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Scientists invented a battery that could work for a decade without degrading

Published Feb 12th, 2017 11:30AM EST
better batteries

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Energy storage degradation in rechargeable batteries is a pretty serious problem that many of us put up with on a regular basis. It’s why your iPhone seems to last forever when it’s brand new out of the box but seems like it dies by lunchtime after a couple of years of use. Now, researchers at Harvard have developed a new battery technology using a bit of chemistry magic to create a rechargeable power source that could be tapped for many years with very little in the way of maintenance.

The newly developed power technology is used in what is called a “flow battery.” Flow batteries utilize the ion exchange between two liquids to provide electric current. It’s a flexible, adaptable system that is used in many applications, but can be prone to degradation over time and require regular maintenance.

The research team set out to tweak the structures of the electrolytes used in these types of batteries and were successful in making them water soluble. This means that the batteries can be filled with neutral water, along with the tweaked electrolytes, rather than a corrosive or toxic substance, and the resulting batteries are not only safer but also cheaper to manufacture.

On top of all that, the less hazardous batteries are also much more hardy, and the team was able to demonstrate that even after 1,000 full charge to complete discharge cycles, the batteries only lost roughly 1% of their total capacity. That’s an insanely low amount of storage degradation compared to most a lithium ion battery, which can start to noticeably degrade after just a few hundred cycles. In fact, even Apple considers its own MacBook batteries to be “consumed” after 1,000 cycles.

So what does this mean for the future? Well, flow batteries aren’t particularly well catered to mobile applications, but Harvard’s work could apply to large energy storage efforts like those from solar and wind power, cheapening the infrastructure needed to reduce fossil fuel consumption.