While solar energy has undoubtedly expanded over the past decade, we will not be able to become fully reliant on it until there is a breakthrough in storage technology. We need to be able to efficiently and safely story large amounts of power, as well as be able to quickly charge batteries, in order to be able to fully rely on solar power. The ability to store immense amounts of solar energy is key in order for this energy to then be able to be distributed across the grid to meet given demand.
Currently, lithium-ion batteries are used for storing energy generated by solar panels due to their ability to store high amounts of energy. However, they use scarce minerals, are vulnerable to fires and explosions, and are expensive. A battery made from more common materials and at a lower cost is necessary to fit growing demand for solar power.
Breakthroughs in affordable storage for solar power currently are mostly in liquid battery technology. Also termed, ‘flow batteries’, this type of rechargeable battery gets its rechargeability from two chemical components dissolved in liquids contained within the system, commonly separated by a membrane. Flow batteries can be almost instantly recharged by replacing the electrolyte liquid, while simultaneously recovering the used material for re-energization. This advantage is what makes them so ideal for solar power.
Different classes of flow batteries already exist, but a new advancement is needed to adapt them perfectly for solar energy. Researchers at Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Wisconsin, and Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden have all made significant steps towards developing this battery.
At Chalmers University of Technology in particular, researchers experimented with using a chemical called norbornadiene for the battery. Made from mostly carbon and hydrogen, the molecule would be cheap and easy to make – it would also be able to store energy for days, months, or even years, according to chemical engineer, Kasper Moth-Poulsen. While the system is currently not able to absorb as much of the sun’s energy as they would like, researchers are optimistic – the new data from the study “demonstrates real world use of this technology”.
Perfecting this battery is so time consuming because there are so many different performance metrics that it must be able to meet: cost, efficiency, size, lifetime, safety, and more. While the final product is still well under development, with further research, new liquid battery technology could be the key to delivering clean energy to the grid quicky, cheaply, and at safer temperatures.
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