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Energy

3: Air breathing battery that exhales oxygen

Problem:

Li-ion cobalt batteries are difficult to produce and to recycle, hence expensive.

Solution:

A research team including Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a type of battery which uses cheaper, abundant materials, and could be used for both short and long-term energy storage.

The researchers estimate that the total chemical cost of the battery could be as little as 1/30 the cost of current storage technologies, including li-ion.

The battery utilizes a sulfur anode (a by-product of fossil fuel production) dissolved in water of which there is an abundant supply, and an aerated liquid sodium salt solution in the cathode. Oxygen flowing in and out of the cathode causes the battery to discharge and charge.

This battery literally inhales and exhales air, but it does not exhale carbon dioxide, it exhales oxygen.

Although the initial prototype of the air-breathing sulfur flow battery was about the size of a coffee cup, flow batteries are known to be easily scalable and thanks to its low materials cost, the battery could be the first technology to compete in cost and energy density with pumped hydroelectric storage.

The battery has a slow self discharge rate, and could therefore be used in seasonal storage – an increasingly important concept as solar moves into regions further from the equator, where sunlight levels vary more greatly between seasons.

Soon after Yet-Ming Chiang and Mateo Jaramillo had founded Form Energy in Somerville, MA to market the battery, they were able to raise US$11 million, including US$9 million from Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), launched by a group of billionaires including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Richard Branson, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, Masayoshi Son, and Michael Bloomberg.

In August 2019, Italian oil and gas major Eni signed on as lead investor, joined by Capricorn Investment Group and most of the existing investors from the original US$9 million, pushing it to US$40 million. (engine.xyz)

Yet-Ming Chiang et al., “Air-Breathing Aqueous Sulfur Flow Battery for Ultralow-Cost Long-Duration Electrical Storage” Joule. October 12, 2017.

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