Scientists at Stanford have developed a new rechargeable battery capable of storing electricity produced by wind energy and solar energy.
The new battery paves way for ability to deliver energy to the electric grid quickly, cost effectively and at normal ambient temperatures. The technology behind the battery is called a flow battery. This technology has long been considered as a likely candidate for storing intermittent renewable energy. However, until now the kinds of liquids that could produce the electrical current have either been limited by the amount of energy they could deliver or have required extremely high temperatures or used very toxic or expensive chemicals.
Researchers at Stanford decided to try sodium and potassium, which when mixed form a liquid metal at room temperature, as the fluid for the electron donor – or negative – side of the battery. Theoretically, this liquid metal has at least 10 times the available energy per gram as other candidates for the negative-side fluid of a flow battery. They then found a suitable ceramic membrane made of potassium and aluminum oxide to keep the negative and positive materials separate while allowing current to flow.
The two advances together more than doubled the maximum voltage of conventional flow batteries, and the prototype remained stable for thousands of hours of operation. This higher voltage means the battery can store more energy for its size, which also brings down the cost of producing the battery.
They found that the ceramic membrane very selectively prevents sodium from migrating to the positive side of the cell – critical if the membrane is going to be successful. However, this type of membrane is most effective at temperatures higher than 200 degrees Celsius (392 F). In pursuit of a room-temperature battery, the group experimented with a thinner membrane. This boosted the device’s power output and showed that refining the membrane’s design is a promising path.
They also experimented with four different liquids for the positive side of the battery. The water-based liquids quickly degraded the membrane, but they think a non-water-based option will improve the battery’s performance.