Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Making "Renewable" Viable: Drexel Engineers Develop New Technology for Grid-Level Electrical Energy Storage

In the aftermath of the recent United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the focus of many industrialized nations is beginning to shift toward planning for a sustainable future.

One of the foremost challenges for sustainability is efficient use of renewable energy resources, a goal that hinges on the ability to store this energy when it is produced and disburse it when it is needed.

A team of researchers from Drexel University’s College of Engineering have taken up this challenge and has developed a new method for quickly and efficiently storing large amounts of electrical energy.

The Challenge of Renewable Energy

Electrical energy storage is the obstacle preventing more widespread use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Due to the unpredictable nature of wind and solar energy, the ability to store this energy when it is produced is essential for turning these resources into reliable sources of energy. The current U.S. energy grid system is used predominantly for distributing energy and allows little flexibility for storage of excess or a rapid dispersal on short notice.

The Drexel’s team of researchers is putting forward a plan to integrate into the grid an electrochemical storage system that combines principles behind the flow batteries and supercapacitors that power our daily technology.

Existing Technology

Batteries store a large amount of energy, but are relatively slow in discharging it and they have a limited lifespan, or cycle-life, than their counterparts – electrochemical capacitors, which are commonly called “supercapacitors” or “ultracapacitors.”

Conventional supercapacitors provide a high power output with minimal degradation in performance for as many as 1,000,000 charge-discharge cycles. The capacitor can rapidly store and discharge energy, but only in small amounts compared to the battery.

The obstacle in the way of using either a battery or a supercapacitor to store energy in the grid is that energy storage ability is inextricably tied to the size of the battery or the supercapacitor being used. Supercapacitors, similar to lithium-ion batteries, are manufactured in fairly small cells ranging in size from a coin to a soda can. Large amounts of expensive material, such as metal current collectors, polymer separators and packaging, would be required to construct a battery or supercapacitor of the size necessary to function effectively in the energy grid.

“Packing together thousands of conventional small devices to build a system for large-scale stationary energy storage is too expensive,” said Dr. Yury Gogotsi, director of the A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute and the lead researcher on the project. “A liquid storage system, the capacity of which is limited only by the tank size, can be cost-effective and scalable.”

A Grid Energy Storage Solution

The team’s research yielded a novel solution that combines the strengths of batteries and supercapacitors while also negating the scalability problem. The “electrochemical flow capacitor” (EFC) consists of an electrochemical cell connected to two external electrolyte reservoirs - a design similar to existing redox flow batteries which are used in electrical vehicles.

This technology is unique because it uses small carbon particles suspended in the electrolyte liquid to create a slurry of particles that can carry an electric charge.

Uncharged slurry is pumped from its tanks through a flow cell, where energy stored in the cell is then transferred to the carbon particles. The charged slurry can then be stored in reservoirs until the energy is needed, at which time the entire process is reversed in order to discharge the EFC.

The main advantage of the EFC is that its design allows it to be constructed on a scale large enough to store large amounts of energy, while also allowing for rapid disbursal of the energy when the demand dictates it.

“By using a slurry of carbon particles as the active material of supercapacitors, we are able to adopt the system architecture from redox flow batteries and address issues of cost and scalability,” Gogotsi said

In flow battery systems, as well as the EFC, the energy storage capacity is determined by the size of the reservoirs, which store the charged material. If a larger capacity is desired, the tanks can simply be scaled up in size. Similarly, the power output of the system is controlled by the size of the electrochemical cell, with larger cells producing more power.

“Flow battery architecture is very attractive for grid-scale applications because it allows for scalable energy storage by decoupling the power and energy density,” said Dr. E.C. Kumbur, director of Drexel’s Electrochemical Energy Systems Laboratory. “Slow response rate is a common problem for most energy storage systems. Incorporating the rapid charging and discharging ability of supercapacitors into this architecture is a major step toward effectively storing energy from fluctuating renewable sources and being able to quickly deliver the energy, as it is needed.”

This design also gives the EFC a relatively long usage life compared to currently used flow batteries. According to the researchers, the EFC can potentially be operated in stationary applications for hundreds of thousands of charge-discharge cycles.

“This technology can potentially address cost and lifespan issues that we face with the current electrochemical energy storage technologies,” Kumbur said.

“We believe that this new technology has important applications in [the renewable energy] field,” said Dr. Volker Presser, who was an assistant research professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the time the initial work was done. “Moreover, these technologies can also be used to enhance the efficiency of existing power sources, and improve the stability of the grid.”

This concept for energy storage was recently published in a special issue of Advanced Energy Materials focused on next-generation batteries. The team’s ongoing work is focused on developing new slurry compositions based on different carbon nanomaterials and electrolytes, as well as optimizing their flow capacitor design. The group is also designing a small demonstration prototype to illustrate the fundamental operation of the system.

“We have observed very promising performance so far, being close to that of conventional packaged supercapacitor cells,” Gogotsi said. “However, we will need to increase the energy density per unit of slurry volume by an order of magnitude, and achieve it using very inexpensive carbon and salt solutions to make the technology practical.”

Britt Faulstick | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht 'Super yeast' has the power to improve economics of biofuels
18.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Engineers reveal fabrication process for revolutionary transparent sensors
14.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

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: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>