When two biological species form a link that is useful to both of them, science names it a symbiosis. This is what happens when a technology meets a vehicle and both of them try to prove they are viable. This is an accurate way of describing nanoFLOWCELL, a company that is trying to develop the techonology of flow cells, or flow batteries, and the Quant e-Sportlimousine, or Quant E for short. This car has very impressive numbers to present. But the biggest claim the company and the car make is that they have solved the range problem electric cars face. And also have provided a clean means of individual transportation.
First of all, it is necessary to explain the concept behind flow cells. The idea was patented by NASA in 1976 in order to have better ways to store energy for space flights. They combine the advantages of regular batteries and of fuel cells.
Although it offers the so called “cold burning” of common batteries, the flow cell does not use regular electrolytes, such as lead-acid or lithium ions, which are sometimes toxic and employ heavy or precious metals, as well as rare earths. The flow battery uses two sorts of liquids, one with positive charge and the other with negative charge. When these liquids react, they produce electricity. And you do not have to “recharge” them, only to replace the liquids, as you would do with hydrogen in a fuel cell car, such as the Mirai. Or with a common combustion engine vehicle. Apart from that, these liquids do not require extremely low temperatures or extremely high pressure tanks, such as hydrogen does.
You may say this is an old technology and it has never been used before. True. So what has nanoFLOWCELL done differently? According to the company, many things, starting from their car.
The Quant E looks like a station wagon, but it is more like a big hatchback, due to it rear overhang. And big is a very simple way of putting it, because the car is enormous: it is 5.26 m long, 2.02 m wide, 1.36 m tall and presents a wheelbase of 3.20 m. Just for a quick reference, it is longer, wider and heavier than the Chrysler Pacifica, a vehicle that carries 8 people and that is comparable in what relates to dimensions to a Hummer H1. The “heavier” part is explained by the technology the car uses to obtain energy. Which the video below starts to detail:
As we have already told you, flow batteries replace the liquids that lose their energy properties. In other words, you do not have to plug them in and wait ages for the batteries to recharge. You just have to refill the batteries, or, better saying, the tanks that hold the ionic liquids, as nanoFLOWCELL has named them.
These liquids are stored in two separated tanks and they never get in touch with each other. They interact with the help of a membrane that not only allows the ions to react with each other, but also captures the energy that is generated from this reaction. This is the core of nanoFLOWCELL.
This electricity is either delivered to the engines or sent to supercapacitors, electric components that are able to retain or to release large amounts of electricity very rapidly. This is specially useful to regenerative brakes and also in accelerations.
Below it is possible to see how the nanoFLOWCELL system works:
The Quant E has four asynchronous three-phase drive electric engines, one for each wheel, but not placed on the wheels, due to unsprung mass concerns. Speaking of wheels, the car uses 22-inch units in both axles, with 245/30 R22 at the front and 285/30 R22 at the back. Two large supercapacitors are located apparently under the front row of seats. And the tanks take all the room that would be reserved for luggage in the back.
No wonder: each one of them is able to hold 200 l of ionic liquid (hence the heavy weight). With all 400 l it can carry, the car weighs 2,300 kg. These liquids are basically water with metallic salts, what represents more than 400 kg added to the car’s weight. This is why many say the Quant E is powered by sea water. Nothing is farther from the truth, since one of the secrets of nanoFLOWCELL is exactly the fluids it uses to power the car.
According to the company, these liquids have much more energy than a lead-acid battery with the same weight. In order to compare, have in mind that in 1 kg of lithium-ion batteries, the ones that are currently used in most electric cars and cell phones, you have 4 times the energy you get from 1 kg of lead-acid batteries. In 1 kg of the liquids nanoFLOWCELL uses, you can extract 20 times the energy you get from lead-acid batteries and 5 times the energy supplied by lithium-ion battery of the same weight. That is still a long way from 1 kg of petrol or diesel, which can provide 400 times the energy you extract from lead-acid batteries, but it is almost as practical as the current fossil fuels we have.
Anyway, there is always a catch, isn’t there? In nanoFLOWCELL and Quant E, it lies on the size of the tanks. While a regular tank of petrol holds around 60 l of fuel, providing a 600 km range, Quant E needs the 400 l we have already mentioned for a similar range. There is quite a lot of liquids (or water). With tanks in half of their capacities, the flowing liquids will be heavy enough to change the car’s handling. This is probably why the company says it is still developing the technology. The larger the tanks, the more energy and range you get, but at what price?
Apparently, the numbers provided by the second video we have posted are very outdated, if not just too optimistic. Peak power is not 801 kW, but 680 kW. And it is restricted to 480 kW, still a very respectable power, in order to preserve energy. Torque is 2,900 Nm per engine, or an unbelievable amount of 11,600 Nm in total!
Even with the power restriction, nanoFLOWCELL states the car can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.8 s and that it can reach a top speed of more than 280 km/h (the website says 380 km/h, but we are sure it is a mistake). The nominal voltage of its electric system is 600V, not 735V, as the video states, and nominal current is 50A. We said the numbers in the video were wrong, but only when they refer to the Quant E. There is a new Quant around, and it is called Quant F, the high performance version of the car, appropriately red.
This is the car with 801 kW, 800 km of range, a peak voltage of 735V and a top speed of more than 300 km/h. 0 to 100 km/h acceleration is strangely similar to the one Quant E presents, something else we should check when we talk to the company about their future plans. The Quant E has been homologated and can be used in roads and streets with no restrictions. This is the first step towards mass production, but it is possible that nanoFLOWCELL needs a new automotive partner in order to get there. At first, it has teamed up with Koenigsegg, in 2008, producing the NLV Quant prototype, but the partnership has only lasted one year. The Quant E has emerged in 2014.
When you read the website of nanoFLOWCELL, you get the impression they are all about research, but, if that was the case, why would they bother showing the Quantino?
This is the entry-level Quant, a car that measures only 3.91 m, the same size of a fifth generation Ford Fiesta. But no B segment car has the same wheelbase Quantino presents, at 3.20 m. Another mistake? Probably not, since it has the shortest overhangs we have ever seen. Quantino probably uses the same platform of its bigger brothers, hence the same wheelbase. The entry-level Quant is also 1.93 m wide and 1.34 m tall, with the same 22-inch wheels of its older siblings. All tires are 235/30 R22.
While the wheelbase is the same for all 3 cars, the Quantino presents weaker engines. Each one of them is 25 kW and nominal voltage is only 48V. Although the company has not released the car’s weight, it says the two 175 l tanks, or the 350 l of ionic liquids, can Quantino a range of 1,000 km, with a top speed of 200 km/h.
Something we have not said, but that is equally important about the technology and the cars: nanoFLOWCELL claims that they only release water dust. Just like fuel cell cars. Refilling the vehicles would take only 5 minutes, more or less the same amount of time we waste at a petrol station. The problem is having ionic liquid stations within the reach of all Quant E, Quant F and Quantino owners. Flow batteries would have to be the new industry standard. Or at least a competitive one. And that depends much more on having the right partners and the right business case than presenting the better technology. Betamax will never forget that lesson.