New Battery Technology Might Make Solar Power More Practical

| Fri Jan. 24, 2014 10:52 AM EST

I ran across an item last night about a new kind of battery that might be a breakthrough in the knotty puzzle of storing solar power during the day for use at night:

“Now we have a good chance of solving that problem,” says Michael Aziz, a materials scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His solution is a flow battery that packs a high energy density with no need for the expensive metals found in other models.

....The most advanced commercial flow batteries rely on vanadium ions....“The problem is, vanadium is really expensive,” says Aziz....Over the past few decades, researchers have investigated many other chemical systems, and ruled all but a handful out. “The periodic table has been pretty well picked over,” says Aziz. “So we’ve introduced the world of organic chemistry to this problem.”

His battery’s anode uses a solution of sulphuric acid containing a type of organic compound known as a quinone. The quinone is cheap and needs no catalytic urging to react with protons to form a higher-energy hydroquinone, thereby charging the battery. Aziz teamed this half of the flow battery with a well-known partner: a cathode that alternates between bromine and hydrobromic acid.

How about that? Back in 1977, Mike and I played tennis together at Caltech. Now he's saving the world with applied physics and I'm, uh, I'm....

Right. Enough about that. Anyway, if it works out, we'll all have 500-gallon tanks of quinones buried in our yards someday to store the power from the solar cells on our roofs. Cool.