Flow batteries are not a new technology. But in a recent report from two Harvard professors a new kind of flow battery was announced, and it is a major leap forward.
One of the authors would not call it a “groundbreaking” report. But Michael Aziz is excited about the research he is doing with flow batteries.
He and his research partner Roy Gordon, who is a chemistry and materials science professor, just released the fourth in a series of reports on their flow batteries.
While Mr. Aziz was humble about this installment, he added that when it comes to this area of research, “I think just about anyone would say this is groundbreaking.”.
It is not hard to share his enthusiasm, and when we look a little deeper into this new flow battery technology you will share his feelings of optimism.
Flow batteries are currently used in power-grid backups and renewable-energy systems. Because of their physical size and the toxicity of their component solutions they are not really right for consumer use, yet.
A flow battery operates by having an electrolyte solution pumped across either side of a membrane that allows ions to pass. Electrodes are connected to the two electrolyte solutions and this alows the charge to be harvested.
This type of battery has some major benefits: A bigger battery can be made by adding bigger solution tanks. The recharge time can also be really fast, all you have to do is add more electrolyte.
They also have a very long lifespan, this battery should last more than 20 years with minimum maintenance. It also has a charge/discharge lifespan that is measured in thousands of cycles.
Currently flow batteries are built with ions of vanadium, which is rare and very pricey, that is suspended in a solution made with hydrochloric acid. This is where the two professors have made the most progress. Their new electrolyte molecules are formed from common organic compounds like viologen and ferrocene.
Other researchers are paying attention to this body of work and aren’t afraid to talk about how exciting it is.
Shriram Santhanagopalan, who is a senior engineer at the Advanced Vehicles Group of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory was happy to coment that, “The technology is good”.
He goes on to clarifiy his position a little by adding that, it’s “three to four times the size of a traditional lithium-ion battery size for the same amount of energy. It’s just going to be a huge battery the size of your garage [rather] than your car.”
Regardless of the present hurdles to widespread implementation, this is clearly a step in the right direction. We need to be able to store renewable electricity reliably.
This battery technology shows a lot of promise, and could help us to implement the changes to our power generation that we need to make.