How Harvards New Battery Could Change Energy Efficiency

Dated: 10/05/2017

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Renewable energy will be critical to humanity’s efforts to curb climate change in the coming years. Now, researchers at Harvard University may have taken a major leap forward when it comes to one of our most common power sources: the battery.

Batteries power an overwhelming number of devices across the United States, and are a $50 billion per yearindustry. However, rechargeable batteries only account for $5.5 billion of that money. The rest is spent on batteries that are discarded upon depletion. All of that could change if Harvard’s new product makes it onto the market.

A Flow Battery that Lasts

Harvard’s innovation is essentially an improvement on the concept of a flow battery. Flow batteries differ from conventional ones by storing energy in liquid electrolytes instead of solid electrode material. As a result, flow batteries can be recharged by simply replacing the electrolytes.

This makes them particularly useful in facilities like power stations, where they are routinely used for load balancing. They can also be employed in electric vehicles, and in standalone systems like cell phone base stations. However, flow batteries have always suffered from a problem called storage capacity degradation—at least, they have until now.

the medina groupWhat is Storage Capacity Degradation?

Storage capacity degradation describes a phenomenon which causes most flow batteries to become vastly less efficient after a certain number of charge-discharge cycles. Researchers from Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences fixed this by changing the structure of the molecules in their flow battery’s electrolyte solution. The changes made the molecules water soluble, which means that they could dissolve in neutral water. This created a battery that could be recharged a thousand times and only lose 1% of its storage capacity as a result.

A Longer, Stronger and Safer Battery

How long can the new battery last? The estimate from Harvard is 10 years with minimal upkeep. Using water as an electrolyte solution has other benefits too—like making the battery’s contents non-corrosive. Unlike a battery that uses acid for its solution, the Harvard battery could spill onto your floor (or even your skin) and cause no damage.

The potential applications of this technology in the home are profound. Just imagine how using a cost-effective rechargeable battery could increase energy efficiency in the next few years.

the medina groupThe Implications for Energy Efficiency

We aren’t there just yet, but Harvard’s project has important implications for our national journey towards cleaner energy. The US Department of Energy believes a battery that can store energy for under $100 per kWh could make solar and wind energy competitive with conventional power plants. To help make that happen, the researchers from Harvard are working hard to scale up this technology for industrial use. If they are successful, it could eventually lead to heavily reduced costs for residential solar and wind systems.

Batteries remain an important source of electrical power for hundreds of millions of Americans. With luck, Harvard’s new battery will help pave the way for cleaner and more efficient electrical power around the world.

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Irene Medina PA CRS GRI CDPE GREEN

IRENE MEDINA "Standing by YOU Every Step of the Way!" A Passion for Education and Sustainable Living Irene's passion for education and sustainable living are what make her stand out from the ....

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