Battery technology takes a green step forward

By | Science & Technology
A team of Harvard researchers have flipped battery production on its head removing a previously required metallic component from the batteries production, replacing it with a small organic compound called Quinone. Credit@courtesty of Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences_Eliza Grinnell

Nature seems to be jam packed with biomechanics solutions; derive anaesthetics from venomous creatures and oils from plants and animals. Millions of years of evolution within a biological system has purpose built many molecules to efficiently achieve a specific goal. When goals matches another natural system, its constituent functions move into a realm of human exploitability. Some biologically sourced molecules are so advanced, they only require a little refinement before they may be used to create medicine, foods and now even power.

All living organisms act like a battery with the capability of storing a portion of the energy it generates. This is an useful function might may be applicable amongst the world of people and industry, yet so far it has featured lightly in the energy sectors primary techniques. This is until now.  With the creation of a battery with a difference, usually a solely inorganic venture, this new type of organic flow battery is set to change the way batteries are created.

A team of Harvard researchers have flipped battery production on its head removing a previously required metallic component from the batteries production, replacing it with a small organic compound called Quinone. Usually platinum, an expensive metal, is used to make energy cells work, acting as a catalyst. However Quinone a comparatively afforable naturally-occurring molecule found in plants, animals and even crude oil is a suitable replacement, capable of doing the job far better than its metallic counterpart. Typically flow batteries use dissolved metal ions like iron and chromium separated by a membrane energy is stored, a process that means these energy cells may be recharged.

A factor which makes the Quinone batteries so attainable and innovative is they seem to make a better battery. After a review upon flow batteries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology the beneficial extent of this new technology was displayed. Whilst conventional metal-reliant flow battery costs an estimated $700 per kilowatt-hour of storage capacity, the new Harvard-borne metal-free cells would bring those costs down by $673, which aims to reduce the cost of akilowatt-hour by up to 96%.

Battery going green!

Battery going green!

Finding this particular Quinone molecule led researchers to screen over 10,000 different Quinones before a suitably efficient and functional variety was selected. Of all the subtly different Quinone molecules available from nature, it was every bodies favourite crumble ingredient which helped make it happen; with battery grade Quinone almost identical to its rhubarb equivalent.

Professor Roy Gordon one of the Harvard researchers working on the battery described the introduction of the Quinones use in flow batteries as a renewable-energy game-changer. To appreciate the extent of this statement you have to consider the ever growing use of batteries. At the thought of batteries, a typical image of a TV remote or possibly even your phone may come to mind, yet today the world is fuelled by batteries; computing, medical devices and most importantly the cars driven.

With the inevitable switch of car fuel sources to electric, a concept possibly limited by the current capacity and cost challenges surrounding current car battery designs, Quinone is likely to undoubtedly be a game- changer within this industry.What more, solar power has also been patiently waiting for such an advance in energy storage technology. Like the electric car conundrum the current state of power storage has been minimal and with the advent of this new battery the solar power industry might undoubtedly see a noticeable increase in interest and employment. With the generation of such an efficient battery, solar panels may now be a real candidate for the sole power source of an entire household. The batteries true potential may lie within the growth it may facilitate amongst the green power sectors.

To what extent may this “rhubarb battery” effect the future within green power expansion?

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