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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says that researchers from its 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, led by Yi Cui, a Stanford associate professor and member of the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, is a product of the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub.

While solar and wind make a substantial contribution to the nation's energy supply, the DOE says they also create significant power fluctuations, which can sometimes exceed the tolerances of the electrical grid. “Flow” batteries, such as developed by Cui’s group, can smooth those fluctuations.

The new flow battery uses a simplified, less-expensive design than other batteries, which may improve its scalability and cost-effectiveness, the DOE adds. 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.

“This important early result from JCESR points to the value of mobilizing top researchers in a concerted effort to tackle major energy challenges,” says Patricia M. Dehmer, acting director of the DOE’s Office of Science, which supports JCESR.  “It also shows the potential for significant progress in batteries and energy storage through transformative scientific research.”



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