New organic, water-based batteries offer cheap, renewable energy
renewable-energy                                                                                                                                                  Image: jaroslava V/Shutterstock

Built by researchers at the University of Southern California in the US, the batteries are designed for use in power plants, allowing them to store energy on a large scale, and deploy it as needed. 

“The batteries last for about 5,000 recharge cycles, giving them an estimated 15-year lifespan,” said one of the team, professor of chemistry Sri Narayan, in a press release. “Lithium ion batteries degrade after around 1,000 cycles and cost 10 times more to manufacture.”

The design of the batteries is similar to how a fuel cell works, with two tanks of electrically active materials dissolved in water. Most current battery designs use metals and toxic chemicals as their electrically active materials, but the team wanted to find an alternative that would be cheap and have a minimal impact on the environment. 

They discovered that quinones - naturally occurring, oxidised compounds found in plants, fungi and bacteria that help with photosynthesis and cellular respiration - were the perfect fit. “These are the types of molecules that nature uses for energy transfer,” said Narayan, who's now looking at deriving all the quinones they need for the batteries from carbon dioxide.

The team developed the batteries with renewable energy sources in mind. Because solar panels can only generate power when the sun is up, and wind turbines can only generate power when there’s enough wind to propel them, power companies have been reluctant to use them. But having large batteries on hand to store excess energy that can be used as needed means those gaps in sun and wind power can be filled. "'Mega-scale' energy storage is a critical problem in the future of renewable energy," said Narayan

The research has been published in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.