The battery set to transform renewable energy

    03 May 2022

    We all know that renewable energy will play a pivotal role if we’re to decarbonise the environment. One of the key challenges with alternative power sources, such as wind and solar, is storing what they produce at scale.

    But scientists at the University of Jena think they may have found the solution. They have developed a battery containing organic polymers that can cope with the fluctuations that result in renewable energy generation due to changing weather conditions.

    “We need to buffer the energy, so even if there’s a lull in the wind, we can use that energy. And this kind of battery, the “Redox flow battery”, is perfect for storing large amounts of energy,” Ulrich S. Schubert, Director of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Jena told Euronews.

    “The new polymer plastic-based batteries can store almost as much energy per kgs as a lithium battery. But because plastics are lighter, we need a larger volume to store that energy,” he added.

    How do batteries work?

    Batteries are made from different materials and have three major active components: an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte. Energy is generated by chemical reactions between the materials, which cause electrons and ions to build up at the anode.

    A greener battery

    Another major advantage of the battery is its lower environmental impact. At present most batteries rely on rare or toxic metal compounds, such as lead and lithium.

    For example, vanadium salts are dissolved in acid to produce a traditional ‘redox flow battery’. But with this batter, polymers are used in a liquid salt solution.

    “Inside our ‘Redox Flow battery’, we’ve dissolved an active material, small molecules or polymers. We can compare it to a little bit like how we dissolve salt when we’re cooking pasta or putting sugar in tea,” said Martin Hager, the project’s Polymers & Energy Group Leader.

    “When we have enough wind, and electricity is available, we can bring an electron out of one side of the active material, to the other side of the other type of active materials – and in this way we can store the generated electricity.” he added.

    The battery research project received a total investment of around one million euros. Just over 800,000 of that came from the EU’s cohesion policy.

    The Centre for Energy and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Jena has also developed a thin battery that can supply power to smaller devices, such as medical sensors or IOT technology. The electrical circuit is compressed between two thin sheets of plastic.

    “The special thing about this type of battery is that it is flexible and can be manufactured using printing technology. Moreover, we also use completely metal-free materials here, compared to some other flexible batteries. It is also rechargeable, which means you can use them several times,” said Senior Researcher Alexandra Lex-Balducci.

    The university says its new energy storage systems will soon be ready for market. In addition, they use materials that are easily available in Europe – ultimately offering a viable, green and stable energy solution.


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