Scientists at the University of Southern California have developed a new type of battery that lasts five times longer than traditional lithium-ion batteries and contains no heavy metals. One catch, though — it’s not for your smartphone. The battery created by professor Sri Narayan and his team is intended to revolutionize the power grid by making renewable energy more viable.
The new battery is a so-called organic redox-flow design. It’s similar to a fuel cell in that it has two tanks of electro-active materials dissolved in water. These fluids are pumped into a reaction chamber with a thin membrane separating them, which allows for the transfer of electrons, and thus power generation. The real innovation here is that the USC team managed to build a functional redox-flow battery without the metals or toxic liquids needed for older versions. Not only is it safer, it’s much cheaper than even lithium-ion cells — at least one-tenth the cost.
Power generation with more efficient solar cells and wind turbines get most of the attention when talking about the future of energy, but the ability to store that power is perhaps even more important. The problem is capacity and reliability — it’s the same issue that’s been holding back batteries in phones, but it’s even more troublesome in the electrical grid.
Even if we develop a super-efficient solar panel, we need somewhere to park all those electrons when the sun is shining so there are some left for nighttime. It’s the same story for wind power, which isn’t constant. Without a cheap, efficient battery to store the power during peak generation, the whole concept falls apart. This one could last 15 years, which is super-impressive.
The team hopes to refine the battery’s components (including one that’s currently made from hydrocarbons) to make it ready for real-world testing. As you can tell from the image above, it’s not quite finished.
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