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Researchers Develop Polymer Electrolytes for Redox Flow Batteries

In Germany, the share of energy from renewable sources is continuously on the rise. Now, for the first-ever time, renewable energy was able to cover over 50% of the electricity consumed in Germany at the beginning of 2020.

Test setup at CEEC Jena to develop novel active materials for redox flow batteries. Image Credit: Philipp Borchers/University of Jena.

However, the increased significance of renewable energy sources translates to a more urgent need to preserve the electricity generated in this way. This means, green energy could also be subsequently used when there is no airflow to drive the wind turbines, or when the Sun is not shining on the solar panels.

To realize this, suitable energy storage devices are highly crucial. Scientists from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany) have now designed potential new polymer electrolytes for redox flow batteries, which are eco-friendly, efficient, and flexible.

The team has reported on their success in the latest issue of the leading research journal, Advanced Energy Materials.

Huge Potential of Redox Flow Batteries

Designed by the Jena chemists, the novel material is utilized in so-called redox flow batteries.

In this type of battery, the energy-storing components are dissolved in a solvent and can therefore be stored at a decentralised location, which allows the battery to be scaled as required, from a few millilitres to several cubic metres of electrolyte solution.

Dr Ulrich S. Schubert, Professor, Center for Energy and Environmental Chemistry Jena, Friedrich Schiller University

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Due to this flexibility, redox flow batteries usually have an excellent ability to turn into an essential means of energy storage in the days to come.

But so far, the batteries have suffered from two drawbacks that have inhibited their extensive use. The first drawback was the frequent usage of environmentally dangerous and toxic heavy metal salts, like vanadium dissolved in sulfuric acid, as electrolytes.

The second drawback was the limitation of the batteries to the highest working temperature of 40 °C, which required the use of an intricate cooling system. The new material helped solve these two issues.

Cleaner, More Heat-Resistant, More Efficient

We have designed a new type of polymer that is soluble in water, which makes it suitable for use in an aqueous electrolyte, and that contains iron, which provides the ability to store electricity. At the same time, the polymer can cope with a significantly higher temperature of up to 60 degrees Celsius, so that the additional expense for a sensitive temperature management is eliminated.

Dr Ulrich S. Schubert, Professor, Center for Energy and Environmental Chemistry Jena, Friedrich Schiller University

Moreover, while testing the latest system, the Jena team found that it also functions more efficiently when compared to its predecessors.

This implies that electricity can be preserved in a water-based, non-dangerous solution, which is subsequently stored briefly in tanks, and the electricity in the battery can be used again the following day without any extra effort or considerable losses. In addition, these kinds of systems can be utilized in warmer regions, like Brazil, India, or Africa.

By improving the energy storage medium, we believe that the redox flow battery is once again in a good position to make an important contribution as the energy storage technology of the future. And our development shows once again the great importance of novel polymers for the development of innovative storage methods.

Dr Ulrich S. Schubert, Professor, Center for Energy and Environmental Chemistry Jena, Friedrich Schiller University

Journal Reference:

Borchers, P. S., et al. (2020) Aqueous Redox Flow Battery Suitable for High Temperature Applications Based on a Tailor-Made Ferrocene Copolymer. Advanced Energy Materials.

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