SEAS research team removes toxins from flow battery, making it safer, cost-effective
A team of Harvard scientists and engineers has demonstrated a rechargeable battery that could make storing electricity from intermittently available energy sources, like sun and wind, safe and cost-effective for both residential and commercial use.
The new research builds on earlier work by members of the same team that could enable cheaper and more reliable electricity storage at the grid level.
In the new battery, electrons are picked up and released by compounds composed of inexpensive, Earth-abundant elements (carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, iron and potassium) dissolved in water. The compounds are nontoxic, nonflammable, and widely available, making them safer and cheaper than other battery systems.
“This is chemistry I’d be happy to put in my basement,” said Michael J. Aziz, the Gene and Tracy Sykes Professor of Materials and Energy Technologies at the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the project’s principal investigator. “The nontoxicity and cheap, abundant materials placed in water solution mean that it’s safe — it can’t catch on fire — and that’s huge when you’re storing large amounts of electrical energy anywhere near people.”
The research appears in a paper published today in the journal Science.
This new battery chemistry was discovered by postdoctoral fellow Michael Marshak and graduate student Kaixiang Lin working together with co-lead author Roy Gordon, the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science at Harvard.
“We combined a common organic dye with an inexpensive food additive to increase our battery voltage by about 50 percent over our previous materials,” said Gordon. The findings “deliver the first high-performance, nonflammable, nontoxic, noncorrosive, and low-cost chemicals for flow batteries.”
Unlike solid-electrode batteries, flow batteries store energy in liquids contained in external tanks, similar to fuel cells. The tanks (which set the energy capacity), as well as the electrochemical conversion hardware through which the fluids are pumped (which sets peak power capacity), can be sized independently. Since the amount of energy that can be stored can be arbitrarily increased by scaling up the size of the tanks, greater amounts of energy can be stored at lower cost than traditional battery systems.
Improving on improvements
The active components of electrolytes in most flow battery designs have been metal ions, such as vanadium dissolved in acid. The metals can be expensive, corrosive, tricky to handle, and kinetically sluggish, leading to inefficiencies. Last year, Aziz and his Harvard colleagues demonstrated a flow battery that replaced metals with organic (carbon-based) molecules called quinones. Quinones are abundant, naturally occurring chemicals that are integral to biological processes such as photosynthesis and cellular respiration.
While quinones in a water solution formed the negative electrolyte side of the battery, the positive side relied on a conventional bromine-bearing electrolyte that is used in several other batteries. The high performance and low cost of the technology, which Harvard has licensed to a company in Europe, hold the potential to provide scalable grid-level storage solutions to utilities.
But bromine’s toxicity and volatility make it most suitable for settings where trained professionals can deal with it safely behind secure fences.
So the team began searching for a new recipe that would provide comparable storage advantages — inexpensive, long-lasting, efficient — using chemicals that could be safely deployed in homes and businesses. Their new battery replaces bromine with a nontoxic and noncorrosive ion called ferrocyanide.
“It sounds bad because it has the word ‘cyanide’ in it,” said co-lead author Marshak, who is now assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Cyanide kills you because it binds very tightly to iron in your body. In ferrocyanide, it’s already bound to iron, so it’s safe. In fact, ferrocyanide is commonly used as a food additive, and also as a fertilizer.”
Because ferrocyanide is highly soluble and stable in alkaline rather than acidic solutions, the Harvard team paired it with a quinone compound that is soluble and stable under alkaline conditions, in contrast to the acidic environment of the original battery they developed last year.
Marshak compared exposure to the concentrated alkaline solution to coming into contact with a damaged disposable AA battery. “It’s not something you want to eat or splash around in, but outside of that it’s really not a problem.”
There are other advantages to using alkaline solution. Because it is noncorrosive, the flow battery system components can be made of simpler and much less expensive materials, such as plastics.
“First-generation flow batteries were single-element couples — transition metals like vanadium or iron or chrome,” said Michael Perry, project leader for electrochemical systems at United Technologies Research Center, who was not involved in the work. “Now we’re seeing the possibility of engineered molecules giving us the properties and attributes that we want in one complete system. More work is required and justified, but the Harvard team is really demonstrating the promise of next-generation chemistries.”
Harvard’s Office of Technology Development has been working closely with the research team to navigate the shifting complexities of the energy storage market and build relationships with companies well-positioned to commercialize the new chemistries.
Switch to storage instead of “net metering”
The demand for battery storage is driven as much by regulatory factors as by economic ones. In some states, as well as many parts of the world, if it can’t be used instantly to meet, solar energy incident on solar panels goes to waste if the electricity isn’t stored. However, in many states, customers have the right to sell electricity produced by rooftop solar panels at high consumer rates under a regulatory scheme called “net metering.” Under those circumstances, consumers have little incentive to install batteries. However, market experts like William W. Hogan, the Raymond Plank Professor of Global Energy Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, believe that such policies are ultimately “uneconomic and unsustainable.” And as more and more homeowners install solar panels, utilities are opposing requirements to buy electricity from their customers.
Hogan says net metering is one of a series of “regulatory gimmicks designed to make solar more attractive” and predicts that eventually consumers with rooftop photovoltaic panels will lose the option of exchanging electricity for discounts on their utility bills. When that happens, homeowners will have an incentive to invest in battery storage.
Read more: Green storage for green energy grows cleaner
The Latest on: Green Energy Storage
via Google News
The Latest on: Green Energy Storage
- The weekend read: Green finance and the future of PVon June 26, 2020 at 11:26 pm
According to the IEA’s World Energy Investment 2020 report, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the largest ever drop in global energy spending, with investment expected to plunge in every major ...
- 5-Star AES Plugs Into Renewable Energy Growthon June 26, 2020 at 4:11 am
AES (AES) trades at a wide discount to our $20 fair value estimate and has a dividend that yields 4.1%, creating a buying opportunity for growth and income investors, in our view. Public policy and ...
- Rolling Green at Topsfield Maintenance-free living for 55+ active adultson June 26, 2020 at 2:00 am
C.P. Berry Homes, known for quality-built, maintenance-free condominium communities and custom-built homes on the North Shore, invites you to visit Rolling Green at Topsfield.
- House Dems' Green Energy Bill Seeks To Boost Tax Breakson June 25, 2020 at 5:01 pm
A bevy of existing tax breaks to encourage investments, purchases and use of renewable energy and energy-efficient property would be boosted under legislation introduced Thursday by several Democrats ...
- Green Mountain’s Home Battery Program Offering Options in Natural Gas-Poor Vermonton June 25, 2020 at 1:13 pm
Customers of Colchester, VT-based Green Mountain Power (GMP) now have the opportunity to enroll in the electric utility’s Tesla Powerwall or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) home battery storage programs.
- Intersolar North America and Energy Storage North America Appoint Advisory Board to Shape 2021 Conference Programon June 25, 2020 at 11:00 am
Intersolar North America (ISNA) and Energy Storage North America (ESNA), the newly combined solar + storage events, today announced the formation of a new Advisory Board to review program content for ...
- UK oil and gas group pushes for inclusion in net-zero energy transitionon June 25, 2020 at 7:23 am
OGUK recently set out industry commitments to halve operational emissions in the next decade, with a target of 90 percent reductions by 2040. The sector was one of the first to respond to the ...
- Amazon Announces $2 Billion Climate Pledge Fund to invest in green energyon June 24, 2020 at 7:58 am
Online retail giant Amazon has announced a $2 billion venture capital fund in order to support green energy developments to fight climate change.
- Greenbacker forays into energy storage with 7.9MW/16.5MWh buyon June 17, 2020 at 10:31 pm
Greenbacker Renewable Energy Co LLC has acquired the rights to a company that owns 7.9MW/16.5MWh of behind-the-meter energy stor ...
- Manganese X Applauds the U.S. Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Use of Manganese for Energy Storageon June 16, 2020 at 9:58 pm
Manganese X Energy Corp. (TSXV: MN) (FSE: 9SC2) (TRADEGATE: 9SC2) (OTC Pink: SNCGF) ("Manganese X" or the "Company") is pleased to announce that Manganese X Applauds The U.S. Department of Energy Argo ...
via Bing News