14.1%. That number may not seem like much out of context, but it means a lot for the future of renewable energy. According to a recent scientific article published by Cell Press, new monolithically-integrated solar flow batteries have set the new record in solar-to-output electricity efficiency at 14.1%.
The breakthrough technology is a result of the efforts of chemistry professor Song Jin (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and electrical engineering professor Jr-Hau He (Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology).
Their collaborative work combines the concept of conventional flow batteries with solar cell technology. Moreover, they aim to create a more compact and efficient single unit to integrate with existing renewable energy grids easily.
A flow battery, or redox flow battery, relies on the motion of chemical components dissolved in liquid. A thin membrane usually separates these liquids. However, this is not always the case, as scientists have developed hybrid and membraneless flow batteries.
Either way, these electrochemical cells are used like fuel cells and rechargeable batteries. The two liquids stay dormant in separate tanks until energy is needed. Then, when the fluids flow together into a stack, the battery discharges energy.
To recharge, the battery merely pumps the liquids back into their respective tanks. The longevity of energy storage with this process is almost limitless. However, they are currently too bulky and not incredibly powerful on their own.
The problem with conventional flow batteries is their impracticality. Unlike other forms of battery, flow batteries are still not extraordinarily efficient. This is where solar cells come in.
Professors Song Jin and Jr-Hau He integrated a solar cell with a flow battery system, thus increasing the overall efficiency while also allowing for a more compact and practical all-in-one unit.
The solar cell used for demonstration purposes is still a pricey one, but that doesn’t scientists cannot develop more economical solar cells. The professors believe it will soon be just as cheap, if not cheaper, than using solar cells and energy storage batteries separately.
Furthermore, these solar flow batteries can operate in three different modes. Not only do they store solar energy, but it can provide power directly from the solar cell. In addition, the batteries can also recharge from any source of electricity.
This makes solar flow batteries very easily integrate-able with existing energy grids. A source-neutral system allows for compatibility with other types of renewable energy as well.
Overall, these solar flow batteries are the next step in the ever-important path towards 100% renewable energy. As renewable energy technology becomes cheaper and more efficient, it becomes more practical.
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