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The latest bright idea from an IIT lab — cars that run on water and aluminium

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IIT-Roorkee engineers develop electric car prototype that needs ‘refuelling’ not recharging, say it won’t cost any more than your petrol or diesel vehicle.

New Delhi: On a day when petrol is available for Rs 82.26 in Delhi and diesel for Rs 74.11 in Mumbai, imagine using a car that runs on water and a bit of aluminium. This environment-friendly (and possibly pocket-friendly) dream could soon come true if boffins from the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee have their way.

A start-up called Log9 Materials, launched by students of IIT-R, is developing an electric car that will need just water and a plate of aluminium for refuelling.

Log9, which was incubated at IIT-R two years ago, has developed batteries that work on aluminium and water, and unlike electric vehicles of today, need ‘refuelling’ and not recharging. Companies abroad are already working on this technology, but Log9 is the only one so far in India.

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The group expects cars using these batteries to run for up to 1,000 km in one go — needing just about one litre of water every 300 km. At the 1,000 km mark, an aluminium plate will need to be replaced in the battery — which the engineers say will take no more than 15 minutes of your time.

Each plate will cost about Rs 5,000, about the same as what it would take to run a petrol or diesel car for 1,000 km. The makers say the cost may reduce further in future.

There is just one question that they don’t want to answer — how the aluminium plates are going to be made available to consumers.

At present, the company is conducting tests before launching its car commercially.

“The car prototype is ready and we are already in talks with some automobile companies,” Akshay Singhal, founder-CEO of Log9 Materials, told ThePrint.

How it works

The technology used in these batteries is like fuel cell technology, which generates electricity by an electro-chemical reaction. It uses the metal plate along with a graphine (a form of carbon) rod to generate electricity, with water as the base for the chemical reaction.

The electricity generated by this reaction is then sent to an electric motor which drives the car.

“We are confident that cars using these batteries will be able to have a good run,” Singhal said.

Experts laud idea, but is it affordable?

Automotive experts have lauded the idea, but also cautioned about the affordability of these cars.

Tutu Dhawan, automotive expert and journalist who is also on the board of advisers to the Delhi government, said this technology could be the future of motoring.

“Fuel cell technology is the future for electric vehicles, if it is perfected. A lot of manufacturers are seriously going into this technology and have already started testing it,” Dhawan said.

Automotive engineer Vikram Mishra, however, sounded a note of caution.

“It is a great innovation, and IITs are doing good work in terms of innovation. But I have my doubts on how much this vehicle will be successful,” he said. “Even if they make it viable, they have to be able to make it affordable.”

The Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report released recently expects electric vehicles to comprise about 7 per cent of sales in India by the year 2030.

Electric cars need an alternative

Asked what prompted him to start this venture, Singhal pointed out the challenges of today’s electric vehicles.

“The problem in using electric cars in India is at two levels. One is on the consumer side —the range is limited, charging takes time and charging infrastructure is not available,” he said.

Then there are problems of manufacturing and disposal. “Materials required to make lithium-ion batteries are not available easily, and there are no reservoirs of lithium and cobalt. So after these batteries are used, there is no way to recycle them,” Singhal said.

Also read: IIT Indore makes it to top 400 global institutes’ list, IIT Bombay slips in ranking

In a city like Bengaluru, a fully-charged electric car won’t get you from the city centre to the airport (about a 40-km ride) — and it takes at least eight hours to fully charge it.

Then there’s the question of cost. If a particular petrol car costs Rs 3 lakh, the electric equivalent would cost about Rs 7 lakh — all because of the battery.

“In an interview, Maruti Suzuki chairman R.C. Bhargava pointed out the challenges involved in the adoption of electric cars in India. He said that with electric adoption, one problem is affordability and another problem is where will you charge the car and how can you construct a charging infrastructure? These are the challenges that we are trying to overcome,” Singhal said.

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  1. According to Alcoa, the world’s largest producer of aluminium, the best smelters use about 13 kilowatt hours (46.8 megajoules) of electrical energy to produce one kilogram of aluminium; the worldwide average is closer to 15 kWh/kg (54 MJ/kg). Worldwide production of aluminium in 2010 was 41.4 million tonnes

    So aluminum is converted back to oxide (bauxite aluminium ore) that means again converting that to aluminum takes more electrical energy…

    So what is the energy advantages… Is it range..

    But transferring electricity directly from road is best option, SoC(smartphone processor) producer Qualcomm is working on induction roads…

  2. In a land of superstitions, journalists and editors of even the so called respectable media houses cannot get things right. Nothing runs on water. Water is a very low energy molecule that one gets by burning high energy hydrocarbons or hydrogen. It is like ash or CO2 – spent byproduct of an exothermic reaction. What is commendable about this technology – fuel cells – is that although it uses electricity, it uses it very efficiently (with little wastage), inexpensively, and portably. It uses electricity for electrolysis of water to break it into hydrogen and oxygen. When the car needs energy to run, it recombines hydrogen and oxygen to form water again in the fuel cell, and releases energy as electricity instead of heat. This process loses less energy to heating of an engine. But the electricity to charge the car (which means breaking water into hydrogen and oxygen) can come from a coal thermal power plant, which is also polluting, but less polluting than burning petrol in a regular car engine.

    Get your facts straight and educate the public instead of confusing them with mumbo jumbo that this car only needs water. No, this car also needs electricity.

    • Aren’t IITs famous for jugaad culture in name of R&D? In so many years, none of them have been able to produce any noble prize winner nor any life changing technology. But yes, if you want to learn how to deliver babies using Vacuum suction (as in movie 3 Idiots), or IITs are numero Uno.
      They are nothing more than NRI robots producing factories..

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