Energy

Flow battery could make renewable energy storage economically viable

Flow battery could make renewa...
"We have demonstrated an inexpensive, long-life, safe and eco-friendly flow battery attractive for storing the energy from solar and wind energy systems at a mass-scale," said the study's lead author Sri Narayan
"We have demonstrated an inexpensive, long-life, safe and eco-friendly flow battery attractive for storing the energy from solar and wind energy systems at a mass-scale," said the study's lead author Sri Narayan
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Diagram illustrating how the redox flow battery is expected to work
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Diagram illustrating how the redox flow battery is expected to work
"We have demonstrated an inexpensive, long-life, safe and eco-friendly flow battery attractive for storing the energy from solar and wind energy systems at a mass-scale," said the study's lead author Sri Narayan
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"We have demonstrated an inexpensive, long-life, safe and eco-friendly flow battery attractive for storing the energy from solar and wind energy systems at a mass-scale," said the study's lead author Sri Narayan

Researchers at the University of Southern California looking to crack the renewable energy storage problem have developed a new version of a redox flow battery from inexpensive and readily-available materials.

Though there are huge lithium-ion battery installations from the likes of Tesla that can store energy harvested from renewables like wind and solar, they're not exactly cheap. The USC researchers looked to an existing design that stores energy in liquid form.

In the so-called redox flow battery, a positive chemical and a negative chemical are stored in separate tanks. The chemicals are pumped in and out of a chamber where they exchange ions across a membrane – flowing one way to charge and the other to discharge.

Though such systems have previously used expensive, dangerous and toxic vanadium and bromine dissolved in acid for their electrolytes in the past, we have seen recent designs that replace those with organic or more environment-friendly alternatives.

Diagram illustrating how the redox flow battery is expected to work
Diagram illustrating how the redox flow battery is expected to work

For its design, the USC team used a waste product of the mining industry and an organic material that can be made from carbon-based feedstocks, including carbon dioxide, and is already used in other redox flow batteries.

In tests, the iron sulfate solution and Anthraquinone disulfonic acid (AQDS) battery was found able to charge and discharge hundreds of times with "virtually no loss of power." The researchers say that the inexpensive nature of the materials used could also lead to significant electricity cost savings compared to redox flow batteries using venadium, if manufactured at scale.

"To date there has been no economically viable, eco-friendly solution to energy storage that can last for 25 years," said lead author on the study Sri Narayan. "Lithium-ion batteries do not have the long-life and vanadium-based batteries uses expensive, relatively toxic materials limiting large-scale use. Our system is the answer to this challenge. We foresee these batteries used in residential, commercial and industrial buildings to capture renewable energy."

The study has been published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

Source: USC via Eurekalert

12 comments
CAVUMark
Everyone should just be able to make their own energy and eliminate reliance on large centralized power plants. Or just light a candle.... but that won't charge the cell phone will it.
yawood
I'll wait to get excited until they actually come to the market but I hope the hype lives up to its promise.
JimFox
Sure I heard about this several years ago but nothing eventuated- hopefully this time will be better. The problems I see are the large footprint that makes it unsuited to many domestic installations & the problems of replacing the electrolytes; plus the
public/ business acceptance.
nick101
Nice. I don't get how using non-toxic materials to make these is so important, you aren't going to be eating them, right? Anyway, there's already a feasible way of storing energy from these devices, and it's been around a long time. Hydrogen. If the electricity is used to generate hydrogen via electrolysis, then it can be used to generate power, or heat, later. (Watch, some hippy will claim it'll be turned into hydrogen bombs or something!) :D
JimFox
Hydrogen... from what I've read, a nonstarter really. Expensive to generate, transmit & store the smallest atom in the universe; no great strides have been made in hydrogen vehicles, all of which are heavily subsidised. As technology moves on better ways may be found, though.
Ichabod Ebenezer
I'm wondering how large such a system would be for the consumer market. I currently have two Tesla batteries up against the wall in my garage. If I would have to fill my garage with vats of these liquids to replace those two batteries, it's still not a workable solution.
Stephen Colbourne
Pumped hydro claims 87% efficiency and if it rains you get the bonus free hydro power. You dont need to use fresh water, so it can be built anywhere with water including desert regions if you have the necessary height difference.
Catweazle
"Or just light a candle.... but that won't charge the cell phone will it." --- A cheap commonly available thermoelectric device will make a candle do just that.
Simon Redford
Vanadium flow batteries are a relatively mature technology and makers claim low toxicity. See Red-T Energy Systems in the UK who have just formed a partnership with Avalon Battery in the US to form the new UK/US business Invinity Energy Systems - see https://invinity.com/creating-leading-vanadium-flow-battery-company/ . One of the potential advantages of vanadium based systems is that you can re-charge a site by replacing the fluids if using it for backup power, although I'm not sure if this is being offered by Invinity.
Fast Eddie
Lots of companies have given up on this approach. We may learn a lot more about what is possible with batteries during Tesla's Battery and Powertrain Investor Day, now loosely scheduled for May, 2020. They are likely to announce batteries with many more years and cycles of life, plus higher energy density, safer materials and much lower cost. If Tesla is successful, it will push off the appeal of many alternative storage concepts, like flow batteries.