Water-based battery could offer decade-long power: Days of fire-prone lithium-ion batteries could be numbered

“A team of researchers at Harvard University claimed to have developed a new ‘flow’ battery that can store energy in organic molecules dissolved in PH-neutral water,” Graeme Burton reports for V3. “The researchers claim that the technique may not only enable the development of safe, non-toxic batteries, but batteries that can last for as long as ten years.”

“However, rather than solving the problem of exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7s, the development, they suggest, would be more suitable used on a large scale for energy storage in the renewables sector,” Burton reports. “By modifying the structures of molecules used in the positive and negative electrolyte solutions, and making them water soluble, the Harvard team claim that it was able to engineer a battery that loses only one per cent of its capacity per 1000 cycles.”

Burton reports, “The technique should also cut costs, which would help to make renewable energy more competitive, as well as more reliable.”

Read more in the full article here.

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    1. More likely it is just one more “breakthrough” anouncment that eventually goes nowhere. Or “more research is needed” and that will take ten years or so. The technology literature is filled with all sorts of “promising approaches” that are here today and gone tomorrow. It would be nice if I was wrong but history is not so encouraging.

      1. These types of break throughs mean EVERYTHING. Yes it may take 10 years to make an impact on the market but batteries are a disaster for the environment. Very rarely does a new technology come to the mass market in less than 7 years. Think what cell phone and batteries were like in 2007 – in 2027 we will have some remarkable upgrades. 3 days is all we really need – 3 DAYS of “total usage” storage for wind or solar to re make the power grid and make a significant impact on the environment (not climate change nonsense) but on the carbon emissions, chemical waste, and mining.

        1. Yeah but we’ve gotten research-based battery breakthroughs every 6 months around here for as long as I can remember. Dave’s right. It’s a long way from something interesting in a lab to a shipping product.

        2. Yes, Tom, you have stated good reasons why we hope for a battery breakthrough. But can somebody create that breakthrough? That is what we want to know. (I don’t put much faith in the press-release of a Harvard researcher seeking funding for their next grant)

      1. These batteries are being developed for domestic power storage. They are planning to sell batteries with a capacity of 5 to 20 kWh later this year. I’ve not seen any indication of what they are likely to cost. The report I’m referring to was published in 2015 so it’s not clear if they’re on track for getting to market this year.

        In it’s present form it doesn’t seem to be a technology suited for hand held portable applications.

    1. uuuhhh old guys like me remember in the early 2000’s when they were saying these new “Lithium Batteries” were going to make our Ni-Cad obsolete. I remember articles telling everyone that it wouldn’t happen because there wasn’t enough lithium and it was FAR too expensive to produce. Change is coming. Lithium Batteries will be replaced hopefully by something a little more earth friendly.

    2. Sure, there has been a lot of hype about the next big thing in batteries over the years, and the vast majority of the hype was crap. Despite that fact, the industry developed several new battery chemistries over the last couple of decades and engineering Li-ion and Li-polymer to be very effective. I have no doubt that better batteries are already in development. But it will probably take years to commercialize the next breakthrough.

      This article is about flow batteries. The idea is that the battery anode/cathode and electron exchange elements are sized to meet power requirement in Watts (Joules per second). The amount of fluid is driven by energy capacity in Joules which can also be expressed in terms of Watt-hours or kWh.

      A flow battery could be very useful as an industrial or residential battery. The fluid tank would be sized for the desired energy capacity – say 24kWh and the battery would be sized by the peak power requirement – say 3 kW or so for a home. In industrial applications, the tanks could hold thousands of gallons of fluid and larger batteries or large arrays of batteries would be utilized to meet power requirements.

      The key issue is the toxicity of the fluid and the ability to recycle/regenerate the fluid.

      1. You’re pretty well right on most of your points there and clearly understand what this battery is intended for. These flow batteries are being developed for domestic storage with a maximum output of around 5kW with a capacity of 20kWh.

        The organic quinone molecules used as a basis for the electrolyte are natural, organic products that present little or no health risk. Those molecules are also highly stable, even at elevated temperatures, and are less likely than other electrolyte options to cross the battery membrane, thanks to the organic molecules’ size and charge. The battery also uses other inexpensive elements, such as carbon electrodes.

        It looks like a very promising development with excellent green credentials too because the key component is biodegradable and wouldn’t be a potential hazard in the case of an accident, or when the system had to be decommissioned.

  1. The only place these batteries will work is in large scale energy storage systems. You will never see one in a phone or laptop.

    Water-based electrolytes are well-known and there are many examples. The issue is not the longevity/cycle life, it’s the voltage of the battery. Any water-based battery is limited in the voltage it can deliver because water will start to disproportionate into hydrogen and oxygen a -1.23 V. Which means you can never make one of these batteries with greater voltage than that, period.

    The other consideration is that the charge carrier density is lower than traditional batteries, which means the current it can deliver is also far lower than what you get from today’s laptop batteries.

  2. A lightweight high energy replacement for a lithium battery is something the world is waiting for. If you know how to make one, a billion dollar industry is just waiting to rise around your invention. I hope someone fight=res it out.

  3. Flow batteries rely on massive tanks this is not small batteries for cars or phones. also this tech is already being sold by a company in the USA who makes them its called “The salt water battery” they use water as the electrolite (Aquion energy)
    its exactly the same thing they are saying and the american army are already buying and using them.

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