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New approach to commercialization of organic flow batteries overcomes major hurdle

June 18, 2022

,nanoworks news) Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Harvard University have developed a method to dramatically extend the lifetime of organic aqueous flow batteries, improving the commercial viability of a technology that uses energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar to be safely stored. and has the ability to be stored cheaply. ,

This process acts like a pacemaker, periodically shocking the system that regenerates the dissolved molecules inside the battery. Their results were reported in the journal nature chemistry (“In situ electrochemical recombination of decomposed redox-active species in aqueous organic flow batteries”), demonstrated a net lifetime of 17 times longer than previous research.

“Organic aqueous redox flow batteries hold promise for significantly reducing the cost of storing electricity from intermittent energy sources, but the instability of organic molecules has hindered their commercialization,” said co-author Michael Aziz from Harvard. “Now, we have a really practical solution for extending the lifetime of these molecules, which is a huge step forward in making these batteries competitive.”

Over the past decade researchers have been developing organic aqueous flow batteries using molecules known as anthraquinones, made from naturally abundant elements such as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, to store and release energy.

During their research, the team found that these anthraquinones decompose slowly over time, regardless of how often the battery was used.

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In previous work, the researchers found they could extend the lifetime of one of these molecules, named DHAQ, but dubbed the ‘zombie quinone’ in the laboratory by exposing the molecule to air. The team found that if the molecule is exposed to air in the right part of its charge-discharge cycle, it takes oxygen from the air and returns to the original anthraquinone molecule – as if returning from the dead.

But regularly exposing a battery’s electrolyte to air isn’t exactly practical, as it throws both sides of the battery out of balance – both sides of the battery can’t be fully charged at the same time.

To find a more practical approach, the researchers developed a better understanding of how molecules decompose and invented an electrochemical method of reversing the process.

Researchers from Professor Claire Gray’s group in Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamid Department of Chemistry, carried out in situ nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) – essentially ‘MRI for batteries’ – measurements and discovered the recrystallization of active materials by an electrochemical method, Having a so-called deep discharge.

The team found that if they performed a deep discharge, in which the positive and negative terminals of the battery dropped, causing the voltage difference between the two to become zero, and then flipped the polarity of the battery, leaving the positive side negative and becomes negative. Side positive, this created a voltage pulse that could bring the decomposing molecules back to their original form.

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“Typically, in running a battery, you want to avoid completely draining the battery because it degrades its components,” said Harvard co-first author Yan Jing. “But we have found that this extreme discharge where we actually reverse the polarity can reconnect these molecules – which was a surprise.”

“Getting a single digit percentage of loss per year is really capable of widespread commercialization because it’s not a huge financial burden to top up your tanks by a few percent each year,” Aziz said.

The research team also showed that this approach works for a range of organic molecules. Next, they aim to find out how far they can extend the lifespan of DHAQ and other inexpensive anthraquinones that have been used in these systems.

“What is most surprising and beautiful to me is that this organic molecule can change in such a complex way, with many chemical and electrochemical reactions occurring simultaneously or sequentially,” said co-first author Dr. Evan Wenbo Zhao. He was based in Cambridge, and is now based at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. “Nevertheless, we have been able to unpickle many of these reactions and allow them to occur in a controlled fashion that favors the operation of a redox flow battery.”

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