A car that can drive itself to work could soon be a thing of the past, as a new technology that can convert a vehicle’s battery into a fuel source has been unveiled by a U.S. company.
The breakthrough, developed by U.K.-based startup EnergyBreeze, is based on a technology that combines hydrogen and a battery into fuel.
The company is working on a fuel-cell vehicle called the Powerwall, which it is developing for utility-scale power systems.
But that fuel-producing engine is more than just a battery: It also uses a pair of electrodes to store energy that can be released as needed to recharge the battery.
By converting a battery’s energy into electricity, the energy is then transferred to the battery and used to power a car.
It’s a clever solution that could pave the way for an electric vehicle that is far more fuel efficient than today’s gas-powered cars.
The Powerwall’s fuel-to-electric converter will convert up to 200 pounds of hydrogen into electricity.
That’s enough energy to power an electric car for about 30 miles, the company says.
The battery is then stored in a tank that can hold up to 20,000 gallons.
The system could be used to store hydrogen in a hydrogen tank, as in a home hydrogen-topped generator, or store it in an airtight container to use in other applications.
It could also be used for powering a home appliance or an electric-vehicle charging station, EnergyBreesze says.
In fact, the car could be powered by the Powerwalls own battery.
In its patent application, Energy Breeze describes a method of storing hydrogen at a lower temperature than ambient air.
That would allow the battery to be cooled by the ambient air, which would reduce its energy consumption.
The patent application describes the PowerWalls design as “the first practical energy storage system to be used as a fuel cell vehicle.”
While the PowerWall is still a prototype, EnergyBs technology is being evaluated by electric car companies like Tesla and Leaf, and other researchers are trying to build similar cars.
If EnergyBrizes technology can be used in a commercially viable car, it could be a big step toward a mass-market electric vehicle, says Paul M. Schlesinger, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Colorado.
If successful, it would be the first such car to use the EnergyBREEZE technology.
“There’s a huge opportunity to go from a car that has no gas to a car with a high-efficiency fuel cell,” he says.
“We could be doing it within a decade.”
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In a future in which fuel cell cars are ubiquitous, the cost of an electric powered car will be lower than gasoline cars, EnergyBIs co-founder and chief executive officer, Matt Boudreau, says.
But he says the company hopes to keep the price of the Power wall low enough that people won’t mind the high upfront costs of buying one.
“I think people will be happy with the price because it’s going to be a good price for the fuel cell system,” he said.
Boudauer says he thinks it will take about two to three years for the battery pack to produce enough power to power the battery for an average-sized vehicle.
“The Powerwall has been designed to be able to run in a battery for a few years,” he adds.
If the company can keep the Power Wall from breaking down and run out of energy, that could be significant in a world of growing electric vehicle adoption.
The energy-saving technology could also have major benefits for the environment.
The EnergyBrieze batteries could also help plug in to existing electric vehicle charging stations, making them a more viable option for plug-in charging, Schlesingers says.
EnergyBrenner said it has been studying how the Powerwalks energy storage technology works and plans to release a detailed report on the technology in the coming months.
If it is successful, the technology could change the way many people think about fuel cell vehicles, he says, and could eventually be used by the entire electric vehicle industry.
“For us, we are not looking at fuel cells as a replacement for gasoline vehicles,” Schlesings says.
Instead, he believes fuel cell technology will allow the electric vehicle to compete with conventional gas- or diesel-powered vehicles.
EnergyBI has raised more than $200 million from investors, including a venture capital fund and private equity firms, to develop the technology.
The project has raised $3.5 million so far.
The article originally appeared on Wired.