In DepthENERGY

Advances in flow batteries promise cheap backup power

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Science  02 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6414, pp. 508-509
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6414.508

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Summary

Batteries already power electronics, tools, bicycles, and cars; soon, batteries could help sustain the entire electric grid. With the rise of wind and solar power, energy companies are looking for ways to keep the electrons flowing when the sun doesn't shine and the wind ebbs. Giant devices called flow batteries, based on tanks of electrolyte capable of storing enough electricity to power thousands of homes for many hours, could be the answer. But most flow batteries rely on vanadium, a somewhat rare and expensive metal, and alternatives are short-lived and toxic. Last week, researchers reported overcoming many of these drawbacks with a potentially cheap, long-lived, and safe flow battery. The work is part of a wave of advances now generating optimism that a new generation of flow batteries will soon serve as a backstop for the deployment of wind and solar on a grand scale.