Solar power energy storage has been problematic in the past. Recent alternatives such as the Tesla Battery are more efficient, but the primary barrier to widespread application has been the high cost of the batteries. Flow batteries looked as if they might be a more cost-effective alternative, but the need for highly toxic chemicals ruled them out. However, Harvard researchers have now found a way to eliminate the toxic and caustic compounds from flow batteries, paving the way for cost-effective solar power energy storage.
What is a flow battery?
Instead of being a sealed unit, flow batteries utilise electrolytes that are separated from the electrodes. That means that adding to the battery’s energy storage capacity is as simple as adding extra electrolytes to the storage tanks. Electrolytes are pumped through a stack of electrodes when energy is being stored or used. Two different electrolyte solutions are required, and these pass energy on to one another with the transfer of electrons being reversed when power is used. The implication is that excess solar power energy can now be stored efficiently for use at times when there is no sunshine to generate energy.
The problem and the solution
Up till now, the main problem has been that one of the electrolytes required contained bromine, a highly toxic chemical. Bromine is also very corrosive, and would have reduced the life of the other components in the system. The only alternative would have been the use of corrosion resistant material, but this would have added to the production cost, thereby eliminating the cost advantages that would have made the flow battery the solution everyone has been waiting for.
The Harvard research team that developed the first prototype then tried replacing the bromine with ferrocyanide, a compound that is non-toxic and has even been used as a food additive. But this meant that the other electrolyte also had to be altered. A bit of chemistry genius was applied, and the researchers came up with an effective solution to overcome this problem too.
The end result is a practical and cost-effective means of storing solar power energy – a solution that will be applicable to homes and industrial applications alike – and one that is both environmentally sound and safe to use.
Will it save money in the long run?
As we know, one can connect to the grid when necessary, but the times when we may do so will often be peak-demand periods and at these times, the cost of electricity is higher. With a cost-effective solar power energy storage solution, the researchers predict that savings could be substantial.
Although this technology is very new, it will soon be commercially available, and we can expect to see further improvements and developments with the passage of time. We predict that going off the grid completely will soon become a much more viable proposition thanks to flow battery technology. For now, it still makes sense to sell solar power energy back to the grid and make use of the grid when necessary, but this situation is set to change in the foreseeable future.
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