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Michigan and Utah researchers work to better stabilize batteries for storage

CTBR Staff Writer Published 23 February 2017

Research from Universities of Utah and of Michigan are working to develop industrial-scale batteries that can store vast amounts of energy for deployment when the sun sets or the wind stops blowing.

University of Michigan and University of Utah chemists have developed an energy-storing molecule that is 1,000 times more stable than existing compounds.

The new molecule as per the two American universities can pave way for the manufacturing of batteries that are longer-lasting and more efficient than the existing ones in the market.

The research and development was undertaken to tackle the age old issue of storing energy gathered from sun or wind in an efficient manner.

Currently, the market does have the deep-cycle lead batteries or lithium ion batteries but each throws up challenges such as causing considerable hazards to the environment on disposal.

These types of batteries are also prone to wear out quickly as per U-M.

U-M chemistry professor Melanie Sanford said: "It's similar to what happens to your cell phone battery. You use the phone all day, wearing the battery down, and you charge it at night. Hopefully, the cell phone lasts for a few years, but you notice after a while the battery doesn't charge anymore.

"That's exactly the type of problem that we're trying to address."

Chemists at U-M invented the first generation of the energy-storing molecule before giving it to researches at Utah who assessed its stability. The first compound developed by the team was comparatively not as stable as the current compound.

University of Utah chemist Matthew Sigman said: "Our first compound had a half-life of about eight to 12 hours.

"The current compound that we were able to predict out was on the order of months."

While all batteries do have chemicals that store and release electrical charge, the new type developed by Utah and U-M researchers, dubbed as redox flow batteries are unlike car or cell phone batteries.

The difference is that they utilize a central set of inert electrodes which hold vanadium-based molecules that store and release charge, and are connected to two tanks.

The battery is charged by passing solution of the anolytes and catholytes molecules over the electrodes in one direction. On the other side, the charge is released by allowing them go through the cell in the opposite direction to generate electricity.