Harvard new nontoxic Battery
Harvard scientists have developed a new flow battery which stores energy in liquid, works 10 years without energy loss and is much safer than lithium-ion batteries.
After a few years of heavy use, most lithium-ion batteries suddenly loose a lot of storage capacity. You surely recognize this from your smartphone, but that’s also a problem for energy storage which should last a very long time to store solar energy. Scientists at Harvard University have found a possible solution.
The new technology promises a battery definitely lasting ten years without losing much capacity. The solution is applied to a so-called flow-battery. The flow battery stores energy in organic molecules dissolved in neutral pH water. This new chemistry allows for a non-toxic, non-corrosive battery with an exceptionally long lifetime and offers the potential to significantly decrease the costs of production.
Flow batteries store energy in liquid solutions in external tanks — the bigger the tanks, the more energy they store. Flow batteries are a promising storage solution for renewable, intermittent energy like wind and solar but today’s flow batteries often suffer degraded energy storage capacity after many charge-discharge cycles, requiring periodic maintenance of the electrolyte to restore the capacity.
By modifying the structures of molecules used in the positive and negative electrolyte solutions, and making them water soluble, the Harvard team was able to engineer a battery that loses only one percent of its capacity per 1000 cycles.
Lithium ion batteries don’t even survive 1000 complete charge/discharge cycles.
Less than $100 per kilowatt-hour
Because the researchers were able to dissolve the electrolytes in neutral water, this long-lasting battery fits in your basement. The battery is noncorrosive and can be made using cheaper materials. Cheap batteries is important. The Department of Energy (DOE) has set a goal of building a battery that can store energy for less than $100 per kilowatt-hour, which would make stored wind and solar energy competitive with energy produced from traditional power plants.
This research puts us one step closer to reaching that target.
This work on aqueous soluble organic electrolytes is of high significance in pointing the way towards future batteries with vastly improved cycle life and considerably lower cost,” said Imre Gyuk, Director of Energy Storage Research at the Office of Electricity of the DOE. “I expect that efficient, long duration flow batteries will become standard as part of the infrastructure of the electric grid.”
New class of molecules
By functionalising ferrocene molecules the same way as the viologen, the team was able to turn an insoluble molecule into a highly soluble one that could be cycled stably. Aqueous soluble ferrocenes represent a whole new class of molecules for flow batteries.
The neutral pH should be especially helpful in lowering the cost of the ion-selective membrane that separates the two sides of the battery. Most flow batteries today use expensive polymers that can withstand the aggressive chemistry inside the battery. They can account for up to one-third of the total cost of the device. With essentially salt water on both sides of the membrane, expensive polymers can be replaced by cheap hydrocarbons.
The researchers are working with several companies to scale up the technology for industrial applications and to optimize the interactions between the membrane and the electrolyte. Harvard OTD has filed a portfolio of pending patents on innovations in flow battery technology.
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