Science 3 min read

Saltwater Batteries Could Revolutionize Renewable Energy Storage

Australia is paving the way forwards towards shirking coal and other fossil fuels and improving its dependency on renewable energy. | Image by Petrmalinak | Shutterstock

Australia is paving the way forwards towards shirking coal and other fossil fuels and improving its dependency on renewable energy. | Image by Petrmalinak | Shutterstock

Researchers at Stanford University developed a battery that runs on saltwater. Low cost and durable, this new type of battery could solve the common issues currently facing renewable energy.

By 2020, residents of California will have to comply with a new law that requires them to incorporate solar panels into their new homes.

The California Energy Commission voted to approve the new legislation yesterday. Now passed, it will make the sun-drenched state the first in the U.S. state to mandate the installation of solar panels.

The solar-energy regulations could cause the cost of the construction of new homes to soar by up to $30,000. However, homeowners would save up to $60,000 in the long run from using solar power.

Scalable and Cheap Saltwater Batteries

Until other states follow suit, Californians better start looking for an efficient solar energy storage system.

It just so happens that one of California’s leading research centers has been working on renewable saltwater batteries that could ease a lot of these costs.

When it comes to a home battery for renewables, there are a few main concerns that any storage solution must answer: how much electricity it can store, how much energy is lost on charge and discharge, and for how long can the system operate.

Materials scientists at Stanford University developed a manganese-hydrogen storage technique to accommodate solar and wind-generated power.

The new saltwater batteries are easy to produce as they only require manganese sulfate (a type of salt), water, and simple electrodes for the necessary catalytic reactions to take place.

 “What we’ve done,” said Yi Cui, who led the research, “is thrown a special salt into water, dropped in an electrode, and created a reversible chemical reaction that stores electrons in the form of hydrogen gas.”

A Backup for Intermittent Renewables

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, solar and wind are the two fastest-growing energy sources in America.

However, these two renewable sources suffer from an inherent critical setback due to their power generation method: intermittency.

If the sky is cloudy, photovoltaic panels can go days without producing any electricity. If there’s no wind blowing, wind turbines stay off.

When there’s no sunshine and no wind, power companies have to go back to fossil fuel generation methods as a backup, which offsets the benefits of renewables.

A renewable grid needs backup batteries that store excess power and redistribute it when solar panels and wind turbines aren’t running.

However, current battery solutions, lithium-ion batteries included, are hard to build on a scale that fits the grid needs. The reasons for this range from their short lifespan to safety concerns to financial constraints.

Stanford University’s new saltwater batteries solve all these issues.

It’s low cost and safe because it runs on water and common salt. On top of that, it has a long life cycle as it can charge and recharge for 10,000 cycles (over a decade of use) before it shows signs of decay.

Although the prototype battery researchers tested generates only a small amount of power (20 milliwatt hours), researchers think they can scale their system up to fit grid-scale storage.

Is this new water-based battery a game changer for renewables?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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