It’s a shift that could make electric vehicles (EVs) more attractive to drivers who are wary of long charging times. “You drive 300 miles, drain your tank and pump in new [liquid] — as long as it would take to fill your car with gasoline — and drive off,” says John Cushman, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and mathematics at Purdue and a leading researcher on liquid battery technology.
Like the lithium-ion batteries that power most electric vehicles on the road today, flow batteries release energy through chemical reactions between the ends of the battery and a substance known as electrolyte.
The result is the same: Both Cushman, who cofounded a battery startup called IFBattery in 2016, and Cronin say their tricked-out flow batteries could be small and light enough for use in electric vehicles.
And Gil Tal, director of the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center at the University of California, Davis, says he has seen many claims like Cushman’s and Cronin’s in his decade of working with electric vehicles — and they seldom pan out. “Between cost, reliability and safety,” he says, “most of these things will never make it all the way to cars.