Fueling the Future: Creating Safe, Sustainable Energy with a Manufacturing Hand from Protolabs
Influit Energy is laser-focused on changing the future of clean energy with nanoelectrofuel (NEF). The Protolabs Cool Idea Award manufacturing grant funded 3D printing, injection molding, and machining for prototyping and production of components in its customized liquid fuel battery systems, which house an innovative and more sustainable energy alternative to lithium-ion batteries.
It’s no secret that gasoline and traditional ICE vehicles present myriad issues, like air pollution and high flammability. On the other hand, lithium-ion batteries commonly used in electric vehicles also come with their own set of disadvantages: they’re subject to overheating, are also extremely flammable, and contain toxic chemicals.
Drawbacks to Lithium-Ion Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are widely used in everything from cell phones, laptops, and power drills to larger mobility applications like electric wheelchairs and vehicles. “The reason lithium ion is so prevalent is because it was the first to be marketed as a high energy density system. But as we’re finding out in society, the electrification of transportation is driving the demand for lithium ion to the point where we’re really starting to see what those failure points look like. A lot of the failure points revolve around things that can’t be overcome from new chemistries because intrinsically, it’s flammable, it’s explosive, and it’s toxic,” explained Influit Energy founder and CEO, John Katsoudas.
According to Influit Energy, lithium-ion batteries present these four main issues:
- The power grid can’t scale with the projected growth of these batteries
- They ignite when they make contact with air or water
- The lithium supply chain isn’t green or secure
- Lithium chemistries can’t reach a sufficient energy density for flight
Clean, Rechargeable Energy
So, what’s the alternative? Katsoudas flipped the script on the concept that fuel and batteries are opposites, instead posing the question, “why not make fuel out of batteries?”
Enter rechargeable nanoelectrofuel—water-based fluid containing charged particles that can transfer their material properties into the fluid. The fluid then exhibits the material behavior of the solid.
Nanoelectrofuel is comparable in energy density with Li-ion batteries, less expensive, and more sustainable than other lithium-ion batteries since it doesn’t depend on the already overburdened electrical grid for the recharging/refueling process. NEF battery technology is well-suited for industries like transportation, defense, and aeronautics, and can power everything from forklifts, electric vehicles, and aircraft.
Protolabs-Manufactured Parts for NEF Stack Assemblies
The Cool Idea Award manufacturing grant funded prototyping and end-use production for a variety of components used in various NEF battery stacks. Material selection was a critical consideration throughout product development; ensuring that the materials for parts that would interact with the NEF fluid would be chemically compatible.
|Component||Manufacturing Services Used||Material||Purpose|
|Membrane protector||injection molding||polypropylene (PP)||Guard the membrane from tears|
|Motor mounts||Selective laser sintering (SLS)||PA 12 White||Ensure the tubing used in the battery stacks remains free of twists or crimps|
|1 to 4-way manifold||PolyJet||Digital Clear/Translucent||Combines four stacks together, providing one inlet and outlet|
|Frame aligners (40)||Stereolithography (SLA)||ABS-Like White (Accura Xtreme White 200)||Keep the frames in optimal position|
|Solid cast electrode cells||PolyJet||Digital Clear/Translucent||Allow for testing alterations to NEF solution and other additives before moving to large-scale production|
|Current collector plate||CNC machining||Stainless Steel 316||Compress membrane frame gaskets and serve as battery terminals|
“Every time you think you’ve got the winning design and you prototype it, you learn something new. You don’t just learn something new about how right you were, you also learn something new about how wrong you were. That’s why rapid prototyping is so critical for companies like us. Any relationship that we have that has enabled that, has been invaluable to us.”
The team at Influit Energy appreciated the cost-effectiveness of our injection molding service. “We needed to increase the quality and quantity of our membrane frames. To have it injection-molded, we had it quoted out at various other injection molding services, but Protolabs was by far the most cost-effective and best suited for our needs for prototyping purposes,” said Michael Garg, Influit Energy prototype engineer.
The Value of Reinvention
Chronically curious engineers can likely all commiserate about thinking they’ve produced the final design, only for it to require another adjustment (or two, or three). “Every time you think you’ve got the winning design and you prototype it, you learn something new. You don’t just learn something new about how right you were, you also learn something new about how wrong you were. That’s why rapid prototyping is so critical for companies like us. Any relationship that we have that has enabled that, has been invaluable to us.”
What’s next? Solving the broken energy ecosystem. “Lithium-ion has issues that there aren’t any real solutions for. People are looking into hydrogen, but that has other problems. From my perspective, it just looks like a circle and it’s our intent to break that circle and get us out of that situation. That’s why we’re designing and building the world’s first water-based nanofluid high energy density flow battery. The battery itself is a never consumed, rechargeable fuel source that can be universally used in all formats,” said Katsoudas.
Learn more about the important work Influit Energy is doing to provide a clean, safe, and sustainable energy alternative.