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Alchemy Obtains Option to Acquire License to Metal-Air Fuel-Cell Technology from Cal Tech

Alchemy’s rendering of a future pumping station for its liquid metal-air fuel-cell system.

Alchemy Enterprises, a new energy company, has been working with NASA/JPL on the development of a metal-air fuel-cell (MAFC) targeted at the heavy-duty transportation sector.

The company has now entered into an option agreement to acquire patent and license rights to the technology from California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech). (Cal Tech operates Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL)—a federally-funded R&D center sponsored by NASA.) Cal Tech will be issued 8% of Alchemy Common Stock, and will receive an annual fee. Alchemy will have exclusive worldwide rights to the current and all subsequent patent rights related to the metal-air fuel cell developed by NASA/JPL under the agreement.

What Alchemy calls its Electric Power Cell Technology was first developed for long-range solar-powered high-altitude unmanned aircraft applications. Alchemy contracted with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories to design and develop a prototype system specifically for initial implementation in public transport and commercial heavy-duty vehicles.

The initial working prototype is under development, and is being specifically tailored for implementation in vehicles manufactured by Designline Group in New Zealand. Designline is a leader in the production of electric drive systems for buses.

The company expects to be able to unveil a working prototype by December of 2006, and to begin early-stage implementation beginning in 2007. Once the initial bench model and bus system is completed, the company will begin marketing the system, geared toward the public transport sector.

Metal-air fuel cells (MAFC) generate electricity using metal and oxygen, rather than combing hydrogen and oxygen as in a PEM fuel cell. Compared to conventional batteries, MAFCs can have as much as 75 times greater energy density.

The Alchemy Electric Power Cell Technology works by pumping an electrolytic liquid consisting of common base earth metal and salt water into the power cell. Catalyzed by air, it generates electricity used to power an engine or other propulsion device.

When the electrolytic liquid is spent, it is pumped out of the power cell into a storage tank. In the storage tank, the liquid is recharged, ready to be pumped back into another electric power cell for re-use.

Alchemy claims that its MAFC is capable of powering a vehicle up to 500 miles before re-fueling, with performance beating that of a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle. The cost of producing the material for the power cell is lower than the cost of gasoline fuel, and the overall cost can be amortized to even lower cost because the material is able to be re-used.

Alchemy claims that the cell has a shelf-life of approximately ten years.

Other companies working with MAFC technology (zinc-based) are Arotech (earlier post) and eVionyx.

In 2003, eVionyx in conjunction with InventQjaya fielded a Honda Insight modified to be powered by a hybrid powertrain using Nickel-Zinc batteries and Metal-Air fuel cells. The car travelled 516 km (320 miles).



Sounds like an exciting technology to me. Why aren't we seeing a next generation of Insights using it?

Adrian Akau

I am assuming this is a zinc based technology but please correct me if I am mistaken. I have already seen a similar technology based upon aluminum.

This zinc technology sounds promising but a few diagrams of the system would be helpful. We also should be given the composition of the electrolyte to the extent that the company would permit plus the nature of the electrodes and more information on the charging system. The approximate efficiency of the charge-discharge cycles should be provided, time of recharge and any charts showing power produced during the discharge cycle as the electrolyte declines in strength should be provided. A bit more information, please with a follow up article would be most helpful.

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Can someone explain why we do not hear more about metal based fuel cells? I remember reading about an article about an economy based on zinc, not hydrogen, for fuel cell technology.

Harvey D.

This idea has been around for many years but it does not work out in practical world. It comes up and down every 3 to 5 years. Higher energy intensity level batteries may have a better chance in the mid to long terms.

shaun mann

the exact earth metal doesn't really matter. you can make similar technology work with zinc or aluminum and possibly others. the energy density of these systems can be quite high, both theoretically and practically.

the issues that i remember were:

1. the power density was pretty low, so you'd have to have a hydrib system w/ ultracaps or possibly something so prosaic as the firefly PbA batts. they may have solved this by making the fuel a liquid. previous systems were foils, pebbles, or blocks, none of which would have anything near the effective surface area of a liquid solution

2. the used fuel sat in the same tank as the unused fuel, leading to plans for recharging instead of refueling. this system may have avoided that problem through the use of liquid as well.

zinc and aluminum are infinitely more practical electrical storage media than hydrogen, no astronomically expensive pressurized tank, no highly combustible gas, no storage losses, much higher stored energy density, no special license needed to transport it

Iceland got excited about the hydrogen economy even though there is no way as yet to transport significant amounts hydrogen from Iceland to anywhere else. if they new about this technology, maybe they would talk about their future aluminum economy

shaun mann

also see:

both claim energy densities of their cells to be 2x-3x that of lithium batts, but, of course, they have pretty low power outputs


A 30 year history of research in this area has lead to some significant breakthrough in recent years.

The JPL technology advertized seems to have make such
advances in power density.

Would love to hear from anyone working in this area wanting to participate in similar venture.

Erik S.

I'm not so sure I trust these Alchemy guys. Their "team" consists of a bunch of MBA's and people with multimedia design experience, but not one degreed engineer. Of course, regarding their Chief Technology officer, we are told that "From 1989 - 1992, Mr. Foote was privately educated by the world leading Aeronautical Engineering Professor, Svenn Ridder of the Swedish Institute of Technology". Hmmm. I've got nothing against the self-taught, but then I'd like to see some evidence that he's contributed in a technical fashion elsewhere.

Sure, they're buying the intellectual property off of JPL, but I'm suspicious of a team that has ZERO technical training. The CEO is a brand manager and restauranteur for crying out loud.

I have a feeling this is a another feel good dog and pony show. I think there's a damn good reason why no specs are given, and no technical info on the technology is available.


Here is some info I came across on energy density of hydrides and borides. I have heard a lot about solid fuel in the past. It would be good to explore all possibilities without becoming idealogically fixated.


Buses are already running on this technology here in NZ. It works fine, except the recharge time is slow. This must be considered.


This technology that Alchemy is working on is based on Magnesium, not aluminium or Zinc.


While Part of noth america fights for oil: Other counties: Uk, Nk,IL,Cda Sweeden advance in MAFC and stirling engines and now are almost ready to use much less oil if any shortly.Example Sweedish Steath naval fleet and new hard to detect submarines, fuel cell bus, cars and many other advancments leave those seeking oil no matter what behind in Newest at leats 25 years. The advanced attitude now, is if you plug anthing in, its petrolium and polution.Just think for minute,With the same number of small MAFC unit cellsproperly installrd that are in electic cars marketed now, every house could come off of the grid and save about 3 tons of polution CO2 gas per year. Plus
saving no electrical bill and perhaps no Gas bill either. There is several working here towards this now and it will happen.

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