The Earth gets enough sunlight every day to meet the energy needs of every man, woman and child for a year. So why do we need electric generating plants that rely on fossil fuels or nuclear reactors? Simply put, because the sun does not shine 24 hours a day. Until now, we had no simple, reliable means to store electricity on a large scale for later use.
But that may be changing.
Scientists at the University of Southern California have devised a water based, non-polluting battery that uses no toxins and no metals that can store large amounts of electricity and release it on demand. This new technology could finally make electricity from renewable sources competitive with electricity from conventional power plants.
PhysOrg reports that the study from the Journal of the Electrochemical Society on June 20 tells how a team of scientists at the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute at USC developed a new battery that relies upon quinones – oxidized organic compounds used in nature for energy transfer in the photosynthesis process. The quinones are dissolved in water, then pumped into a tank containing two chambers with a membrane separating them. With an anode in one chamber and a cathode in the other, electric current can be added to the mixture or extracted from it.
The biggest advantage of the water battery is that the tanks can simply be made larger to store more energy while the membrane can be programmed to release more or less power over time. That allows the system to store all the energy solar cells or wind turbines can provide and control how much of that stored power is fed back into the grid, depending on demand. “Such organic flow batteries will be game-changers for grid electrical energy storage in terms of simplicity, cost, reliability and sustainability,” said Surya Prakash, professor of chemistry at USC.
According to Sri Narayan, professor of chemistry at USC and lead author of the report;
“The batteries last for about 5,000 recharge cycles, giving them an estimated 15-year lifespan. Lithium ion batteries degrade after around 1,000 cycles, and cost 10 times more to manufacture. ‘Mega-scale’ energy storage is a critical problem in the future of the renewable energy, requiring inexpensive and eco-friendly solutions.”
A team of USC scientists headed by Prakash and including Bo Yang, Lena Hoober-Burkhardt, and Fang Wang set out to create an organic battery that was eco-friendly and did not use metals or any toxic chemicals. They think they have succeeded. If so, renewable energy may be a lot closer to commercial reality than most of us thought possible.