University of Alicante selected to participate in an exchange programme between Spain and the United States
The project of researchers Javier García (UA) and Fikile Brushett (MIT) is based on redox flow batteries with higher performance and life to store energy from renewable sources
Alicante. 19 April 2018
Redox flow batteries to store renewable energy is the central topic of one of the 12 projects selected to participate in the first exchange programme between Spanish centres and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The proposal of University of Alicante researcher Javier García and MIT researcher Fikile Brushett is to get these batteries with higher performance and longer life to store energy from renewable sources - which depend solely on natural resources - and thus meeting the energy demand.
According to Javier García, Director of UA Molecular Nanotechnology Laboratory (NANOMOL), “This is a very important project with MIT that is already generating very promising results. Also, thanks to this programme, UA researchers participating in the project will be able to work at the MIT and vice versa."
Twelve projects out o the 30 related to the fields of health, energy and economics from centres in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Alicante and Santander were selected by an expert committee. All of them will be financed by 'La Caixa' Foundation with a budget of €30,000 each to be carried out for one year. As stated by La Caixa Banking Foundation Corporate Director for Research and Strategy Àngel Font, "this is a joint initiative with MIT - one of the best research institutions with 78 Nobel prize-winners in its faculty - to promote knowledge and boost international research."
The transition towards a fossil fuel free energy society is one of the most important challenges in this era. Therefore, as explained by the director of NANOMOL, in order to carry out this energy decarbonisation, we need to integrate renewable energies such as solar photovoltaic and wind power into the grid.
"Due to the intermittent and unpredictable nature of these energy sources, technologies to store enormous amounts of energy during long periods of time must be developed so that this energy can be used subsequently to cover energy demand, which varies greatly during day hours and year seasons,” UA researcher said.
Within this context, a promising technology is electrochemical flow batteries that, unlike lithium-ion batteries, they can store the charge in liquid electrolytes accumulated in tanks outside. The electrolytes flow - García explained - through a reactor, using propulsion pumps, where the electrochemical reactions take place and the usable electrical energy is generated. "The main advantage of this technology is that energy (through the storage tanks volume) and power (through the reactor size) can be scaled independently," he stated.
Also, electrodes are a key part of the battery because they serve to distribute liquids, provide active surfaces for reactions, and maintain the structural integrity of the reactor. Currently, the most commonly used commercial materials are made of carbon fibres forming a highly porous structure. However, other than having a very poorly defined microstructure, these electrodes are not stable when the battery operates at very high electrical potentials. As Javier García reported, "in order to face this important challenge, this research project proposes to manufacture metal electrodes through electrochemical selective dissolution in a metallic alloy. This solution is compatible with large-scale manufacturing and should enable materials with high electrochemical activity on their surfaces to get synthesised, as well as a hierarchical structure to make the transport of matter and electricity easier. Thus, the commercialisation of this important technology would be promoted thanks to reductions in cost and improvements in long-term durability".