Researchers at Harvard have developed a new liquid flow battery that could potentially last a decade.
The battery, which was developed by a team at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), stores energy in organic molecules that have been dissolved in water with a neutral pH value, according to a press release.
Normally, liquid flow batteries — which store energy in tanks filled with liquid — lose capacity after a span of charging cycles. But the researchers, led by Professors Michael Aziz and Roy Gordon, were able to modify the structure of the molecules involved — allowing for a battery that loses only one percent of its total storage capacity per 1,000 cycles.
“Because we were able to dissolve the electrolytes in neutral water, this is a long-lasting battery that you could put in your basement,” Gordon said. “If it spilled on the floor, it wouldn’t eat the concrete and since the medium is noncorrosive, you can use cheaper materials to build the components of the batteries, like the tanks and pumps.”
Similarly, the researcher’s battery is cheap — which could allow for renewable energy solutions to become increasingly competitive with traditionally sourced power. To help foster that, the Department of Energy has set a goal of achieving a battery that can store energy for less than $100 per kilowatt-hour. As a comparison, Tesla’s current systems are estimated to cost about $150 to $200 per kilowatt-hour, according to Greentech Media.
“If you can get anywhere near this cost target then you can change the world,” Aziz said. “It becomes cost effective to put batteries in so many places. This research puts us one step closer to reaching that target.”
It’s unlikely that we’ll see liquid flow batteries in smartphones or other consumer electronics, as they store energy in large tanks — the bigger, the better. A more viable application for the technology would be storage of energy from renewable sources like wind or solar power, in a fashion similar to Tesla’s Powerwall and Powerpack. Tesla’s current products, however, are traditional lithium-ion batteries — which, as far as longevity goes, won’t last nearly as long as Harvard’s could.
The researchers are already working with the Harvard Office of Technology Development to work out some additional tweaks, and to scale up the research for industrial applications. The OTD has already filed a slew of patents concerning liquid flow battery innovation.