MIT Students Develop Liquid Fuel for Electric Cars


One (of many) complaints against electric cars is that they take too long to “fill up” with electrons. But a group of MIT students have developed a semi-solid electron-laden “fuel” that could completely change how we power EV’s.

Forgoing the traditional route of storing electrons in either nickel or lithium-ion, the MIT students have figured out a way to store electricity in semi-solid flow cells. Called “Cambridge Crude,” the charged particles are stored in an electrolyte gel that can be removed and refilled when drained, not unlike how we currently fill our cars with gasoline. The gel would move between a charging area, and dispensing area, sending electrons straight to the drivetrain. Perhaps even more importantly though, this technology can (supposedly) store 10x more electricity, at half the price of current conventional battery technology.

Talk about a game changer. If this technology pans out, it could single-handedly eliminate all the barriers facing EV’s right now, including infrastructure, charging, battery capacity and cost. The gel supposedly can also be charged normally, via a plug-in system, adding in even more versatility. Of course, I write about great ideas and technology every day, but relatively few ideas actually pan out. Yet there seems like so much potential in this out-there idea.

Does this electrolyte-laden gel have what it takes to go mainstream? Or is it just another great idea that will remain only a great idea? We’ll find out in 18 months, as the research team will work to build a working prototype by the end of 2012…just in time for the end of the world.

Source: The Atlantic Wire | Image: Nicole Werner

Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.
  • t_

    Nice! Is there more info about his?

  • Very cool. This type of “flow cell” has been around for a long time and is in commercial use.

    Apparently the big breakthrough with the MIT tech is that it has 10X the energy density of traditional flow cells (which are not nearly as energy dense a Li-Ion batteries).

    More details are at Green Car Reports

  • this is just a theory right now … sounds like more unicorn sweat …

  • Electric cars are the technology of the future, and they always will be. Funny but true, unless we come up with something like what this article describes.

  • Propelling a car with a negatively charged gel is probably the most dangerous technical development since, well, the incident with a negatively charged viscious ectoplasm under the streets of New York, a magnatheric slimeflow with supernormal potential that brought the city to its knees.

    And now they want to put that negative goo in cabs? When will humanity ever learn?

  • Recharging gel, or recharging batteries, the electricity has to come from a generator. Put enough of these rechargeable things out there and the grid will come crashing down.

    • @ ghogan

      They said the same thing about flat screen televisions. The grid survived.

      • TomcatTCH

        Who said what again?

        No, really, you claim folks stated that more electrically efficient TV’s replacing old, less efficient TV’s would have a negative effect on the power grid?

        And you are using that fallacy to oppose the idea that adding millions of large draw electrical devices to the grid WON’T have a negative effect on the power grid?

        WOW! That’s extra special logic!

        • @ Tomcat

          I suggest you do some research for yourself if you don’t believe me. However, the average flatscreen HD television consumes about 43% MORE energy than your typical tube set. A plasma screen HD television consumes 3x more power. There were reports that the mass adoption of flatscreen HD televisions could bring down the power grid, and California has even gone so far as to regulate the power consumption of HD TV’s sold in their state.

          It’s not a fallacy, it’s a fact. I’d provide you some links, but I think you might learn a thing or two from doing the homework yourself.

          As far as the strain on the power grid goes, when do you think people are most likely to plug in their EV’s? While they are at work? Or when they get home, at night, when the power draw is significantly less than the daytime? As it turns out, it is also cheaper to plug in at night. People saavy enough to buy an EV are probably smart enough to realize this little tidbit too.

  • This seems like it might work!

  • “If this technology pans out, it could single-handedly eliminate all the barriers facing EV’s right now, including infrastructure, charging, battery capacity and cost.” You left out one very important thing: ELECTRICITY! The US has for essentially put a stop to all the practical means of providing the vast amounts of extra electricity that will be needed to run electric cars. Nuclear and coal powered plats will never be allowed. Solar and wind will never be able to provide the amount of electricity required. Environmental lawyers all falling all over themselves to try and stop drilling and fracking the enormous reserves of natural gas that could be used to produce electricity. And don’t even think of trying to dam any rivers for hydro power. “Canbridge Crude” looks promising, but the electricity still has to come from somewhere.

    • There’s enough solar energy to power the world a hundred times over. Look it up. You’ve been hoodwinked.

      Current solar tech could actually power the entire world grid with just a few hundred square miles of solar panels; the only difficult part is storing the energy for nighttime. And solar tech gets better and better and better.

  • What about temperature differences? Will it remain viable in the heat of the Sahara or in the middle of a cold Alaskan winter?

    Until real world tests are conducted, Petroleum still rules. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

  • Great article about the gel but could you guys help move this idea along a little faster so we can use before the end of the world. :))LOL

  • Does anyone edit these articles?

    “But this is a unique idea seems like there is so, so much potential.”

    “But a group of MIT students seems to have developed a semi-solid electron-laden “fuel” that could completely how we power EV’s.”

    Complete sentences would be nice.

  • Solar and wind will never be able to supply the electricity ??? Solar Power , runs our planet . All we have to do is keep developing ways to more efficiently harness it .
    Get the Big Oil boys out of the way , along with the Coal and Nuke fellas . Give us a little hole , so we can run out of the 19th Century , and into Daylight !!


    • Uncle B

      Certainly there was a website showing a three cylinder, “Detroit Diesel” styled two stroke with blower, specifically designed for ethanol, it started on ethanol, then as it warmed up and was put under heavy load, fuel was reduced to up to 50% with water. Huge power available! no “dilution” by low grade gasoline either – this was a straight Ethanol engine – it may have been used in tractor pulls at one time along side the diesels that had water injection. much was done by “Backyard Mechanics” that has since disapeared?
      nothing will ever be as cost appropriate as the Chinese electric bullet trains for thier workers, their huge populations. Onr day after much misery, after clinging to the Status Quo, a broken America will finally shift to these oil free miracles of transportation. Until that day, and the new day of the re-birth of GPS guided Zepplins, America will continue to go to war for sacer oil, pay ever higher prices for oil, and depend on oil for their very survival. Meanwhile, China, and all the pan Eurasian Empire expands on Thorium fissioning for electrcity and only uses oil as a secondary source, they diversify, expand in all other enrgy sources, away from oildepedency and thrive with the world’s buggest marketplace ever.
      American can hardly swallow the Eurodiesel and its higher economies, and haven’t been able to develop trains better than the Amtrak follies, have planes in the air drinking foreign oil Americans no longer can afford, as the worlds technological advances move to Asians – even Bill Gates ‘escaping’ for a comfortable berth in the rising pan Eurasian nuclear industries, as the American nuclear body full blinker on, flustered, and unbelieving, face the Fuckoshima fact, a monumnet to them, and their final tombstone, world wide as the Thorium fissioning LFTR reactors and better surface, not here in America but abroad, in a saner more open minded world.
      America as a nation will die, still using the very least efficient low compression, cheap to build, short lived, gasoline engines and her beloved gasoline fuel to which se is accoustomed and holds in fond esteem. The Status Quo, well maintianed.
      Oldsmobiles, Packards, Hudsons, Desoto, Pontiacs, Nash, Studebakers, Mercurys, Kaisers, Monarchs, Edsels, Corvairs, Vegas, all gone now, as the Asian engineers prove most effective in car designs, but still, in America, gasoline is the fuel of choice, even though the turbo-Eurodiesels are proven better, cheaper, and more fun to drive. Electrics? A passing novelty? A niche market? Only time will tell,

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  • Tom

    How exactly does this eliminate the infrastructure issue? How does this fluid make it from the manufacturer to the car?

    • @ Tom

      It *could* eliminate infrastructure issues, if it works, because ideally you’d have a fueling structure similar to what we have now, stations where one can replace/refill the electron-laden slurry in a short amount of time, rather than waiting for a car to be charged. As I understand it, this slurry can also be recharged how a normal EV is recharged i.e. plugging it in to a charger.

      • Tom

        …but…but…we have gas stations now, and they’re not clamoring to put in NG or electric charging stations. You wouldn’t be able to use the same petrol pumps, so stations owners would have to have new tanks and pumps installed, and the number of tanker truck deliveries to each station would double.

        Any idea if this material could be safely stored in a home garage? Would its energy dissipate over time? Would the material deteriorate over time, like gas going bad when it’s not used? Is the material toxic? Explosive?

        Maybe in addition to filling up at the station, I could load a gallon into my car at home. Looks messy, though.

        The article talks about its energy capacity vs. typical batteries, but not vs. gasoline. Is there a rough equivalent?

  • The problem is that the global economic infrastructures have no intention of assimilating non fossil fuel energy factors into their algorithm of profit and loss. You can bet that the petroleum power brokers will fight tooth and nail to protect their turf . The next great challenge for the world will be how to figure out how to feed and hydrate 8 billion people.
    Water my fellow earthling is more important than oil. Think about this , your call uses about 30 to 40 gallons of fuel a month. The average person probably uses 20 to 30 gallons or more of water a day. Only 8% of the worlds water is usable. The rest of the water is either frozen in the north and south pole or salty ocean water. We have big problems and the biggest problem is that the worlds ever growing human population is already sucking dry the natural resources needed for humans to live. It is like humans are using the world resources like a CREDIT CARD, and sure as the sun will rise somebody will have to pay the bill. The day the earth says ,”Sorry I cannot extend any more credit to mankind” is the day that; wars , death, disease and famine will be the
    inevitable price to be paid and that price will include the compounding interest in the form of a 50 to 75 percent drop in human population. Because by that time so little water and food will be left that the 7to 8 billion people on earth today could not survive on the futures natural resource levels. This is fact, reality , not fiction.

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