A Unique Pathway to Maximizing Battery Performance

There is literally no end to what all human beings can go out and do, and yet there is little we do better than growing on a consistent basis. This tendency to improve, no matter the situation, has brought the world some huge milestones, with technology emerging as quite a major member of the group. The reason why we hold technology in such a high regard is, by and large, predicated upon its skill-set, which guided us towards a reality that nobody could have ever imagined otherwise. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the surface for a second, it will become clear how the whole runner was also very much inspired from the way we applied those skills across a real world environment. The latter component, in fact, did a lot to give the creation a spectrum-wide presence, and as a result, initiate a full-blown tech revolution. Of course, this revolution eventually went on to scale up the human experience through some outright unique avenues, but even after reaching so far ahead, technology will somehow continue to bring forth the right goods. The same has turned more and more evident in recent times, and assuming one new discovery ends up with the desired impact, it will only put that trend on a higher pedestal moving forward.

The researching team at Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has successfully developed a method, which uses a common food and medicine additive to bolster the capacity and longevity of flow batteries. According to certain reports, the study roped in a dissolved simple sugar called β-cyclodextrin, a derivative of starch, to use in conjunction with a flow battery and see whether it can help the latter achieve a lengthier lifetime.  This particular experiment revealed how the sugar additive was able to accept positively charged protons, something which helped balance out the movement of negative electrons as the battery discharges. Notably enough, the researchers optimized the ratio of chemicals in the system until it achieved 60 percent more peak power, and once it got there, they cycled the battery over and over for more than a year. Talk about the result, it showed that the battery barely lost any of its activity to recharge over the stated period, marking the research as the first laboratory-scale flow battery experiment to conduct more than a year-long uninterrupted use with minimal loss of capacity. Another historical first came to fruition when the researchers made β-cyclodextrin the first element to speed up the electrochemical reaction, which stores and then releases the flow battery energy in a process called homogeneous catalysis.

“This is a brand new approach to developing flow battery electrolyte,” said Wei Wang, a long-time PNNL battery researcher and the principal investigator of the study. “We showed that you can use a totally different type of catalyst designed to accelerate the energy conversion. And further, because it is dissolved in the liquid electrolyte it eliminates the possibility of a solid dislodging and fouling the system.”

To understand the significance behind such a breakthrough, we first have to fully grasp the concept of flow batteries and how they can help us. In simpler terms, flow batteries have an edge over solid-stated batteries because of their two chambers that are loaded with a different liquid. This liquid ensures the battery is always ready to supply the electrolyte needed for charging your power electrical devices. Flow batteries can also seamlessly store energy from renewable energy resources, thus meaning it only has a bigger role to play moving forward. Another thing aiding the new method’s case is its flexibility to implementation at any scale. Mind you, flow batteries are already a prevalent concept, but at present, most commercial facilities using it are dependent upon mined minerals such as vanadium for the synthesizing process, materials, that you can guess, are quite hard and costly to find.

“We cannot always dig the Earth for new materials,” said Imre Gyuk, director of energy storage research at DOE’s Office of Electricity. “We need to develop a sustainable approach with chemicals that we can synthesize in large amounts—just like the pharmaceutical and the food industries.”

For the future, though, the team is hoping to dabble around with other compounds that are similar to β-cyclodextrin, but at the same time, don’t have its limitations like making the liquid thicker and disrupting the flow.

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