Scientists at USC have developed a water-based organic battery that is long-lasting, and built from cheap, eco-friendly components. The new battery — which uses no metals or toxic materials — is intended for use in power plants, where it can make the energy grid more resilient and efficient by creating a large-scale means to store energy for use as needed.

The new battery is based on a redox flow design — similar in design to a fuel cell — with two tanks of electroactive materials dissolved in water. The solutions are pumped into a cell containing a membrane between the two fluids with electrodes on either side, releasing energy.

The team's breakthrough centered around the electroactive materials. While previous battery designs have used metals or toxic chemicals, the team found an organic compound that could be dissolved in water. Through a combination of molecule design and trial-and-error, they found that certain naturally occurring quinones — oxidized organic compounds — fit the bill. Quinones are found in plants, fungi, bacteria, and some animals, and are involved in photosynthesis and cellular respiration.