A retired British naval engineer claims to have solved a decades-old battery problem with an invention that quadruples the range of today’s best electric vehicles.

Aluminum-air batteries have been on the drawing board for decades: a piece of aluminum is immersed in an electrolyte and generates current simply by having one end exposed to air. But the aluminum has to be pure – costly and time-consuming to produce – and the electrolyte that works is so corrosive that the aluminum doesn’t last long. The batteries were never practical.

Now, after a decade of tinkering, Trevor Jackson says he’s found an electrolyte that solves both problems. His new electrolyte works on everyday aluminum, including recycled beverage cans, and is so tame that people can drink it – as he’s done during his demonstrations.

Most important, he calculates from bench tests that his battery can take an electric car 1,500 miles on a charge – about four times as far as the fabled Tesla Model S. He promises an actual road test “very soon” in a vehicle. 

It’s an audacious claim. But the British government’s Department of International Trade tested Jackson’s device and reported that it produces far more energy per kilogram of its weight than today’s conventional batteries. (Other tests say Jackson’s cell yields about nine times more energy than standard lithium-ion designs.) 

Now Jackson’s battery is hitting the road. British carmaker Austin Electric will put  Jackson’s battery in “thousands” of cars in 2020. He says that the battery also will start being used in electric rickshaws and bicycles. His firm, Metalelectrique Ltd., will be involved in producing conversion kits to install aluminum-air batteries into gas buggies so drivers will have their choice of fuels.

Jackson even envisions a way to make recharging an EV as quick as filling your gas tank. If your aluminum-air battery starts to flag, you’ll pull into a hardware store or supermarket, pull out the electrolyte container, go into the store, and swap the old container for a new full one, just the way people now swap gas bottles for their backyard grills. Jackson says the process in the car should take about 90 seconds. He reports being in “advanced discussions” with two British supermarket chains to provide the service.

TRENDPOST: Batteries that don’t use rare earth metals or toxic compounds have been the dream of everyone from cell phone designers to electric car makers. If Jackson’s invention proves out, it’s likely to upend the battery industry.

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