Electromobility – Yesterday’s Vision?

In the beginning, there was the electric vehicle - and with nanoFlowcell®, the vision of sustainable and clean mobility is now finally possible.

In the mid 19th century, horses were the ubiquitous means of transport and the dominant competition to the first steam-powered and electric vehicles. Vehicles with internal combustion engines did not yet exist. A horse-drawn carriage was significantly less expensive to acquire and maintain than "autonomous mobiles", which were being broadly rejected by the population. They were seen more as a toy for eccentric and wealthy technology aficionados than as a forward-looking advancement of individual mobility.

But there were already representatives of an "environment movement", warning against high emissions and demanding clean cities - as was the case in New York around the middle of the 19th century. New York City planners issued warnings on the increase of horse-drawn traffic amid alarmed prognoses that horse manure piled metres deep could completely clog the city's streets by 1910. In London, too, it was feared in the 1870s that the streets of the British capital might sink in horse dung. There was an urgent need for action in the world's major cities.

Let's now rewind a few years and take a look at the very beginnings of electromobility.

The eminent scientist and experimental physicist Michael Faraday demonstrated in 1821 how it was possible to generate continual rotation using electromagnetism, creating the foundation of the electric drive.

Starting in the 1830s, a variety of different electric vehicles began to appear based on a diverse array of electric motors and batteries. Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith to trade and self-taught engineer, was awarded the world's first patent for an electric motor. In 1835, he used this electric motor to build a model of an electrically driven railway vehicle on a rail circuit with a diameter of 1.2 metres. Its development was a technical breakthrough, but it initially had no practical application as, at that point, the steam engine was still more efficient and economical.

The first known electric vehicle was built in 1888 by the A. Flocken machine-building company in Coburg, Germany. The Flocken electric wagon was the world's first four-wheel, electrically powered passenger vehicle. A 100 kg battery with an energy density of 27 Wh/kg fed a 0.7 kW electric motor that accelerated the carriage to a top speed of 15 km/h. This historical electric vehicle had a range of between 40 and 100 kilometres.

Record-breaking drivers like Camille Jenatzy, whose almost silent electro-mobile reached 100 km/h and left the loud, smoky, petrol-driven cars of the day trailing behind it, had to watch them drive past again just a few kilometres later. The battery elements of the electro-mobile known as "La Jamais Contente" ran out of charge very quickly. Nevertheless, one thing was now evident - the development of the automobile was progressing faster than the evolution of the horse-drawn carriage.

Visionaries and automotive pioneers like Henry Ford defied public pressure. Speaking about his early motivation to develop and produce automobiles, Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked the people what they want, they would have said: faster horses."

At the beginning of the 20th century, the electric vehicle was one of the most popular types of powered transportation. Around 1900, roughly 40% of the cars in the USA were powered by steam, 38% by electricity and just 22% by petrol. In New York City, the proportion of electric vehicles was as high as 50%. Electric cars reached their zenith around 1912, quickly losing their popularity thereafter.

Driving a car became more comfortable in 1911 with the invention of the electric starter, which dispensed with the onerous hand-cranking of the internal combustion engine. Vehicles with internal combustion engines prevailed. They had far greater range and fossil fuel was now readily available and inexpensive. Electric vehicles had virtually no more role to play on public roads. Individual mass mobility driven by fossil fuel had arrived.

It wasn't until the 1990s that the development and production of electric vehicles restarted. Motivated by the oil crisis sparked by the Iran war and aware that the "car-free Sundays" of the 1970s were no longer an option in an automobile-based society, a very small number of car makers began to develop electric drives for passenger cars. With increasing environmental awareness and accompanying statutory regulations governing the gradual introduction of vehicle emissions limits, the entire automotive industry was ultimately obliged to push forward with environmentally responsible product developments.

Since the turn of the last century, electric vehicles have been experiencing a smouldering renaissance across all segments. However, they have so far failed to inspire any great consumer-based enthusiasm that would enable them to pick up on their historical market success. Electric drive remains unpopular, despite being superior to conventional drives with internal combustion engines in key characteristics. Electric drive boasts, for instance, more beneficial torque and power characteristics. Thanks to their significantly better efficiency and the absence of idling, electric motors are also significantly more energy efficient and run with zero pollutant and noise emissions.

Possible weight savings through the absence of various assemblies required for internal combustion engines are offset by the high weight of the necessary accumulators. Current electric vehicles are therefore not necessarily lighter than comparable vehicles with internal combustion engines. Their range is also more limited than those with conventional engines and recharging the batteries is not without its issues.

In short, driving with electricity is still too "inconvenient" for many car drivers - tedious battery charging processes, low ranges and insufficient top speed. In order to meet the legislated fleet emissions limits, car makers nevertheless have to convince an increasing number of customers of the benefits of electromobility. However, this will only happen when the products on offer become interesting enough to the general public.

Among the greatest challenges for electromobility is therefore the development of light and efficient accumulators that deliver large amounts of power and are fast to recharge. Within the industry, there have thus far been various different concepts for energy storage in electric cars, with lithium-ion batteries currently being the most widespread.

In the past, most electric cars used lead accumulators that permitted a driving time of around one hour at top speed or were sufficient for distances of between 40 and 130 kilometres. Lead accumulators have low energy density or, to put it another way, they are very heavy for the amount of energy they contain.

Modern accumulators based on lithium are currently achieving ranges of between 300 and 500 kilometres. Unfortunately, these types of batteries have a thermal runaway tendency, which puts a question mark on the safety of such drives. Moreover, lithium-ion batteries are also inferior to liquid fuels in terms of energy density and economy.

Recent years, however, have seen significant progress made in the field of redox flow cell accumulators. The breakthrough was achieved by Nunzio La Vecchia, Chief Technology Officer of nanoFlowcell AG, with his nanoFlowcell® technology based on the redox flow cell. In the company's first prototype - the QUANT E from 2014 - the nanoFlowcell® debuted with impressive performance figures. The nanoFlowcell® has an energy density of 600 Wh/l and an efficiency of 80 percent. The nanoFlowcell® drive accelerates the sports car from zero to 100 km/h in less than 2.8 seconds and onwards to a top speed of 380 km/h.

Despite its output, the nanoFlowcell® is incredibly compact and, even in a sports car, the large electrolyte tanks totalling 400 litres can be more flexibly positioned than a roughly comparable 750 kg lithium-ion battery system with complicated series connection and cabling as well as a separate wiring harness for the precise monitoring of all the individual cells.

While the QUANT E achieved a range of 600 kilometres from its 400-litre tank, the current QUANTiNO - the world's first electric car with low-voltage drive powered by nanoFlowcell® - already manages ranges upwards of 1,000 kilometres on around 300 litres of electrolyte liquid.

The benefits of the nanoFlowcell® are its zero-emissions operation, the use of environmentally friendly and non-toxic electrolyte liquids that can neither burn nor explode, its relatively simple structure and the absence of rare earth metals throughout the entire drive system.

In contrast to conventional electric vehicles with lithium-ion technology, a vehicle with nanoFlowcell® drive needs no extensive charging times and complex charging stations. Once used up, the electrolyte liquid is simply refilled in similar fashion to conventional vehicles with internal combustion engines. nanoFlowcell® is also exemplary when it comes to raw-material recycling, thanks to its extended lifespan. The nanoFlowcell® currently achieves up to ten times more charge cycles than conventional li-ion battery systems (lead battery: ca. 500; li-ion battery: ca. 1,000), thus exceeding the average lifespan of a modern car. The nanoFlowcell® suffers no memory effect during this period.

With its high efficiency and environmental compatibility, the nanoFlowcell® meets the needs of car buyers and also opens up new perspectives in many other fields. It is with good reason that nanoFlowcell® is at the centre of current debates on the future shape of sustainable and clean electromobility.

As a far-sighted man once said: "Far and wide, oil-motorised vehicles will dash across the land and the smooth asphalt surfaces of the major cities will be alive with cars driven by accumulator electricity."

This is not an extract from a current study on the electromobility of the future, but the declared vision of chief building officer a.D. Klose, President of the Central European Motor Car Association, at its founding meeting in 1897. The fulfilment of his prophecy is closer than ever. Due to its product characteristics and its positive effect on individual mobility, it won't be long before electric vehicles with nanoFlowcell® drive establish themselves on the market.

The future belongs to nanoFlowcell® technology.