How does it work?
It’s worth clarifying right away that a portable air-aluminum current source (let’s call it “aluminum source” for short) should not be confused with an ordinary power bank: it does not need sockets, since it does not accumulate current, but generates it itself.
The aluminum source is very convenient if you are going on a long hike. Imagine you took a charged power bank with you and used it on the second day of a week-long hike, the rest of the time you will have to carry useless weight with you. With an aluminum source, things go differently: in order for it to start working, aluminum plates are installed in a special cell inside – a fuel cell – and electrolyte is poured – a weak solution of common salt in water. This means that you can install the plates in advance, and while traveling, simply add a spoonful of table salt, pour water from the nearest stream or flask – and you can charge your smartphone, navigator, walkie-talkie and any other portable travel equipment.
In fuel cells, a chemical reaction begins between aluminum, water and oxygen coming from the air through a special membrane in the wall. The result is electricity and heat. For example, just 25 grams of aluminum and half a glass of electrolyte can produce approximately 50 Wh of electricity. This is enough to charge 4-5 iPhone 5 smartphones.
During the reaction, white clay is formed – aluminum hydroxide. It is a non-toxic and safe substance that is found in the soil and is widely used in a wide variety of industries.
When the fuel (aluminum or water) is over, the resulting substance can simply be poured out, the device rinsed a little, refueled with a new supply of fuel, which takes only a couple of minutes. Aluminum is consumed more slowly than water, so one set of plates can be enough for several fillings of water with salt.
A working air-aluminum current source does not make noise and does not produce any emissions, including carbon dioxide. And unlike other environmentally friendly power sources used today, for example, solar panels, it does not depend on the weather, besides, the heat released helps it to work even at very low air temperatures.
How are things?
Back in 2018, AL Technologies engineers implemented a prototype of a tourist current source. The first test of the pen was made through 3D printing and was purely experimental. It was assumed that such a source the size of a thermal mug could charge up to 10 smartphones on one set of plates weighing 50 grams.
Performance did not disappoint, but ergonomics and reliability need to be improved, which turned out as a result of the first laboratory tests. However, the very idea of such a device was warmly received by potential consumers at the recent Startup Bazaar 2019 exhibition in Skolkovo, in which AL Technologies took part, which definitely gives developers an incentive not to completely close the project.
Air-aluminum current sources are a versatile technology that can theoretically be adapted to any power up to the scale of a power plant.
But now, as the first product, AL Technologies engineers are developing a power supply the size of a system unit for low-power (up to 500 W), but long-term (up to two weeks) power supply for industrial equipment. This is very important when it is not possible to frequently “visit” the power source for recharging. This strategy was chosen because of the great interest in this particular source.
Laboratory research in the field of air-aluminum current sources has been going on since the 90s of the last century, but there is still no consumer product on the market. A special contribution to the research belongs to the scientific group “Electrochemical Current Sources” of the Moscow Aviation Institute, which includes Konstantin Pushkin, co-founder and head of AL Technologies.
The company was founded in 2017 and soon became a Skolkovo resident. The startup has already seen interest in its first product, and has also received a Skolkovo grant for its development. By 2020, the first product should go into mass production. At the same time, it is planned to start improving the tourist current source.
The global goal of the company is to translate the technology-concept of air-aluminum current sources into a range of products of different capacities that can bring real benefits to people.