Researchers at Harvard University in the United States have made a key advancement in battery technology which could allow the devices to last for years with maintenance.
Specifically, they have discovered a way to produce ‘flow batteries’ which store energy in organic molecules in a non-acidic, pH-neutral solution.
Due to the nature of this medium, the device itself can last for many years without causing damage to its critical components.
“Because we were able to dissolve the electrolytes in neutral water, this is a long-lasting battery that you could put in your basement,” said Prof. Roy Gordon, one of the researchers involved with the project.
“If it spilled on the floor, it wouldn’t eat the concrete and since the medium is noncorrosive, you can use cheaper materials to build the components of the batteries, like the tanks and pumps.”
The Harvard team managed to build a battery which, after 1000 charge/discharge cycles, only would lose 1% of its total capacity.
Currently, the lithium-ion batteries which dominate the consumer electronics market would have completely ceased to function after a similar number of cycles.
Flow batteries themselves store electrical energy in chemical solutions which are stored in large holding tanks. The larger these tanks are in size, the larger the amount of energy they can store.
This makes these batteries particularly ideal for the storage of large amounts of electricity generated by renewable (but intermittent) energy sources such as solar and wind.
The fact that these new flow batteries can be charged so many times with only a marginal decline in capacity could eventually make renewable energy storage highly cost-effective.
Already large arrays of lithium-ion batteries are being built by companies like Tesla in California, and a longer-lasting battery could significantly speed up this trend.
Another major benefit of the flow batteries built by the Harvard team is that they can be constructed out of lower-grade materials, as they no longer are required to hold volatile or acidic compounds.
This would make the batteries in the longer term significantly cheaper in price than their existing competitors, meaning they could enjoy fast market uptake.