Inexpensive Water-Based Batteries to Store Solar and Wind Energy

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Stanford researchers have developed a new water-based battery that could lessen the need to burn carbon-emitting fossil fuels and provide an inexpensive way to store wind or solar energy.

The battery reportedly uses a cheap industrial salt-manganese sulphate, which undergoes a chemical process and stores the excess energy in the form of hydrogen gas. The energy is generated when the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing, and it can be fed back into the electric grid, and redistributed during peak demand hours.

Yi Cui, the senior author of the research project and a professor of materials science at the Stanford, explained that they had used a special salt in the water, and added an electrode. They created a reversible chemical reaction that could store electrons in the form of hydrogen gas. Cui added that they had identified catalysts that could bring them below the $100 per kilowatt-hour, the Department of Energy (DOE) target. Meanwhile, Steven Chu, former DOE secretary, and Nobel laureate and a professor at Stanford who was not a member of the research team reiterated that the prototype demonstrated that science and engineering could achieve low-cost newer ways, long-lasting, and utility-scale batteries.

The device’s prototype developed attached a power source to the battery to mimic power fed by solar or wind energy. The electrons and the manganese sulphate dissolved in the water reacted, leaving particles of manganese dioxide left clinging to the electrodes. The excess electrons set off bubbling as hydrogen gas, and this energy could be stored for future use. The current prototype is around three inches tall and has the capacity to generate 20 milliwatt-hours of electricity. It is reported that this could be scaled to an industrial-grade system that had the potential to charge and recharge up to 10,000 times and create a grid-scale battery which had a useful lifespan. The device is also being seen as a form of backup against demand surges or outages.

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