their once-a-year trips when buying an electric car instead of getting something for their daily commute and using a rental for vacations. The Nissan Leaf has a 100+ mile range, for example, with some versions going over 200 miles. This is complete overkill from an engineering perspective, but important for sales.

Aluminum batteries could bypass this; instead of having a 100+ mile battery system, you could have a 40 mile battery system, plus an aluminum battery that you swap out when drained. This creates similar use patterns to a hybrid engine, but an aluminum battery can be much lighter and cheaper than lugging around an internal combustion engine everywhere. (Also, it should handle being left unused for months on end better.)

I calculated the equivalent dollars/gallon of a previous version of this technology at roughly $5/gal, (this figure doesn't include taxes, and is very back-of-the-envelope) which is significantly higher than gas, but is reasonable for something you only need to use a few times a year.

In the end, this technology is useful even if it's never used, because it lets car companies sell people an electric car with the range they actually need.

Example car using an experimental aluminum air battery.

Average commute distance, by car, 2017 numbers. (page 86 of the PDF, 79 by page numbering.)

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    This doesn't answer the question(s): Does the engineer Trevor Jackson exist? Did he invent a new, revolutionary electrolyte for the Aluminium-Air battery that is non-poisonous? Did he receive the awards and confirmations from the independent bodies mentioned in the Mail Online article: "Government agency UK Trade and Investment", "Advanced Propulsion Centre", "validated by two French universities" Is this battery ready to fuel electric vehicles on a large scale, by buying them in a super market and plugging them into the car? – CJ Dennis Oct 30 at 5:39
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    You are correct. However, those direct questions have been adequately answered. My goal is to answer the implied question of "is this even a technology that makes sense". There is a vast distance between someone who claims to have invented an engine that runs on water, and one who claims to have invented a system to solve the range issues of electric cars without the complexity of a hybrid engine, and it's useful to know which one we're talking about. – user3757614 Oct 30 at 6:16
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    @CJDennis Yes, no (it's all old tech really), yes, no. – Baldrickk Oct 30 at 11:33
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    100-200 mile range is not "complete overkill". For example it's the range I need to visit any family, and I expect this is the same for a lot of people. If 30 mile range meets your needs, decent public transit would meet them much better and get rid of the car alltogether. – R.. Oct 30 at 14:51
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    Something that keeps occurring when talking about electric cars is that people who commute for 6 hours a day think their commute is average for some reason. A car does not need to serve everyone's needs in order to be useful. – user3757614 Oct 30 at 21:00
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This is not intended as a complete answer, but we do know the inventor does exist and has made these claims. But the articles are misleading, especially the Daily Mail one using language like this:

Imagine the satisfaction of driving your environmentally friendly electric car for 1,500 miles without having to stop to recharge the battery – a distance more than four times as far as the best and most expensive model currently on the road.

That implies a rechargable battery, which is not the case, so even if you assume the claims made about this battery are true, it would still require massive infrastructure changes for such a battery to be used. This is covered by Steven Novella in his blog post from October 21st. Note that this is speculation, and it assumes the claims about the battery are true.

I think there are good reasons the automotive industry remains skeptical. There are practical considerations here. A Telsa lithium ion battery pack weighs 540 kg (1,200 lbs). Even at five times the energy density, a pack with a 300 mile range would weigh 240 pounds. Since the battery cannot be recharged, it would need to be swapped out. The driver would not be expected to lift a 240 pound battery, or more for longer range vehicles. You could break it up into many 20 pound batteries, or require a station with equipment to lift out the spent battery. Either way, this would require a new infrastructure that is not trivial.

All these spent batteries can be recycled to reclaim the aluminum, but that is an energy-dependent process. Basically you have to put more energy back in than what you got out from the battery. This is another required infrastructure. Requiring new infrastructure is not a deal-killer, if the advantages are worth it, but it is a significant barrier.

The potential advantages are the good energy density, and the fact that aluminum is cheap and abundant. You could use aluminum recycled from cans, for example, to make the batteries. But the non-rechargeable thing is a huge drawback. This would require an entirely new approach to electric vehicles, at the very least delaying adoption. You get a chicken-and-egg problem – will people buy the car before the infrastructure is ready, and who will build the infrastructure until there are enough users on the road? Such situations are frequent, and they can be bootstrapped by early adopters and industry and government investments to boost the infrastructure enough to lure in users. If we decide that this is the best way to go, we can make it happen.

But I am just not seeing the advantages necessary to make such a huge investment in a fairly dedicated infrastructure. Swapping out hundreds of pounds of batteries every few days doesn’t seem practical.

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    I still unfortunately don't have time for this, but have just answered based on the comment I added yesterday, since the other answers seem to be speculation by the postors. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction? – Jerome Viveiros Oct 30 at 8:25
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    I recall reading somewhere (I think it was in Wired several years ago) that the battery-swap station system was being test marketed to a number of smaller geographically- or politically-isolated locations (Hawaii and Israel were among them), such that building the infrastructure would be far simpler due to the limited area, the idea being to do these as a proof of concept before expanding to larger markets. Not sure if that concept ever got off the ground though. – Darrel Hoffman Oct 30 at 14:49
  • I vaguely remember reading something about the Israeli company going bust because non of the car companies wanted to use the same battery-swap technology (NIH). – Neil Nov 1 at 10:29

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