Written By: Jim Greenberg
U.S. scientists are developing a new type of battery –one that could store huge reserves of energy – a global game changer for the renewable energy industry.
To date, when there is surplus renewable energy (power that remains after demands have been met), this energy goes to waste. The Harvard design of a new innovative grid-scale battery may provide a solution to this problem.
Most flow-battery designs suited for storage of large amounts of energy have relied upon expensive chemicals and metals that are difficult to maintain. Vanadium, the most commonly used material for advanced flow-battery technologies, is expensive. Other variants contain precious-metal catalysts such as platinum. Thus, the running costs of producing these batteries have been high.
The Harvard researchers have developed a new material that could drive down the cost of flow-battery technologies. Their design, published in the journal Nature, involves a common low-cost organic chemical called quinone that is found in crude oil. Once dissolved in water, quinone can be used to fuel a flow battery –allowing surplus energy to be stored and used later when desired.
According to the researchers, their new battery design, running on a more naturally abundant and affordable chemical, already performs as well as vanadium flow batteries, promising power density and good efficiency. Furthermore, the quinone tested by Harvard scientists was almost identical to quinone found in a common garden crop, rhubarb.
Scientists say that their flow-battery has the potential to run a thousand times faster than the vanadium system, meaning that batteries can be charged and discharged much more quickly.
Although the technology sounds like a game changer for the renewable-energy industry, development still has a long way to go. The next stage is to scale up the system and keep it running for thousands of cycles to demonstrate its capabilities. Nevertheless, if scientists shape the technology effectively, their new battery will allow renewable energy to play an even greater role in the transition away from fossil fuels.
“The intermittent renewable storage problem is the biggest barrier to getting most of our power from the sun and wind. A safe and economical flow battery could play a huge role in our transition from fossil fuels to renewable electricity”, says Michael Aziz, one of the authors of the report and a designer of the battery. “I am excited that we have a good shot at it.”