Researchers at MIT have come up with a new design for a rechargeable flow battery that does away with the expensive and ineffective membrane of previous designs. The device could prove the ideal solution for effectively storing energy from intermittent power sources such as solar and wind power.
A flow battery is a special type of rechargeable battery in which two liquids with opposite electric charge (electrolytes) exchange ions, converting chemical energy directly into electricity. The electrolytes are usually separated by a thin membrane that lets them exchange ions without mixing.
The electrolytes are stored separately from the cell itself, in two big tanks, and the electrolyte is pumped into the cell as needed. This means the system can be scaled easily, simply by changing the size of the tank. Doing so can produce systems of vastly different capabilities, from a few kWh up to several MWh.
Scalability aside, flow batteries come with many more perks: they can stay idle for long periods of time without losing their charge, they have a quick response time, and they can charge and discharge quickly just by replacing the electrolyte fluid. For these reasons, over the past few years some people have advanced them as a way to quickly refuel electric cars.
On the flipside, flow batteries are more complicated than standard batteries, each requiring their own system of pumps and sensors; moreover, energy densities are usually lower than those of your standard Li-ion battery.
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Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc