Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New flow battery could enable cheaper, more efficient energy storage

Design may support widespread use of solar and wind energy

MIT researchers have engineered a new rechargeable flow battery that doesn't rely on expensive membranes to generate and store electricity. The device, they say, may one day enable cheaper, large-scale energy storage.

The palm-sized prototype generates three times as much power per square centimeter as other membraneless systems -- a power density that is an order of magnitude higher than that of many lithium-ion batteries and other commercial and experimental energy-storage systems.

The device stores and releases energy in a device that relies on a phenomenon called laminar flow: Two liquids are pumped through a channel, undergoing electrochemical reactions between two electrodes to store or release energy. Under the right conditions, the solutions stream through in parallel, with very little mixing. The flow naturally separates the liquids, without requiring a costly membrane.

The reactants in the battery consist of a liquid bromine solution and hydrogen fuel. The group chose to work with bromine because the chemical is relatively inexpensive and available in large quantities, with more than 243,000 tons produced each year in the United States.

In addition to bromine's low cost and abundance, the chemical reaction between hydrogen and bromine holds great potential for energy storage. But fuel-cell designs based on hydrogen and bromine have largely had mixed results: Hydrobromic acid tends to eat away at a battery's membrane, effectively slowing the energy-storing reaction and reducing the battery's lifetime.

To circumvent these issues, the team landed on a simple solution: Take out the membrane.

"This technology has as much promise as anything else being explored for storage, if not more," says Cullen Buie, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. "Contrary to previous opinions that membraneless systems are purely academic, this system could potentially have a large practical impact."

Buie, along with Martin Bazant, a professor of chemical engineering, and William Braff, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, have published their results this week in Nature Communications.

"Here, we have a system where performance is just as good as previous systems, and now we don't have to worry about issues of the membrane," Bazant says. "This is something that can be a quantum leap in energy-storage technology."

Possible boost for solar and wind energy

Low-cost energy storage has the potential to foster widespread use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power. To date, such energy sources have been unreliable: Winds can be capricious, and cloudless days are never guaranteed. With cheap energy-storage technologies, renewable energy might be stored and then distributed via the electric grid at times of peak power demand.

"Energy storage is the key enabling technology for renewables," Buie says. "Until you can make [energy storage] reliable and affordable, it doesn't matter how cheap and efficient you can make wind and solar, because our grid can't handle the intermittency of those renewable technologies."

By designing a flow battery without a membrane, Buie says the group was able to remove two large barriers to energy storage: cost and performance. Membranes are often the most costly component of a battery, and the most unreliable, as they can corrode with repeated exposure to certain reactants.

Braff built a prototype of a flow battery with a small channel between two electrodes. Through the channel, the group pumped liquid bromine over a graphite cathode and hydrobromic acid under a porous anode. At the same time, the researchers flowed hydrogen gas across the anode. The resulting reactions between hydrogen and bromine produced energy in the form of free electrons that can be discharged or released.

The researchers were also able to reverse the chemical reaction within the channel to capture electrons and store energy -- a first for any membraneless design.

In experiments, Braff and his colleagues operated the flow battery at room temperature over a range of flow rates and reactant concentrations. They found that the battery produced a maximum power density of 0.795 watts of stored energy per square centimeter.

More storage, less cost

In addition to conducting experiments, the researchers drew up a mathematical model to describe the chemical reactions in a hydrogen-bromine system. Their predictions from the model agreed with their experimental results -- an outcome that Bazant sees as promising for the design of future iterations.

"We have a design tool now that gives us confidence that as we try to scale up this system, we can make rational decisions about what the optimal system dimensions should be," Bazant says. "We believe we can break records of power density with more engineering guided by the model."

According to preliminary projections, Braff and his colleagues estimate that the membraneless flow battery may produce energy costing as little as $100 per kilowatt-hour -- a goal that the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated would be economically attractive to utility companies.

"You can do so much to make the grid more efficient if you can get to a cost point like that," Braff says. "Most systems are easily an order of magnitude higher, and no one's ever built anything at that price."

Written by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office

Sarah McDonnell | EurekAlert!
Further information:

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

A new kind of quantum bits in two dimensions

19.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists have a new way to gauge the growth of nanowires

19.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>