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Synthetic Batteries: Redox-Flow Battery Key To The Energy Revolution

First Posted: Oct 26, 2015 09:08 AM EDT

A team of researchers have created a type of new redox-flow battery that can withstand up to 10,000 charging cycles without losing a crucial amount of capacity. The synthetic batteries were created based on organic polymers and water, according to the study.

"What's new and innovative about our battery is that it can be produced at much less cost, while nearly reaching the capacity of traditional metal and acid containing systems," said Dr. Martin Hager, researcher of the study, from Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

Wind and sun are two essential sources of renewable energy, however, nature has a way of obstructing these processes. Therefore there will always be a progression for stable power grids, electricity supply and energy storage devices. The researchers' new redox-flow batteries is the ideal solution. The batteries are made from organic polymers and a harmless saline solution, according to a news release. Some examples of organic polymers are carbohydrates, nucleic acids, proteins, rubber etc.

Unlike traditional batteries, the redox-flow battery is not made from solid materials like metals or metal salts - it's in a dissolved form. The electrolyte solutions are stored in two tanks, which form the positive and negative terminals of the battery. Two pumps of the polymer solutions are transferred to an electrochemical cell, in which the polymers are electrochemically reduced, or oxidized, thereby charging or discharging the battery, according to the researchers. The cell is divided into two compartments by a membrane to avoid electrolytes from merging.

"In these systems the amount of energy stored as well as the power rating can be individually adjusted. Moreover, hardly any self-discharge occurs," Hager said. "This is not only extremely expensive, but the solution is highly corrosive, so that a specific membrane has to be used and the lifespan of the battery is limited."

When creating the redox-flow battery, synthetic materials were used in core structures, but no aggressive or harmful acids were necessary in the process.  

"We are able to use a simple and low-cost cellulose membrane and avoid poisonous and expensive materials," Tobias Janoschka, the first author of the study, said.

In the first tests, the redox-flow battery could withstand up to 10,000 charging cycles with losing its capacity. The energy density is ten watt-hours per liter. The scientists are working on creating a more efficient and larger system. They are considering the new development to be a potentially marketable product.

"This polymer-based redox-flow battery is ideally suited as energy storage for large wind farms and photovoltaic power stations," said Prof. Dr. Ulrich S. Schubert, chair for Organic and Macromolecular Chemistry at the FSU Jena. 

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