The biggest problem with batteries, whether it’s lithium-ion or new flow, is degrading energy storage. Batteries just don’t maintain their performance after repeated charging cycles. Researchers from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences created a nontoxic, non-corrosive, long-lasting new flow battery that loses only “1% of its capacity per 1,000 cycles.” This could result in a solar energy inverter lasting up to ten years without needing replacing.

Harvard’s Long-Lasting Battery Tech

“Lithium ion batteries don’t even survive 1,000 complete charge and discharge cycles,” Professor of Materials and Energy Technologies Michael Aziz said in a recent interview. Harvard’s new battery is capable of “storing energy in organic molecules dissolved in neutral pH water.” Outside of its long-lasting capacity, Aziz’s team at Harvard designed a new flow battery that can be made at fraction of the costs. Since flow batteries store energy in liquid solutions, this may end up being a rather innovative solution for renewable wind and solar energy.

Nontoxic & Non-Corrosive

Outlined in the ACS Energy Letters, the Harvard team’s research is rather groundbreaking: “Because we were able to dissolve the electrolytes in neutral water, this is a long-lasting battery that you could put in your basement,” Professor of Materials Science Roy Gordon said. “If it spilled on the floor, it wouldn’t eat the concrete and since the medium is non-corrosive.” The cost effective flow batteries store energy in liquid solutions in external tanks. The bigger the tank, the more energy each battery stores.

DOE’s Challenge

The Department of Energy (DOE) set out a challenge to build a battery that can store energy for less than $100 per kilowatt-hour. The team from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has taken the challenge and their research has exceeded expectations. “This work on aqueous soluble organic electrolytes is of high significance in pointing the way towards future batteries with vastly improved cycle life and considerably lower cost, “ said Imre Gyuk – Director of Energy Storage Research at the Office of Electricity of the DOE. “I expect that efficient, long duration flow batteries will become standard as part of the infrastructure of the electric grid.”

Cost Effective Battery Production

By replacing expensive polymers with cheap hydrocarbons, the Harvard researchers were able to reduce costs by 33% – impressing the DOE. With seawater on both sides of the polymer membrane, the Harvard team stands to disrupt an industry scrambling to find new ways to sustain battery power even after repeated charging cycles.

Sources: Harvard School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, ACS Energy Letters