At the University of Cincinnati, Jimmy Jiang envisions a future where every house is powered by renewable energy stored in batteries. Jiang and his students have created a new battery in their chemistry lab that could have profound implications for the large-scale energy storage needed by wind and solar farms.
The Problem with Current Batteries
According to Jiang, batteries store renewable energy for when it's needed, not just when it's produced. This is crucial for getting the most out of wind and solar power, he said.
To add some perspective, traditional car batteries contain a mix of sulfuric acid and water. And while they are inexpensive and made from readily available materials, they have severe drawbacks for industrial or large-scale use. They have a very low energy density, which isn't useful for storing megawatts of power needed to power a city. And they have a low threshold for electrochemical stability. Jiang said that means they can blow up.
"Energy generation and energy consumption are always mismatched," he said. "That's why it's important to have a device that can store that energy temporarily and release it when it's needed."
A Problematic Membrane
"Water has a voltage limit. Once the voltage of an aqueous battery exceeds the stability window of 1.5 volts, the water can decompose or be split into hydrogen and oxygen, which is explosive," reports Jiang.
But Jiang and his students have developed a battery without water that can generate nearly 4 volts of power. Jiang's novel design does so without a membrane-separator, which are among the most expensive parts of these kinds of batteries.
In addition, Jiang notes that membranes are inefficient. These membranes cannot separate the positive and negative sides to completion. There is always some level of crossover.
High Hopes for His Work
Due to its popularity, there is a lot of research and work going into the science of rechargeable batteries. Jiang and his students are equally enthusiastic and work tirelessly to make major strides and discoveries. Doctoral student and study co-author Rabin Siwakoti said the battery offers higher energy density.
Co-author and doctoral student Jack McGrath shares, "We've managed to eliminate the membrane in a battery, which is a huge component of upfront costs. It's as much as 30% of the cost of the battery. This design significantly decreases material costs.”
This all amounts to one idea everyone can get behind: a smaller battery with the same amount of power, costing manufacturers and consumers less money.