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A new water-based organic battery produced from cheap, eco-friendly components, has been developed by scientists from the University of Southern California (USC). Intended for use at power plants, the new battery is set to improve efficiency of the energy grid via large-scale energy storage.
Sri Narayan, a professor of chemistry and author of a paper describing the innovation published online in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society, said "the batteries last for about 5,000 recharge cycles, giving them an estimated 15-year life span". If you compare this to lithium ion batteries which, are not only dangerous for the environment due to the materials which they contain, but only last for 1,000 recharge cycles, this is a remarkable development.
Such organic flow batteries will be game-changers for grid electrical energy storage in terms of simplicity, cost, reliability and sustainability
-G.K. Surya Parakash
This innovation could revolutionize the USA's energy industry. Narayan worked on the project with G.K. Surya Prakash, another professor of chemistry at USC, who described the batteries as "game-changers for grid electrical energy storage".
One major issue with many renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, is that during periods where there is limited solar exposure or wind, little energy is generated. On the other hand when there is an excess of these, much of the energy generated is not used and so is wasted.
This is where the new device will be used most effectively. The unreliability of these renewable sources of energy can be negated by the storage of energy using the new batteries. This could lead to a greater number of energy companies steering away from non-renewable sources towards cleaner technologies.
How Does the New Battery Work?
Similar to a fuel cell, the batteries have a redox flow design with two tanks containing electroactive materials dissolved in water. A cell with a membrane separating the two fluids, contains electrodes on either side of it which release energy. These tanks can be made bigger to accommodate higher amounts of energy storage and the central cell can be altered to release energy at different rates.
Previous designs of batteries typical use metals or toxic chemicals for the electroactive materials. In this case, Narayan and Prakesh set out to find an organic compound able to be dissolved in water to substitute for the conventionally used materials. They predicted that this method would have less of an environmental impact and would most likely be a cheaper alternative.
After experimenting with different compounds, the researchers found that a naturally occurring organic compound, quinones, were the ideal candidate to be the alternative. These compounds are found in funghi, bacteria, animals and plants and they are actively involved in cellular respiration and photosynthesis.
Narayan stated that despite the current synthesis of quinones from naturally occurring hydrocarbons, there is the potential to produce them from carbon dioxide.
The team who developed the battery have filed for patents to protect its design and plans for the production of larger batteries.
The Future of Energy Storage
The development of these batteries is very significant for not only energy storage but renewable energy too. Often criticised for their inefficiencies, wind and solar power could now be a viable option for all energy companies increasingly pressured to "go green" who have doubted their ability to provide energy on demand for customers.