Common Food and Medicine Additive Enhances Next-Generation Flow Battery Design

The development extends the battery's ability to store and release energy


Researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have discovered that a widely used food and medicine additive can significantly enhance the capacity and longevity of a next-generation flow battery design.

The study, recently published in the journal Joule, introduces the successful integration of a novel additive called β-cyclodextrin, which is a dissolved simple sugar derived from starch, to optimize the performance of flow batteries.

Through a series of experiments, the researchers optimized the chemical composition of the flow battery, ultimately achieving a 60% increase in peak power.

The team said their development not only extends the battery’s ability to store and release energy but also accelerates the electrochemical reactions responsible for energy conversion.

Unleashing the Potential of Flow Batteries

Flow batteries have emerged as a promising solution for scalable, long-lasting energy storage due to their ability to store vast amounts of energy and endure numerous charge and discharge cycles.

These batteries employ two chambers filled with different liquid electrolytes, allowing for efficient energy conversion.

However, the challenge lies in improving their capacity, longevity, and reaction efficiency. The research team at PNNL tackled these obstacles by introducing β-cyclodextrin, enabling advancements in flow battery performance.

Introducing β-cyclodextrin in flow battery electrolytes marked a departure from conventional catalysts. The dissolved sugar additive facilitated a process known as homogeneous catalysis, significantly enhancing the electrochemical reactions responsible for energy storage and release.

Unlike solid catalysts, which can dislodge and impede the system’s functionality, the sugar additive operates effectively while dissolved in the liquid electrolyte.

The researchers conducted continuous charge and discharge cycles for over a year, demonstrating the flow battery’s longevity. The battery’s capacity remained nearly intact throughout the experiment, underscoring the potential for prolonged and reliable energy storage.

The researchers said their discovery represents the first laboratory-scale flow battery experiment to report such an extended period of continuous operation with minimal capacity loss.

A Sustainable Path Forward

Unlike existing commercial flow batteries that rely on costly and scarce minerals like vanadium, this innovative approach employs common and easily synthesized compounds.

By leveraging chemicals that can be synthesized on a large scale, the flow battery industry can minimize reliance on limited resources, ensuring a sustainable and environmentally friendly energy storage solution.

Last year, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) claimed to have built a stable kilowatt-scale aqueous redox flow battery with high-performance organic redox-active molecules for renewable storage.

In the same month, researchers at the University of Sydney claimed to have developed a new, low-cost sodium-sulfur battery with four times the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries.

Image Credit: PNNL