Harnessing the force of gravity, researchers at MIT have designed a new liquid battery that functions similarly to an hourglass. The gravity-powered battery is groundbreaking in its simplicity, efficiency and low-cost, and the researchers believe that it could be used to create more powerful grid-connected storage systems.
Although it’s only a proof-of-concept at the moment, the team is confident they can create a working prototype. Liquid flow batteries were first developed in the 1970s. Positive and negative electrons are stored in liquid form and are separated by a membrane. Historically, increasing the capacity of a liquid battery required larger tanks to hold more of the charged particle-filled slurry. Expansion of the system has required a complex system of pumps, valves, and tanks, which adds cost and decreases efficiency.
The new design from MIT replaces this complexity with a simple, gravity-fed pump that allows for adjusting the rate of energy production by tilting the battery at different angles. The design also is innovative in its inclusion of both liquid and solid battery components. “The concept here shows that you don’t need to be confined by these two extremes,” says Yet-Ming Chiang, Kyocera Professor of Ceramics at MIT. “This is an example of hybrid devices that fall somewhere in the middle.” The design is simple enough that its components could potentially be crafted by 3D printers.
The liquid battery design is only the latest innovative battery project to which MIT researchers have contributed. In 2006, a team led by Angela Belcher created a new battery nanotechnology based on a genetically engineered M13 virus. That nanobattery is resilient enough to power small sensors used to identify cancer or other diseases within the body.