New Advances in Energy Storage

Energy, energy everywhere, nor any place to store it.

Cambridge crude

We often read that one of the main challenges to renewable energy’s expansion is that renewable sources tend to be inconsistent. Typical concerns are that the wind doesn’t blow all of the time and the sun goes down just as homeowners turn on lights, ovens and televisions. Though these two examples can’t be denied, they do point to a need for energy storage.

Several innovations have been made in energy storage in recent years, and though solar cell efficiencies and wind turbine sizes grab many headlines, advances in storing – or efficiently using – the energy they generate get less attention. So we’d like to share with you three new energy storage technologies and practices that have the potential to help change the way we generate and deliver energy to the grid in this country.

The first technology is a new type of “flow battery” developed at MIT with partial funding from the DOE’s ARPA-E program. Flow batteries aren’t new, and If you haven’t heard of a flow battery before, it’s a technology worth learning about. Essentially, a flow battery uses an electrolyte-filled liquid to release or store electric charge, depending on which direction the liquid is passed through a membrane. The “flow” of the liquid through the membrane gives the battery its name.

MIT took this concept and combined it with lithium-ion technology. Their liquid is more dense, and thus has an energy storage capacity about 10 times that of traditional flow batteries. In addition to the improvement in the liquid, MIT’s battery separates the “charge” and “discharge” phases of the battery. The MIT team calls their liquid “Cambridge crude” because the liquid could be pumped into a battery to “refuel” it. This portability means that MIT’s flow battery could store energy for use later on the grid, or potentially in an electric vehicle.

Though the “Cambridge crude” technology is still in development, the fact that the team has demonstrated that the their concept works means the challenge is now all about “find[ing] better cathode and anode materials and electrolytes…[and] developing working systems that can compete with currently available batteries in terms of cost and performance,” according to MIT news.

Check the CEIL Blog tomorrow for our next energy storage technology feature.

Photo via MIT news.

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