They can be called cake-and-eat-it-too cars: hugely green, but also totally luxurious and blindingly fast. Most of the time they don’t make it into production, but the Tesla Model S proves that sometimes they do. An upstart company called nanoFlowcell is now claiming it will soon hit the market with a radical new concept that aims to challenge every assumption about electric cars.

The Quant e-Sportlimousine in a fanciful vision going through a tunnel.

The Quant e-Sportlimousine is a fanciful vision going through a tunnel. (Photo: Quant/nanoFlowcell)

Last October, I wrote about nanoFlowcell's 920-horsepower Quant e-Sportlimousine, shown at the Geneva Motor Show. This new twist on the electric car claimed 370 miles on a charge, zero to 62 mph in 2.8 seconds, and a top speed of 218 mph. Under the hood were four three-phase electric motors and in place of a fuel cell or conventional battery was an experimental salt water “flow battery.” It’s not totally pie-in-the-sky, because GE Global Research is working on flow batteries, in collaboration with Berkeley Lab.

Says GE:

It’s energy dense due to multi-electron transfer and high solubility of active species, It’s safe because we use non-flammable solutions in water and active materials are stored separately. It’s conformable because the storage tanks could be any shape and in any place in a car and it’s affordable because we use very inexpensive bulk materials compared to that used in current batteries (lithium, nickel, vanadium, etc.)
In Quant’s application, there are a pair of 250-liter tanks to hold liquids that flow past a membrane; topping those off replaces recharging. According to Green Car Reports, it’s unclear what the two liquids are; earlier reports that one was seawater aren’t being confirmed by company reps in Geneva, and there are also environmental questions about an unidentified powder that’s produced as “emissions.”

The Quant F. Gullwing doors usually mean cars don't go into production.

The Quant F. Gullwing doors usually mean cars don't go into production. (Photo: Quant/nanoFlowcell)

OK, I’m definitely curious, but my assumption was that Quant, aka nanoFlowcell, would further develop the e-Sportlimousine and the next step would be press drives, tech briefings, refined models shown at auto shows. That’s how cars are developed for production. Instead, Quant is back at the Geneva Motor Show with two more prototypes. It’s sounding more like car design than actual production.

The Quant F claims zero emissions from the flow battery drive train with two-speed automatic and motors on every wheel, zero to 62 mph in 2.8 seconds (faster than a Corvette Z06), and 186 mph. The powertrain offers 1,075 horsepower, a big jump from the already eye-bugging e-Sport limo. And don’t worry about range anxiety; it can go 500 miles.

The Quantino is a downsized vision, and it might actually be practical.

The Quantino is a downsized vision, and it might actually be practical. (Image: Quant/nanoFlowcell)

I doubt Tesla is worried about Quant F challenging its supremacy anytime soon. But much more production-ready is the other Geneva show car, the downsized Quantino. It also has four wheel motors (25 kilowatts each) but they add up to only 136 horsepower. One version of the Quantino would reach 125 mph, and 620 miles of range is predicted.  

According to Nunzio La Vecchia, chief technical officer at Lichtenstein-based nanoFlowcell, “The Quantino is an electric vehicle for everyone. Affordable and featuring an extravagant, unique design. It is not just a concept vehicle — it will become reality in the course of this year. We will be driving the Quantino in 2015. And we aim to attain approval for road use very quickly.”

Great, let’s get on with it. There are numerous questions. Is the flow battery more road-ready than fast-moving fuel-cell technology? Are its two liquids nontoxic and readily available in affordable quantities? What happens in a crash? Here's GE's vision of how a flow-cell battery works:

GE's vision of how a flow-cell battery works

And here's some (non-driving) video of the Quant F. NanoFlowcell has shown images of the e-Sportlimo on the road, so maybe they are getting somewhere. 

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.