The IFBattery Flow-Battery/Hydrogen-Generator
I sat quietly listening to top scientists from around the world giving 15-30 minute presentations at the International Society for Porous Media held in Spain in May 2019.
A hush fell over the audience as the next speaker approached the podium, Dr. John Cushman, Distinguished Professor from Purdue University in the Departments of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Mathematics, and President of IFBattery, Inc. Most who attended this conference or others like it in the past had already heard of the technology he and his team at IFBattery had been working on for almost five years.
Watching the reactions of his fellow scientists piqued my interest as I watched eyes grow large and jaws drop as Dr. Cushman began explaining this new technology. One person exclaimed, “That’s impossible!” Others leaned forward in their chairs, hoping to learn how it could be possible.
As a layperson, my explanation of what he presented is simply this, Dr. Cushman and his team at IFBattery have developed a battery that can make a car run on water. If you ask Dr. Cushman, he will add, “and a few other things” with a wink and a nod. Dr. Cushman explained that this new technology, which has so far only been spoken of as a “go green” fairy tale, is actually an “aqueous-based hybrid flow-battery/hydrogen-generator. It can produce hydrogen on-demand, as well as electricity or any binary combination as a function of chemistry and mechanical design.” In simpler terms, it can produce hydrogen on-the-go, as well as electricity, and depending on the application, it can run mostly on hydrogen, mostly on electricity, or some blend of the two.
It may come to be known as the hybrid Series Aqueous-based Flow Electric “SAFE” Hydrogen Generator.
CURRENT ENERGY SOURCES TO POWER VEHICLES
Current energy sources to power vehicles are gas, diesel, electric, hydrogen, or hybrids. There are many benefits to each of these power sources, but there are also drawbacks.
Gas- & Diesel-Powered Vehicles
The most common power sources for vehicles today are gas and diesel. The “grid” already exists, but they use up natural resources and emit destructive greenhouse gases.
Electric-Powered Vehicles (EV’s)
Most educated consumers love the idea of running their cars on rechargeable batteries instead of pumping gallon after gallon of non-renewable gas or diesel into their tanks. However, most have never considered the full circle of requirements to run the current electric-powered vehicles.
Consider Diane, a proud go-green consumer who drives home at the end of the day and plugs in her electric car. In the morning, she delightedly pulls out of her driveway, feeling satisfied that she is not using up non-renewable fossil gas, nor is she emitting any greenhouse gases.
But is that true? Not exactly. Diane may not recognize that most power plants use non-renewable fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and oil, which create greenhouse gases as they are being consumed to generate the electricity to her house that is used to power her car.
Other drawbacks include only being able to drive short distances before needing to recharge, between 35 and 300 miles depending on the size of the battery. Recharging time can take between 30 minutes up to 12 hours (https://pod-point.com/guides/driver/how-long-to-charge-an-electric-car).
Consider what happens when Diane is away from home and needs to recharge. Assuming she can find a recharging station, she pulls up and plugs in. Most filling stations can only accommodate one or two cars per hour. To accommodate a nation full of these cars, every gas station in America would have to increase in size by five times.
The real deal-breaker with electric-powered vehicles is that our nation’s electric grid could not deliver that much electricity without being completely revamped to the tune of billions, if not trillions, of dollars.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles
Current vehicles fueled by hydrogen are not practical because the pressure level of the tank carrying the hydrogen is extremely high (often 10,000 PSI), making it extremely dangerous. Alternatively, Dr. Cushman adds, “H2 can be adsorbed to metal hydrides creating a very heavy and impractical system.” In the former case, if there was a significant collision that involved any kind of spark, there could be a large car bomb-like explosion that would likely incinerate the car, every person in the vehicle, and perhaps even people near the vehicle.
Another issue with current hydrogen fuel cell cars is that there is no practical delivery system in place for people to replace or refill their hydrogen tanks. Current tanks are about the height and width of a 6-foot-tall man and are extremely explosive. There would be an enormous amount of infrastructure required to convert current delivery systems to a pump-and-go system.
Hybrids are a great stepping stone for people who are “green-conscious,” but don’t want the inconvenience of a fully-electric vehicle. Unfortunately, though it may somewhat reduce some of the drawbacks of gas, diesel, or hydrogen-powered vehicles, the benefits are insignificant.
IFBattery’s technology is the next and perhaps final step in the “go-green” movement. It reduces or completely eliminates many of the drawbacks associated with the other energy sources for vehicles and has other significant benefits:
- Eliminates greenhouse gases emitted while driving vehicles
- Does not have to be recharged
- Does not consume fossil fuels
- Does not require the grid to be revamped
In addition to creating electricity directly, IFBattery’s technology produces hydrogen on-demand at a pressure of less than 35 PSI which means, in comparative collisions, it is perhaps even safer than that of a gasoline-powered vehicle.
IFBattery’s technology requires only concentrated granules to be delivered to current filling stations, which would then simply combine it with existing water on the premises. A person could pull up to the filling station and pump the solution into the vehicle’s tank just like at a gas station. This makes it not only safe and more cost-efficient, but also consumer-friendly.
This technology also provides tremendous flexibility; it can be tuned to produce mostly electricity or mostly hydrogen or anything in between.
IFBattery’s technology is designed to assist diesel-powered vehicles in improving mileage and limiting harmful emissions by adding hydrogen to diesel fuel. This is a straight forward exercise with the IFBattery system, and the resultant system is environmentally sound and safe.
IFBattery’s Go-Green technology is:
- More cost-efficient
There is a huge amount of energy that can be utilized from hydrogen when combined with oxygen. Though to most people, it may conjure images of rockets blasting into space or bombs exploding.
IFBattery’s team of engineers, including Dr. Eric Nauman, Michael Dziekan, Bradford Thorne, Marc Zabit, and Jared Cross, are taking Dr. Cushman’s disruptive technology to a whole new level by harnessing this pure green energy into a closed-loop system that is virtually 100 percent recyclable and environmentally safe.
HOW IFBATTERY’S TECHNOLOGY WORKS
The Hydrogen Generator
It has been known for some time that when aluminum is placed in a basic (high concentration of hydroxyl group (OH)– ) aqueous environment, hydrogen gas is created. The (OH)– breaks down the aluminum oxide layer covering the aluminum metal, allowing the aluminum to oxidize. Each oxidized aluminum atom releases three electrons. Water near the surface of the aluminum disassociates into a proton, H+ and hydroxyl group (OH)–. Then two protons take up two of the electrons from the oxidizing aluminum and are reduced to form H2 gas, while the Al3+ atom takes up three hydroxyls to neutralize itself. If the base that gave the water its basic character is NaOH then the Al(OH)3 molecule would complex with NaOH to form sodium aluminate NaAl(OH)4. Sodium aluminate can be readily converted back to aluminum metal (it is an intermediate in the process that transformations bauxite ore to aluminum metal). These reactions are strongly exothermic and form a type of chemical heat engine.
Consider a battery consisting of an aluminum anode in a basic electrolyte that is separated by a membrane from a catholyte (an electrolyte containing an oxidant) with an embedded cathode current collector. The current collector is connected electrically to the anode through a load. When the battery is producing current, the anode is oxidizing, producing electrons which are shipped through the load to the cathode current collector where the catholyte is reduced by absorbing electrons. Anions and cations in the electrolyte are simultaneously redistributing through the membrane to maintain electro-neutrality. Standard lore would suggest that if the membrane was removed, the catholyte would come in contact with the anode and would short the system by inducing a redox reaction at the anode. IFBattery has constructed a system that defies this standard logic. The IFBattery system combines the hydrogen generator discussed above with the redox battery concept, but without relying upon a membrane.
In the IFBattery flow-battery/hydrogen generating system, there is a single basic electrolyte in convective motion and in direct contact with an aluminum anode which is electrically connected through a load to a current collector. A strong oxidant is introduced into the electrolyte, making it a catholyte. A significant current through the load electrically connecting the anode to the current collector results. The flow field continually replenishes the catholyte eliminating the need to electrically recharge the system. This begs the question: Why does the battery not short out?
Here is what Dr. Cushman believes happens: As in the hydrogen generating system, hydrogen gas is formed at the anode, but because the oxidant is a very large molecule compared to the size of a proton, it is effectively screened from the oxidizing aluminum electron source by the reduction of protons at the aluminum surface. At the current collector, there are few free protons to reduce to hydrogen gas, and since the collector is electrically connected to the oxidizing aluminum, it freely receives electrons to reduce the oxidant at the current collector (which effectively becomes the cathode current collector). In summary, there is an oxidation of the aluminum anode (loses three electrons per atom) coupled with a reduction of two protons (accepts two electrons per two protons) at the aluminum surface to form hydrogen gas, H2. On average, there are many free electrons which may be transported through a conductor to the current collector where they encounter the oxidant which is subsequently reduced, thus giving rise to electrical current through the load.
Increasing the Power of a Single Cell
In most batteries, the current, and subsequently the wattage, is increased by increasing the size of the anode and cathode (usually by rolling them up together with a membrane separating the two, which gives rise to the cylindrical shape of many batteries). This is equivalent to a large conglomeration of primitive cells in a parallel arrangement with current linearly proportional to the area and the voltage unchanging with the area of the electrodes. In the IFBattery system, the size of the anode and cathode are of limited importance.
So, the question then becomes, how does the IFBattery system increase power in a unit cell? The answer is somewhat surprising: By increasing the number of cells in the series arrangement in a common catholyte. Technically, because they share a common electrolyte, the cells are not in a true series arrangement, as is a series of isolated batteries touching anode to cathode. If the IFBattery series is N cells long, the power of the series increases as roughly WN=W0 N2, where W0 is the power of an isolated primitive cell, and WN is the power of the series of N cells. For a classical series, the power of the series would increase linearly with N. The reader should note that the power of an individual cell in the series arrangement goes up linearly with the number of cells in the series, which is in stark contrast to a classical series arrangement wherein the power of an individual cell remains constant irrespective of N.
Dr. Cushman and his team believe there are several critically important processes taking place in the flow-battery: oxidation of the aluminum anode, reduction of protons to form hydrogen gas at the anode surface, reduction of the oxidant at the cathode current collector, and additional events resulting from the proprietary design of the series arrangement. The distribution of electrons between hydrogen gas production and electric current production shifts toward the electric side with an increasing number of cells in the series arrangement. For example, if you take a single cell that has three watts at max power, then cut it into eighths and arrange the pieces anode to cathode in the common catholyte, the max power would be just under 200 watts for the same amount of metal. The comparable classical system would have less than 24 watts if arranged in a classical series arrangement for single-cell batteries.
Thermodynamic Advantages of the Battery
One of the real advantages to the IFBattery system is that the production of hydrogen is an exothermic reaction which warms the battery in even the coldest of climates. This makes the electric side of the battery function in cold environments far more efficiently than its peers.
Currently, IFBattery is discussing applications of this technology with the US Military and various industrial conglomerates.
Short-term goals are to assist the military in safely adding hydrogen to their diesel fuel (diesel-assist) to increase efficiency by up to five percent and decrease harmful emissions. This plug-n-play diesel-assist product will allow the vehicles to run much cleaner and hotter, which will allow the vehicles to run further on a single tank of fuel.
Longer-term goals include a wrap-around diesel-assist plug-n-play product which will enable diesel vehicles to travel in extremely cold temperatures without the battery quickly discharging, otherwise known as classical thermodynamic deterioration of the battery.
The ultimate goal will be to completely replace the loud, pungent-smelling diesel engines currently being used by the military with IFBattery’s quiet, clean, “go-green” hydrogen-electric batteries that will significantly reduce fuel costs, currently in upwards of $400/gallon in some theaters and will, most importantly, improve the stealth ability of our military’s vehicles in top-secret operations that require quiet entry.
The “IF” in IFBattery
Although Dr. Cushman says that the “IF” in IFBattery first stood for Immiscible Fluid, when I hear “IF” in IFBattery now, I think what IF my car could run on water, what IF everything in my house from my lights to heat to computers could run on water. And the what IFs hold even greater implications for commerce. What IF the farmer’s tractor can run on water? What IF trucker’s big rig could run on water? This is no longer a fairy tale. This technology is real and is becoming available.
By Karine Christakes, MBA-HR, CSBO
Acknowledgments: J.H. Cushman provided much of the technical details on the Flow-Battery/Hydrogen-Generator from IFBattery, Inc.