One of the biggest problems with current sources of sustainable energy is unpredictability. Consider sustainable energy sources such as wind energy and solar power, and it is quickly apparent that the unpredictable nature of the solar energy and wind power make it difficult to assure sufficient power generation, and thus power distribution, at any given moment. Another problem is the ability to take advantage of the times when there is abundant amounts of sun or wind energy. Taking full advantage of the resource can be wasteful if that amount of energy production is not needed when the resources are available. What is required is a solution that allows providers to be able to take advantage of times of abundant sustainable energy and continue providing power when the sources are not so abundant. Achieving sustainable energy through redox flow batteries offers a solution to both of these problems.
Redox flow batteries are a type of rechargeable batteries that operate by storing electricity chemically via an electrolyte solution. While this doesn’t differ from many other types of batteries, redox flow batteries offer much higher storage capacities as well as a very low rate of self-discharge. These two characteristics are what make redox flow batteries a good solution for power storage in sustainable energy applications.
Current redox flow batteries are limited by their relatively low energy density. Current redox flow batteries feature an average energy density of about 35 Watt hours per kilogram (35 Wh/Kg). As a comparison, current lead acid batteries have an energy density of about 40 Wh/Kg and lithium ion batteries can achieve an energy density of up to 200 Wh/Kg. However, redox flow battery technology is advancing rapidly and Fraunhofer Institute researchers have claimed they’ll soon be able to increase the energy density of redox flow batteries to a level comparable to that of current lithium ion batteries.
Achieving sustainable energy through the use of redox batteries is already being done in several places around the world. A wind farm project in Hokkaido, Japan uses a 275 kilowatt redox flow battery system to balance power distribution. Similar systems are in use in Tasmania, Utah and several other places, including solar power applications.
As the production of energy through sustainable means increases in efficiency and the output becomes greater, sustainable energy will become more widespread and cost-effective, hopefully eliminating the need for other non-sustainable energy sources. But for this to happen, the ability to store the power produced so it is consistently available is essential.
Redox flow batteries are the technological innovation with the best chance of providing this necessary component. Achieving sustainable energy through redox flow batteries is the focus of universities and corporations around the world, which illustrates the hope researchers have for the batteries’ success.
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