A team of researchers led by Professors Michael J. Aziz and Roy G. Gordon of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has developed an exceptionally long-lasting “redox flow” battery that has the potential to radically improve energy storage.
Eugene Beh ’09, a postdoctoral fellow who worked on the project, said that if the battery ran continuously, it would take six years to lose 50 percent of its capacity.
Unlike solid lithium ion batteries in laptops and other everyday appliances, redox flow batteries harness energy from chemical reactants dissolved in liquid. Aziz and Gordon’s new design, which uses water as a solvent, is longer-lasting and safer than previously designed redox flow batteries.
Gordon said the rise of wind and solar energy has elevated the importance of energy storage capacity. Redox flow batteries, he said, have much higher capacities than lithium batteries.
“The electricity that’s coming through the grid has a very short shelf life—less than a second—so it actually has to be balanced between the generation and the use,” Gordon said.
Beh said that at “99.9989 percent per cycle,” the battery’s “retention rate” outperformed other lithium and flow batteries.
Gordon said his team at SEAS had previously developed scalable redox flow batteries using strong acids and bases as solvents instead of water, but these solvents heighten the risks of the batteries.
“We think reducing the hazard is a really important part of planning for any new technology, particularly one that is intended for large-scale use,” said Gordon.
Gordon said many existing redox flow batteries currently on the market dissolve reactants in vanadium, an element that exists in very limited quantities, and cannot be mass produced.
Beh said the use of water as a solvent constituted a breakthrough in flow battery design because water is nonflammable and has a high heat capacity, which greatly reduces the life cycle of other batteries. Additionally, because water is easily accessible and inexpensive, the team’s new flow battery can be produced for public use at a reduced cost.
Rebecca L. Gracia ’18, a Mechanical Engineering concentrator who worked on Aziz and Gordon’s team, said being involved with the project was “a really great learning experience.”
“I honestly wouldn’t have ever expected to be this young and be a part of a published scientific paper for renewable energy, so it’s really rewarding,” Gracia said.
Though Gordon said the team had been speaking to “start-up companies” and “large companies already in this business,” commercialization of the battery is still a work in progress.
“We’re hoping that it will be a key enabler for companies to actually make large batteries along these lines,” Gordon said. “I’m optimistic because this is a technology that is really needed.”