Organic batteries could revolutionise renewable industry  

Researchers at Harvard have developed a low cost, organic battery that could accompany solar or wind power installations. This comes on the back on predictions that traditional battery technology could plummet through a demand driven industry adjustment.

Energy storage is seen as a key element of renewable feasibility, allowing customers to mobilise their energy during periods of low generation. The benefits of new technology are two-fold. Firstly it offers an enhanced storage, for out-performing traditional solid-electrode batteries. Secondly, and even better, they can be produced for a fraction of the cost, replacing traditional materials such as vanadium or platinum for carbon-based materials.

“The whole world of electricity storage has been using metal ions in various charge states but there is a limited number that you can put into solution and use to store energy, and none of them can economically store massive amounts of renewable energy,” says Roy Gordon, Professor of Chemistry at Harvard. Testing various organic by-products lead Gordon and his team to the possibility of molecules called quinones (it’s what a banana loses when it goes brown) as a storage candidate. “Some of them will be terrible and some will be really good. With these quinones we have the first ones that look really good.”

They way they tell if a particular quinone is “really good” is to scrutinise them using high-throughput molecular screening, as many as 10,000 different variations. Large tanks full of suitable organic material could be installed at a house and collect solar power during daylight hours for consumption during the evening.

“Imagine a device the size of a home heating oil tank sitting in your basement,” says study co-lead author Michael Marshak. “It would store a day’s worth of sunshine from the solar panels on the roof of your house, potentially providing enough to power your household from late afternoon, through the night, into the next morning, without burning any fossil fuels.”

Sounds good to us. It remains to be seen whether these materials can withstand thousands of charge cycles while retaining their useful charge capacity, testing over the next few years will illustrate the extent of the breakthrough.