Developing A Revolutionary Battery That's Cheap And Eco-Friendly
June 26, 2014

Developing A Revolutionary Battery That’s Cheap And Eco-Friendly

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe online

A group of scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) have produced a water-based organic battery that is expected to revolutionize the storage and dissemination of power. And at a time when both our economy and our environment need it most, this battery is both inexpensive to produce and is made from eco-friendly components.

Unlike the battery that you may have in mind, used in television remotes or cellphones, this new battery – which uses no metals or toxic materials – is designed to be used in the many power plants that are responsible for keeping home temperatures regulated and night lights burning. This new battery will aid in making our energy grid more resilient and efficient and it will do this by greatly expanding the energy storage capability over batteries currently in use today.

The team that collaborated on creating this game-changing energy component is comprised of Sri Narayan, professor of chemistry at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Surya Prakash, professor of chemistry and director of the USC Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, along with Bo Lang, Lena Hoober-Burkhardt and Fang Wang. The team secured their funding for this research by the ARPA-E Open-FOA program, the University of Southern California and the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute.

"The batteries last for about 5,000 recharge cycles, giving them an estimated 15-year lifespan," said Narayan, corresponding author of a paper describing the new batteries that was published online by the Journal of the Electrochemical Society on June 20. "Lithium ion batteries degrade after around 1,000 cycles, and cost 10 times more to manufacture."

"Such organic flow batteries will be game-changers for grid electrical energy storage in terms of simplicity, cost, reliability and sustainability," said Prakash.

One of the better possible results for this new battery is that it will hasten adoption of renewable energy sources allowing them to make up an even greater share of nation's energy generation. Renewable energy options like solar panels and wind turbines are limited in their ability to generate power based on factors like available sunshine and appreciable amounts of wind. It is exactly this unreliability that has kept them from carrying more of our energy burden because current power plant batteries have less storage capacity than this newly invented battery. Relying on a possibly unreliable power source with limited storage would hinder the current energy policy.

However, the new battery is able to store far more surplus energy and dole it out as needed. This negates the sporadic unreliability of renewable power sources like solar panels and wind turbines.

"'Mega-scale' energy storage is a critical problem in the future of the renewable energy, requiring inexpensive and eco-friendly solutions," Narayan said.

Based on a redox flow design, the battery has the advantage of decoupling power from energy. A redox flow design is similar in design to a fuel cell. It has two tanks of electroactive materials dissolved in water. Those solutions are then pumped into a cell that contains a membrane between the two fluids with electrodes on either side; this causes the release of energy.

The new battery design is not limited by the tank size containing the electroactive material. The two tanks can be made as large as needed. This ability increases the total amount of energy that the system is able to store. Additionally, the central cell can be adjusted to release energy at a specified rate. This alters the amount of power the system can generate over time.

Previous battery designs relied on metals or toxic chemicals to create the electroactive material for a battery. Prakash and Narayan knew they wanted to find an organic compound that could be dissolved in water. They knew if such a system could be created it would make only a minimal impact on the environment and would most likely be inexpensive to produce. It was this focus that provided the breakthrough for their amazing new invention.

To be fair, the process required quite a bit of trial-and-error. However, once they found the answer everything else came together. The team discovered that naturally occurring quinones – oxidized organic compounds – were exactly what they were looking for. Quinones are found in plants, fungi, bacteria and even some animals. They are involved in photosynthesis and cellular respiration.

"These are the types of molecules that nature uses for energy transfer," Narayan said.

For now, the quinones required for manufacture of the new battery are derived from naturally occurring hydrocarbons. Narayan states that in the future, he believes the potentiality for derivation from carbon dioxide will be a reality.

The team has filed several patents in regards to design of the battery, and next plans to build a larger scale version.