AquaPIM Inventor

Berkeley Lab scientists have developed an reasonably priced circulate battery membrane for the electrical grid from a brand new class of polymers referred to as AquaPIM. Credit score: Marilyn Sargent/Berkeley Lab

New blueprint for reasonably priced, sustainable ‘flow batteries’ developed at Berkeley Lab for renewable power might speed up an electrical grid powered by the solar and wind.

How do you retailer renewable power so it’s there whenever you want it, even when the solar isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing? Large batteries designed for the electrical grid — referred to as circulate batteries, which retailer electrical energy in tanks of liquid electrolyte — could possibly be the reply, however to date utilities have but to discover a cost-effective battery that may reliably energy 1000’s of properties all through a lifecycle of 10 to 20 years.

Now, a battery membrane know-how developed by researchers at the U.S. Division of Vitality’s Lawrence Berkeley Nationwide Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) might level to an answer.

As reported in the journal of Joule, the researchers developed a flexible but reasonably priced battery membrane — from a category of polymers referred to as AquaPIMs. This class of polymers makes long-lasting and low-cost grid batteries doable based mostly solely on available supplies resembling zinc, iron, and water. The workforce additionally developed a easy mannequin displaying how totally different battery membranes affect the lifetime of the battery, which is predicted to speed up early stage R&D for flow-battery applied sciences, notably in the seek for an acceptable membrane for various battery chemistries.

“Our AquaPIM membrane technology is well-positioned to accelerate the path to market for flow batteries that use scalable, low-cost, water-based chemistries,” mentioned Brett Helms, a principal investigator in the Joint Middle for Vitality Storage Analysis (JCESR) and employees scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry who led the research. “By using our technology and accompanying empirical models for battery performance and lifetime, other researchers will be able to quickly evaluate the readiness of each component that goes into the battery, from the membrane to the charge-storing materials. This should save time and resources for researchers and product developers alike.”

AquaPIM Schematic

Schematic of a circulate battery with an ion-selective AquaPIM membrane (famous in beige). Berkeley Lab scientists found that such a mannequin might predict the lifetime and effectivity of a circulate battery for the electrical grid with out having to construct an total machine. Credit score: Brett Helms/Berkeley Lab

Most grid battery chemistries have extremely alkaline (or fundamental) electrodes — a positively charged cathode on one aspect, and a negatively charged anode on the different aspect. However present state-of-the-art membranes are designed for acidic chemistries, resembling the fluorinated membranes present in gas cells, however not for alkaline circulate batteries. (In chemistry, pH is a measure of the hydrogen ion focus of an answer. Pure water has a pH of seven and is taken into account impartial. Acidic options have a excessive focus of hydrogen ions, and are described as having a low pH, or a pH beneath 7. On the different hand, alkaline options have low concentrations of hydrogen ions and due to this fact have a excessive pH, or a pH above 7. In alkaline batteries, the pH may be as excessive as 14 or 15.)

Fluorinated polymer membranes are additionally costly. In accordance with Helms, they’ll make up 15% to 20% of the battery’s price, which might run in the vary of $300/kWh.

One solution to drive down the price of circulate batteries is to eradicate the fluorinated polymer membranes altogether and give you a high-performing but cheaper different resembling AquaPIMs, mentioned Miranda Baran, a graduate scholar researcher in Helms’ analysis group and the research’s lead writer. Baran can be a Ph.D. scholar in the Division of Chemistry at UC Berkeley.

Getting again to fundamentals

Helms and co-authors found the AquaPIM know-how — which stands for “aqueous-compatible polymers of intrinsic microporosity” — whereas growing polymer membranes for aqueous alkaline (or fundamental) techniques as a part of a collaboration with co-author But-Ming Chiang, a principal investigator in JCESR and Kyocera Professor of Supplies Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise (MIT).

By means of these early experiments, the researchers discovered that membranes modified with an unique chemical referred to as an “amidoxime” allowed ions to shortly journey between the anode and cathode.

AquaPIM Flow Battery Membrane

AquaPIM circulate battery membrane. Credit score: Marilyn Sargent/Berkeley Lab

Later, whereas evaluating AquaPIM membrane efficiency and compatibility with totally different grid battery chemistries — for instance, one experimental setup used zinc as the anode and an iron-based compound as the cathode — the researchers found that AquaPIM membranes result in remarkably steady alkaline cells.

As well as, they discovered that the AquaPIM prototypes retained the integrity of the charge-storing supplies in the cathode in addition to in the anode. When the researchers characterised the membranes at Berkeley Lab’s Superior Mild Supply (ALS), the researchers discovered that these traits had been common throughout AquaPIM variants.

Baran and her collaborators then examined how an AquaPIM membrane would carry out with an aqueous alkaline electrolyte. On this experiment, they found that beneath alkaline situations, polymer-bound amidoximes are steady — a shocking end result contemplating that natural supplies are usually not sometimes steady at excessive pH.

Such stability prevented the AquaPIM membrane pores from collapsing, thus permitting them to remain conductive with none loss in efficiency over time, whereas the pores of a business fluoro-polymer membrane collapsed as anticipated, to the detriment of its ion transport properties, Helms defined.

This habits was additional corroborated with theoretical research by Artem Baskin, a postdoctoral researcher working with David Prendergast, who’s the performing director of Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry and a principal investigator in JCESR together with Chiang and Helms.

Baskin simulated buildings of AquaPIM membranes utilizing computational sources at Berkeley Lab’s Nationwide Vitality Analysis Scientific Computing Middle (NERSC) and discovered that the construction of the polymers making up the membrane had been considerably proof against pore collapse beneath extremely fundamental situations in alkaline electrolytes.

A display screen take a look at for higher batteries

Whereas evaluating AquaPIM membrane efficiency and compatibility with totally different grid battery chemistries, the researchers developed a mannequin that tied the efficiency of the battery to the efficiency of varied membranes. This mannequin might predict the lifetime and effectivity of a circulate battery with out having to construct an total machine. Additionally they confirmed that related fashions could possibly be utilized to different battery chemistries and their membranes.

“Typically, you’d have to wait weeks if not months to figure out how long a battery will last after assembling the entire cell. By using a simple and quick membrane screen, you could cut that down to a few hours or days,” Helms mentioned.

The researchers subsequent plan to use AquaPIM membranes throughout a broader scope of aqueous circulate battery chemistries, from metals and inorganics to organics and polymers. Additionally they anticipate that these membranes are appropriate with different aqueous alkaline zinc batteries, together with batteries that use both oxygen, manganese oxide, or metal-organic frameworks as the cathode.

Researchers from Berkeley Lab, UC Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Expertise, and Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia participated in the research.


This work was supported by the Joint Middle for Vitality Storage Analysis (JCESR), an Vitality Innovation Hub funded by the U.S. Division of Vitality, Workplace of Science. Extra funding was supplied by the Middle for Fuel Separations Related to Clear Vitality Applied sciences, a DOE Workplace of Science Vitality Frontier Analysis Middle.

Parts of the work, together with polymer synthesis and characterization, had been carried out at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a DOE Workplace of Science Consumer Facility that focuses on nanoscale science.

The research additionally used GIWAXS (grazing-incidence broad angle X-ray scattering) devices at the ALS to characterize the AquaPIMs, and supercomputing sources at NERSC to mannequin the polymer. The ALS and NERSC are DOE Workplace of Science Consumer Amenities.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here