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MIT Researchers Develop Semi-Solid Energy Storage

Credit: Unsplash

The future of batteries is gooey and squishy.

In the race toward sustainable energy, one of the tougher nuts to crack has been long-term storage. Whenever the wind isn’t blowing or sun isn’t shining, we need battery backups to draw juice from. The problem is that you can generate electricity no problem, but if the power doesn’t have anywhere to go, it just dissipates into the air, a complete waste of resources. This is why we need batteries that can store massive amounts of energy long-term. This isn’t like the batteries in your TV remote; the acid in household batteries can only carry small charges, and only for so long.

After many years of research, a group of MIT researchers may have made a promising new development in a surprising form. Their new battery batter is composed of zinc-manganese dioxide, plus an electrically conductive carbon addon. This chemical cocktail creates a mixture with a consistency between molasses and soft-serve ice cream that can store a solid charge for a surprisingly long time.

“We performed a comprehensive, bottom-up analysis to understand how the battery’s composition affects performance and cost, looking at all the trade-offs,” says researcher Thaneer Malai Narayanan. “We showed that our system can be cheaper than others, and can be scaled up.”

This system, named flow batteries, stores and releases energy as its flows through its container. As long as the flow keeps going, the power will be maintained. Comparing their system to traditional chemical batteries, the researchers found that their flow battery can hold just as much power at a fraction of the production and maintenance costs.

“The transition to clean energy requires energy storage systems of different durations for when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing,” says researcher Emre Gençer. “Our work demonstrates that a semisolid flow battery could be a lifesaving as well as economical option when these VRE sources can’t generate power for a day or longer—in the case of natural disasters, for instance.”