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Molecular Design for Aqueous Organic Redox Flow Batteries

Chemists from Utah State University attempting to create alternative battery technology solutions are progressing, and the latest findings are showcased in a distinguished, international chemistry journal.

Utah State University chemists, from left, Tianbiao Liu, Bo Hu, Camden DeBruler and Jian Luo describe the design and synthesis of a pi-conjugation-extended viologen molecule as a novel, two-electron storage anolyte for neutral total organic aqueous redox flow batteries. (Image credit: Mary-Ann Muffoletto/USU)

Tianbiao Liu, Assistant Professor in USU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and his team illustrated a new molecular design for aqueous organic redox flow batteries (AORFBs), in the January 2, 2018, issue of Angewandte Chemie. Their paper has been honored as a cover feature.

Besides Liu, the paper's authors are USU postdoctoral researcher Jian Luo and doctoral students Bo Hu and Camden DeBruler.

Organic redox flow batteries show promise for large-scale storage of renewable energy, as redox-active organic molecules are synthetically tunable, sustainable and inexpensive. We think they're a great alternative to existing technologies to meet growing demand for battery storage of environmentally friendly, renewable energy resources such as solar and wind power.

Tianbiao Liu

Such renewable energy sources pose certain challenges during use, he says, due to their unstable, heavy cycling, intermittent availability, and grid energy demands. These sources require recurrent changing and discharging, as well as irregular, total recharging of a robust battery.

In their study, the team describes employing synthetic chemistry to design a molecule, featuring a pi-electron conjugation unit, as a unique, two-electron storage anolyte for neutral total organic AORFBs.

"The two-electron structure is a unique feature of this design," Liu says. "It enables total use of organic materials based on abundantly available elements, such as nitrogen and hydrogen.”

The battery built by the chemists delivered a high voltage of 1.44 volts in an aqueous electrolyte, accompanied by remarkable energy efficiency and capacity retention.

"The design is very robust and very stable," Liu says.

Noting a long-time tradition of Angewandte Chemie, Liu dedicated the paper to his master's mentor, Professor Mei Wang of China's Dalian University of Technology, on the occasion of her 62nd birthday.

"Dr. Wang is among the leaders in the field of renewable energy chemistry and was an inspiration to me," he says.

The study is supported by USU and a Utah Science Technology Research (USTAR) Initiative University Technology Acceleration Grant (UTAG). Hu receives support from a Chinese Scholarship Council Self-Financed Students Studying Abroad Award and a Utah Energy Triangle Student Award from the State of Utah's Office of Energy. DeBruler is a USU Presidential Doctoral Research Fellowship recipient.

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