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Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have designed a low-cost, long-life "flow" battery that could enable solar and wind energy to become major suppliers to the electrical grid.

The research is a product of the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub. Led by Argonne National Laboratory, the JCESR is one of five such hubs created by the department to accelerate energy research and was established last November.

While solar and wind make a substantial contribution to the nation’s energy supply, they also create significant power fluctuations, which can sometimes exceed the tolerances of the electrical grid. Flow batteries can smooth those fluctuations, notes the DOE.

The flow battery uses a simplified, less-expensive design than other batteries, which may improve its scalability and cost-effectiveness. In laboratory tests, it also demonstrated excellent energy-storage performance through the equivalent of more than five-and-a-half years of daily charge and discharge cycles.

Going forward, Cui's group plans to make a laboratory-scale system to optimize its energy-storage process and identify potential engineering issues. It also plans to start discussions with potential hosts for a full-scale field-demonstration unit.

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