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Research on increasing the lifetime of molecules in organic flow batteries: towards commercialization of flow battery

Date of news: 29 June 2022

Our society faces the challenging issue of global warming, primarily caused by the extensive usage of fossil fuels. Many scientists are looking for innovative ways to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, and a redox flow battery could well be one of these novel approaches. Recently, a research team from Harvard University and Cambridge University developed a method to extend the aqueous organic flow battery lifetime substantially. Evan Wenbo Zhao, currently working as a researcher in the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) of Radboud University, was part of this team. Zhao will explore new directions in the research space of flow batteries within IMM to advance this technology for safe and cheap energy storage.

The Netherlands is committed to reducing their emissions and being climate neutral by 2050 according to EU standards. Moreover, fossil fuel reserves are scarce. The redox flow battery (RFB) is a promising technology. It is highly efficient for large-scale applications: highly scalable due to the decoupled energy storage and power generation, safe and low in cost. RFB is a rechargeable battery which uses a liquid phase reduction-oxidation reaction when electrolyte solution flows through the electrodes. The charged electrolyte is stored separately by pumping it back to the tanks. The negative and the positive liquid are stored in separate tanks, not in a single closed cell like in traditional batteries. Because of this decoupling and thus the advantage of scalability, the storage capacity can reach kilowatt to megawatt. “Currently, the excess solar energy harvested by many Dutch households is ‘sent back’ to the electrical grid and risk overloading the grid, with redox flow batteries, we might have a very good solution to resolve this issue.” Zhao says.

Extending lifetime

The instability of the organic molecules in RFB has been a key challenge to bring it to the commercial market. In the research team, Zhao developed a practical solution to extend the lifetime of these molecules by a new charge-discharge protocol. The research results have been published in Nature Chemistry. “What excites me the most is that we nicely demonstrated that by developing new research tools, we gain a fundamental understanding of chemical reactions. Built upon this understanding, we improve the performance of a device or system employing these reactions”, Zhao says.

Zhao will explore new directions in the research space of flow batteries within IMM. Working with colleagues from the Chemometrics group, he aims to develop new methodologies to understand reaction mechanisms and implement machine learning algorithm for accelerated optimization of redox flow batteries. He will be using benchtop NMR and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) systems. “We want to make these methodologies accessible to industries, so we develop new methods on inexpensive benchtop instruments”, Zhao says. “The ultimate goal of this research to create a fully automated robotic lab, demonstrating a fast, reliable and autonomous process to optimize redox flow batteries.”

The cycle of decomposition and recomposition. During normal charge and discharge, the active molecule oscillates between its DHAQ2- form (left) and its DHAQ4- form (bottom center). When it decomposes, it turns into DHA2- (right). A voltage pulse resets the decomposed molecules (right) back to their original form (left).

The cycle of decomposition and recomposition. During normal charge and discharge, the active molecule oscillates between its DHAQ2- form (left) and its DHAQ4- form (bottom center). When it decomposes, it turns into DHA2- (right). A voltage pulse resets the decomposed molecules (right) back to their original form (left).

Magnetic Resonance Research Center

Evan Wenbo Zhao is an Assistant Professor in the Magnetic Resonance Research Center (MRRC). The MRRC is a researchzhao facility and is part of the IMM. The facility focuses on the development of novelx methods to optimize the sensitivity and information content of NMR spectra and apply these methodologies to gain deeper insight in the structure and dynamics of molecules and materials. Applications are particularly geared at understanding various energy and polymer materials, electrochemical devices, unravelling complex mixtures in the liquid state.

Article information

In situ electrochemical recomposition of decomposed redox-active species in aqueous organic flow batteries.
Yan Jing et al. Nature Chemistry, 2022 : https://www.nature.com/articles/s41557-022-00967-4

Press releases University of Cambridge (https://shar.es/afHP9c)
Harvard University (https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2022/06/research-extends-lifetime-molecules-organic-flow-batteries-practical-values).

More information?

For more information, please contact
Evan Wenbo Zhao, evanwenbo.zhao@ru.nl
IMM Communications: imm-communication@ru.nl