Go With the Flow: Scientists Design Better Batteries for a Renewable Energy Grid


How do you store renewable energy so it’s there when you need it, even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing? 

How do you store renewable energy so it’s there when you need it, even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing? Giant batteries designed for the electrical grid – called flow batteries, which store electricity in tanks of liquid electrolyte – could be the answer, but so far utilities have yet to find a cost-effective battery that can reliably power thousands of homes throughout a lifecycle of 10 to 20 years.

Now, a battery membrane technology developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) may point to a solution.

As reported in the journal of Joule, the researchers developed a versatile yet affordable battery membrane – from a class of polymers known as AquaPIMs. This class of polymers makes long-lasting and low-cost grid batteries possible based solely on readily available materials such as zinc, iron, and water. The team also developed a simple model showing how different battery membranes impact the lifetime of the battery, which is expected to accelerate early stage R&D for flow-battery technologies, particularly in the search for a suitable membrane for different battery chemistries.

“Our AquaPIM membrane technology is well-positioned to accelerate the path to market for flow batteries that use scalable, low-cost, water-based chemistries,” said Brett Helms, a principal investigator in the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) and staff scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry who led the study. “By using our technology and accompanying empirical models for battery performance and lifetime, other researchers will be able to quickly evaluate the readiness of each component that goes into the battery, from the membrane to the charge-storing materials. This should save time and resources for researchers and product developers alike.”

Read more at DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Image: Berkeley Lab scientists have developed an affordable flow battery membrane for the electric grid from a new class of polymers called AquaPIM. (Credit: Marilyn Sargent/Berkeley Lab)