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Technology

New Type of 'Flow Battery' Can Store 10 Times the Energy of the Next Best Device (sciencemag.org) 75

sciencehabit writes: Industrial-scale batteries, known as flow batteries, could one day usher in widespread use of renewable energy—but only if the devices can store large amounts of energy cheaply and feed it to the grid when the sun isn't shining and the winds are calm. That's something conventional flow batteries can't do. Now, researchers report that they've created a novel type of flow battery that uses lithium ion technology—the sort used to power laptops—to store about 10 times as much energy as the most common flow batteries on the market. With a few improvements, the new batteries could make a major impact on the way we store and deliver energy. The research, from the National University of Singapore, has one big flaw in particular: speed. It's 'very innovative' work, says Michael Aziz, a flow battery expert at Harvard University. But he adds that even though the novel battery has a high energy density, the rate at which it delivers that power is 10,000 times slower than conventional flow batteries, far too slow for most applications. Wang and his colleagues acknowledge the limitation, but they say they should be able to improve the delivery rate with further improvements to the membrane and the charge-ferrying redox mediators.
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New Type of 'Flow Battery' Can Store 10 Times the Energy of the Next Best Device

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  • A typical li-ion battery produces ~10Wh [wikipedia.org]. 10000 times less, means 1 mWh. This is roughly what a lemon [wikipedia.org] can produce.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 29, 2015 @11:54AM (#51021819)

      A typical li-ion battery produces ~10Wh. 10000 times less, means 1 mWh. This is roughly what a lemon can produce.

      Get your entities/units right. Wh is a measure of energy - in a battery that's storage capacity - something these batteries are supposedly good (10x better) at.

      The issue with them is power delivery, which is measured in Watts (or expressed in current at a given voltage, as power=current x voltage) .

      Oblig. car analogy: this new battery has a larger fuel tank, but the fuel line to the engine is much smaller.

    • But can you recharge a lemon? I'm actually curious, that would be interesting.
      • No. Usually, when the lemon starts to get down to power tireness, people just change it, with another new, fresh and yellow lemon. You may find lemon stations in most supermarkets (I heard they have some at wallmart)
      • I have no idea. But you could try to reverse bias a dead lemon equipped with the appropriate electrodes and see if it charges up.

        This is something you can test for yourself. Just save the limes for garnishing gin.

        • There was a video file of (IIRC) HP technicians using a lemon as an incandescent lamp doing the rounds years before YouTube came into existence. Years pre-Slashdot, even!
      • Obligatory:

        “When life gives you lemons, don't make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don't want your damn lemons, what the hell am I supposed to do with these?
        Demand to see life's manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons!
        Do you know who I am? I'm the man who's gonna burn your house down! With the lemons! I'm gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!”
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Interesting that the summary explains what a lithium-ion battery is but assumes I know what a charge ferrying redox mediator is. I'm obviously a bit out of touch.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      To me, it looks like the summary was made by Google Translate, and then touched up by a Dice employee.

    • The Ferry Redox Mediator was the band member who used break up fights in Roxy Music.
      • The Ferry Redox Mediator was the band member who used break up fights in Roxy Music.

        Wrong band. You're thinking of Redoxy Music.

        • The Ferry Redox Mediator was the band member who used break up fights in Roxy Music.

          Wrong band. You're thinking of Redoxy Music.

          Redoxy Music did not have Ferry as the lead singer, Roxy music did ;)

    • by clovis ( 4684 )

      Interesting that the summary explains what a lithium-ion battery is but assumes I know what a charge ferrying redox mediator is. I'm obviously a bit out of touch.

      It's a pleonasm if you ask me.

      BTW, here's the actual article.
      http://advances.sciencemag.org... [sciencemag.org]

  • The HELL they can't! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @11:54AM (#51021821) Journal

    That's something conventional flow batteries can't do.hat's something conventional flow batteries can't do.

    The hell they can't. Industrial-scale Vanadium Redox flow batteries are doing that right now, in utility companies, and have been for a couple years. (In New Zeeland, if I recall correctly.)

    I think the reason they're not more widely used already is that they're under patent protection, the company is small, and its owners don't want to license the technology or dilute their equity, so the supply is limited to their ramp-up and funding sources.

    • by Orne ( 144925 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @12:02PM (#51021843) Homepage

      Being in the industry, the reason I was given was (1) the electrolyte is very expensive right now and (2) investors need a demonstration of return. The flow devices scale much better than Lithium batteries, store more energy, and can discharge over longer periods of time. This makes them eligible for capacity markets, but we are coincidentally in a period of over-supply in the energy markets, so capacity clearing prices are not supporting their cost of entry. Secondly, as a storage device, they need to arbitrage the energy prices, charge at low prices and discharge at high prices.

      • Being in the industry, the reason I was given was (1) the electrolyte is very expensive right now

        Vanadium pentoxide (98% pure was about $6/lb and falling as of early Oct and hasn't been above $14 in years) and sulphuric acid?

        and (2) investors need a demonstration of return.

        Always the bottom line. B-)

  • by c++ ( 25427 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @12:04PM (#51021855)

    All they have to do is use the optical plasma inductor to take advantage of the phased interface phenomenon.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    My guess this is simply a typical university press release issued to drum up further financial support and demonstrate that the professors and grad students are not completely wasting their time. Not that I object, I just wouldn't take it too seriously. Remember most reseach leads nowhere.

  • Lithium Ion? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dereck1701 ( 1922824 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @12:11PM (#51021877)

    They chose one of the more expensive commercially available battery technologies for their flow battery? Next I expect them to try to integrate 2 carat diamonds into Lowes brand light fixtures to try to improve their light distribution. The point of an industrial flow battery is storing energy as cheaply as possible, energy density is one of the last considerations. There are of course limitations, but given the choice between something the size of a cargo container with rare earth materials running through it that costs $1 Million dollars or something the size of a grain silo full of cheap and non-toxic compounds for $100,000 the latter is preferable for most applications.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Wycliffe ( 116160 )

      They chose one of the more expensive commercially available battery technologies for their flow battery?

      It's still a useful milestone. If you can up the theoretical limit with exotic materials then you can study it and try to replicate it with less exotic materials. Many of our advances in a variety of areas like semiconductors, batteries, superconductors, and a large host of other areas started out with exotics before figuring out how to replicate it with cheaper components. Granted your second argument is valid where with the exception of cars and mobile devices, energy density is usually not a huge conc

    • They chose one of the more expensive commercially available battery technologies for their flow battery?

      No. It is not more expensive, it is cheaper. Most existing flow batteries are vanadium redox. Vanadium is about $40/kg. Lithium costs about double that, but it has much higher energy density, so it is cheaper per unit of energy stored.

      • by clovis ( 4684 )

        They chose one of the more expensive commercially available battery technologies for their flow battery?

        No. It is not more expensive, it is cheaper. Most existing flow batteries are vanadium redox. Vanadium is about $40/kg. Lithium costs about double that, but it has much higher energy density, so it is cheaper per unit of energy stored.

        Yep, and that is because what you are interested in for a flow battery is the number of $/mole, not the $/kg.
        This is roughly proportional (by Avogadro's number) to $/electron
        Vanadium atomic mass ~ 51. A kg would be about 20 moles, so at $40/kg the price is $2/mole
        Lithium atomic mass ~ 7. A kg would be about 143 moles, so at $80/kg Lithium is $0.56/mole

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      This might be just the thing to keep your solar-powered lunar instrument running for half the month.

  • You can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting three stories about battery breakthroughs.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @01:29PM (#51022197)

    Color me skeptical. I'll believe it when I see it in commercial production for an affordable price.

  • The biggest problem with these higher storage attempts is they all fall on their face because they self discharge at a rate that makes them not very useful.

    • by rch7 ( 4086979 )

      Power-to-gas doesn't discharge and gas can be stored for years. It doesn't have top efficiency though.

    • Flow batteries are already in use in many places, mostly in large scale installations, where it is desired to store 1/2 day's worth of energy at a utility plant. They have some differences/advantages compared to other batteries: 1) there are no issues with the battery 'wearing out' like any solid-based battery - the electrolyte fluid(s) is(are) pumped past the membrane, so there's no need for ions to migrate onto/off of a plate. It is possible for the membrane separating the two sides to get messed up but

  • Vaporware concept applies to battery tech now as well i guess? :P
  • Speculative headlines should be red.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    About 15 years ago, laptops were powered by Nickel Metal Hydride batteries. The patent holders allowed the technology for small batteries, but rights on large format batteries were shelved. These batteries were fast, light weight, and high energy. The patent would have to be close to expiring at this point.

  • If I don't plan on transporting the battery it really doesn't matter. What I care about is cost, capacity and how many charges it will hold. Where I am in Ontario the "generation cost" or the cost my supplier pays for electricity typically varies between -2 cents and 70 cents (there are extremes where it will go much higher though). Even at these differences there is no current battery that makes sense for the utilities to deploy. Even pumping water back up a reservoir doesn't make sense because of the
    • If I don't plan on transporting the battery it really doesn't matter. What I care about is cost, capacity and how many charges it will hold. Where I am in Ontario the "generation cost" or the cost my supplier pays for electricity typically varies between -2 cents and 70 cents (there are extremes where it will go much higher though). Even at these differences there is no current battery that makes sense for the utilities to deploy. Even pumping water back up a reservoir doesn't make sense because of the wear on the system*. Until we have better storage we really have 2 options if we want to use more wind or solar - bigger grid interconnects or convince people to change there consumption behaviour based on electricity generation. *yes there are a few places water is pumped back up hill but these aren't used for generation as much as for selling insurance - I'll give you 100 kw of power for 10 minutes while you scramble to get some other form of generation online or get some steel mill to cut consumption.

      if you aren't going to move the thing around, why not a hyperflywheel? the main reason they're not suitable for vehicles, and laptops is the minor explosion problem necessitating large and heavy blast shields, not a problem when it's a stationary power plant.

  • But we never seem to find any of these new technologies finding their way to actual batteries the general public can access.
    • But we never seem to find any of these new technologies finding their way to actual batteries the general public can access.

      Where do you think the battery tech in your laptop or smartphone came from? These same sales press releases where here for those! Not all of them are jokes, the question is: Which Ones?

      • The problem is there's announcements several times a year about super-dooper battery tech that is just about to storm the market. The reality is that battery technology is evolving slower than most other technologies and is lagging behind by a massive margin.
        • The problem is there's announcements several times a year about super-dooper battery tech that is just about to storm the market. The reality is that battery technology is evolving slower than most other technologies and is lagging behind by a massive margin.

          If by "other technologies" you mean computers and electronics, that is not a normal speed of change. And even that is slowing right now.

          Development actually proceeds in "stairsteps", a big "fast" change with a slowing for a while afterward. And change in the different fields, happens at different rates and times.

          But of course, advertising continues full speed... 8-)

  • they're too flow. you need fast batteries
  • "stick your battery where the sun don't shine"
    "Yes, that's what we're planning for it, I sense you're upset but do not understand how that relates to your comment"

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