Electrical energy storage is the obstacle preventing more widespread use of renewable energy sources. Due to the unpredictable nature of wind and solar energy, the ability to store this energy when it is produced is essential for turning these resources into reliable sources of energy. The current U.S. energy grid system is used predominantly for distributing energy and allows little flexibility for storage of excess or a rapid dispersal on short notice. Drexel University researchers believe they have a solution.
The team’s research yielded a novel solution that combines the strengths of batteries and supercapacitors. The “electrochemical flow capacitor” (EFC) consists of an electrochemical cell connected to two external electrolyte reservoirs - a design similar to existing redox flow batteries which are used in electrical vehicles. This technology is unique because it uses small carbon particles suspended in the electrolyte liquid to create a slurry of particles that can carry an electric charge.
Uncharged slurry is pumped from its tanks through a flow cell, where energy stored in the cell is then transferred to the carbon particles. The charged slurry can then be stored in reservoirs until the energy is needed, at which time the entire process is reversed in order to discharge the EFC. The main advantage of the EFC is that its design allows it to be constructed on a scale large enough to store large amounts of energy, while also allowing for rapid disbursal of the energy when the demand dictates it.
In flow battery systems, as well as the EFC, the energy storage capacity is determined by the size of the reservoirs, which store the charged material. If a larger capacity is desired, the tanks can simply be scaled up in size. Similarly, the power output of the system is controlled by the size of the electrochemical cell, with larger cells producing more power.