Researchers at Stanford are hard at work trying to create a battery that could keep wind and solar energy flowing even when the sun isn’t shining and the air is still. They’ve just released information about their current project, a promising new electrode that could make batteries that would last through at least 40,000 charges and discharges — as compared to current battery technology which degrades irreparably after just 400 charges and discharges. In addition to being durable, long lasting and incredibly strong, the battery that they are working on hits another prime target as well – it is really cheap to build.

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At a rate of several cycles per day, this electrode would have a good 30 years of useful life on the electrical grid,” said Colin Wessells, a graduate student at Stanford and the lead author of the study. Wessells co-author and advisor Yi Cui added, “that is a breakthrough performance – a battery that will keep running for tens of thousands of cycles and never fail.” Wessells and Cui have yet to build a full battery but they say that their technology would be perfect for use in storing renewable energy for the electric grid. One giant obstacle to renewable power right now is that the only batteries available to store excess energy to feed to the grid at a later time are extremely expensive making it difficult to make financial sense of installing them — though some projects find a way to make it work. This new, less expensive battery would make storing energy to feed to the grid much easier.

The electrodes developed by Wessells and Cui make use of the durability of an atomic structure derived from crystalline copper hexacyanoferrate that gives the electrodes built from it an openness not seen in other batteries. The openness of the space between the electrodes allows the hydrated potassium ions that they’ve chosen to use to go freely in and out of the electrodes without damaging them. The life term of current batteries is cut short because of damaged caused by ions — usually lithium ions — constantly running into the electrons as they shoot by them creating energy. The only downside to the batteries is that their energy density isn’t all that great — meaning they couldn’t be small enough power cars like lithium ion batteries do, but size doesn’t matter when you’re talking about a battery installed at a power plant. These large, inexpensive, long lasting batteries could make it feasible for wind and solar energy to power the grid without having an emissions-heavy backup plan — like the coal-fired power plants that are sometimes used now. Instead, these hunks of atomic electrons would provide the backup assistance to the grid on cloudy, still days.

+ Stanford

Via E Week Europe