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Battery Breakthrough Could Benefit Solar and Wind Power

In order to further integrate solar and wind power into the grid, one of the things that can make a big difference is finding an economical way to store and release energy, and a recent breakthrough in battery design from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University may be able to that.

Because of the power fluctuations that are a natural part of solar and wind power installations, an energy storage system must be in place in order to smooth out peaks and valleys in the power supply by storing excess energy when it is generated, and discharging it when the system isn’t producing any.

The new battery design from SLAC and Stanford aims to be able to do that in an efficient and affordable manner, which could be a game-changer in renewable energies.

“For solar and wind power to be used in a significant way, we need a battery made of economical materials that are easy to scale and still efficient. We believe our new battery may be the best yet designed to regulate the natural fluctuations of these alternative energies.” – Yi Cui, Stanford associate professor of materials science and engineering

The new lithium-polysulfide battery is a variation on a conventional “redox” flow battery, which require expensive materials and frequent maintenance, but is said to be much simpler and less expensive.

“The new Stanford/SLAC battery design uses only one stream of molecules and does not need a membrane at all. Its molecules mostly consist of the relatively inexpensive elements lithium and sulfur, which interact with a piece of lithium metal coated with a barrier that permits electrons to pass without degrading the metal. When discharging, the molecules, called lithium polysulfides, absorb lithium ions; when charging, they lose them back into the liquid. The entire molecular stream is dissolved in an organic solvent, which doesn’t have the corrosion issues of water-based flow batteries.” – SLAC

Researchers built a small version of their battery using simple lab glassware, and were pleased with the initial tests, as the unit retained “excellent” energy storage performance through a cycle of over 2000 charge cycles. The next step will be to build a lab-sized prototype of the battery, and eventually, a grid-sized version for utilities.

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