U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Clean Cities

New Battery Design Could Help Solar and Wind Power the Grid

May 1, 2013

Researchers from the Energy Department's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have designed a low-cost, long-life "flow" battery that could enable solar and wind energy to become major suppliers to the electrical grid. The research is a product of the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), an Energy Department Energy Innovation Hub. Established last November and led by Argonne National Laboratory with SLAC as a major partner, JCESR is one of five such Hubs created by the Energy Department to accelerate energy research.

While solar and wind power make a substantial contribution to the nation’s energy supply, they also create significant power fluctuations, which can sometimes exceed the tolerances of the electrical grid. “Flow” batteries can smooth those fluctuations. Typically, flow batteries pump two different liquids through an interaction chamber where dissolved molecules undergo chemical reactions that store or give up energy, and have a membrane that only allows ions not involved in reactions to pass between the liquids while keeping the active ions physically separated. The new flow battery uses a simplified design without a membrane, and is a less expensive design compared to other batteries, which may improve its scalability and cost-effectiveness. In laboratory tests, it also demonstrated excellent energy storage performance through the equivalent of more than five and a half years of daily charge and discharge cycles. See the Energy Department press release and the JCESR website.