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2014-01-11 13:24:21
last modified: 2014-01-11 13:30:25


A new kind of battery designed by Harvard University scientists and engineers could unlock the potential of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

One of the problems with solar and wind power is that the flow of electricity can’t be constant – the sun sets or goes behind clouds, and the wind dies or picks up. This can cause problems if these systems are wired into the electric grid, which has trouble handling sudden massive surges and dips in demand (Hawaii and Germany are two areas where this problem has already begun to butt up against widespread solar panel adoption). Having a reliable, cheaper way of storing massive amounts of electricity would be a big step towards wider reliance on these alternative energy sources.

In a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, Harvard chemist Roy Gordon and colleagues described their design for a special kind of battery that might fit the bill. The team’s current model is just a laboratory experiment for now, but they think it could be scaled up to store large amounts of energy, providing the buffer that the grid needs to handle excess energy pouring in from solar panels and wind turbines. And the central ingredient of the battery is relatively cheap, which means it may move to market quicker.
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2014-01-11 13:29:31

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2014-01-11 13:47:13


Cheap battery stores energy for a rainy day


Over the past few decades, researchers have investigated many other chemical systems, and ruled all but a handful out. “The periodic table has been pretty well picked over,” says Aziz. “So we’ve introduced the world of organic chemistry to this problem.”

His battery’s anode uses a solution of sulphuric acid containing a type of organic compound known as a quinone. The quinone is cheap and needs no catalytic urging to react with protons to form a higher-energy hydroquinone, thereby charging the battery. Aziz teamed this half of the flow battery with a well-known partner: a cathode that alternates between bromine and hydrobromic acid.

The quinone–hydroquinone reaction is about 1,000 times faster than the rival vanadium reaction, allowing the battery to charge and discharge rapidly. And by changing some of the quinone’s chemical groups, Aziz can alter their solubility and even the voltage of the flow battery, fine-tuning the system. The battery, unveiled today in Nature1, has completed 100 charge–discharge cycles with no sign of degradation (although a commercial system would probably need to top 10,000 cycles).
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