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High capacity organic battery

With energy storage being the Holy Grail of the energy sector another energy storage solution has been discovered, this being an inexpensive high capacity organic battery that uses carbon-based materials as electrolytes rather than metals.

Developed by Professor Michael Aziz at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the discovery is said to be a game-changer in renewable energy storage. The battery offers large volume electricity storage which is not possible with solid-state batteries. In addition, its costs a fraction of existing flow battery technology.

Energy in a regular flow battery is stored in fluids which are kept in external tanks. This means that storage capacity is limited by the size of the tanks. As a result, larger amounts of energy can be stored than in traditional solid-electrode batteries. The only problem is that existing flow battery technology uses expensive metals, such as vanadium or platinum, as electrolytes, resulting in a high cost per kilowatt-hour of storage.

Harvard’s new discovery uses the electrochemistry of quinones, organic molecules which are similar to molecules that store energy in plants and animals-these are plentiful in crude oil and green plants. By using these naturally abundant and inexpensive organic molecules, the researchers have developed a metal-free flow battery that already performs as well as vanadium flow batteries, while using significantly less expensive chemicals and no precious metals.

As the renewable energy sector grows, so will the interest in energy storage technologies. Governments around the world are beginning to understand the importance of energy storage and are ploughing large amounts of funding into many projects which are still in the early stages of development. Energy storage will help balance the grid and increase the potential for integration of a range of variable renewable energy sources.

The energy storage industry is poised to become a major global market and is expected to reach US$10.4 billion in 2017. The market has grown extraordinarily fast-the market started from only US$200 million in 2012. In the past, utilities have generated electricity to meet immediate demand but today, utilities are forced to meet increasing demands with an ageing infrastructure and a heavier reliance on renewables. As a result, power quality, reliable service, cost-effective power grid management, and grid efficiency will come in to question.

To meet these new demands of the power industry, the floodgates on new storage technologies have opened. Therefore, utilities must take care when trying to find the solution that best meets their grid needs. Utilities should take the time to understand the technology’s risks, benefits and application before it is purchased.

The key is to choose the right solution and partner for the new application. Although new solutions might offer fancy packaging and greater energy density, utilities must be careful not to overlook traditional technologies that still can deliver proven, cost-effective results.