Researchers Developing Affordable Flow Battery Technology

The wind and sun can produce great amounts of power, but it can usually only be harnessed when it’s windy and the sun is shining. Researchers at Grand Valley State University and Ann Arbor-based Vinazene are working to change that by creating a new type of flow battery technology that will allow the capture, collection and storage of energy through organic compounds.

The project, funded by a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant through the U.S. Department of Energy to Vinazene, includes researchers from Grand Valley’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC) and Chemistry Department.

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Andrew Lantz, associate professor of chemistry at Grand Valley, Bill Schroeder and John Schroeder, research consultants for Grand Valley, and a group of students are developing and testing a prototype device to showcase the redox flow battery technology concept.  

Lantz said the flow cell technology is similar to batteries, except that instead of all the chemicals contained in the battery, the chemicals — or electrolytes — are stored in batteries on large external reservoirs and are pumped into the battery as needed during charge or discharge cycles.

“The main roadblock with many renewable energy sources is their lack of consistent power output over time,” said Lantz. “Flow battery technology can help deal with this issue by storing energy reserves during times of peak collection and discharging the energy when it is needed.” 

While other companies and universities are conducting similar research, Vinazene founder Paul Rasmussen, professor emeritus of chemistry and macromolecular science and engineering at the University of Michigan, said many rely on expensive, scarce elements to supply the batteries; his team is using organic compounds that are less expensive and more accessible. 

Lantz said as the country shifts to renewable energy, this concept will be especially well suited for solar and wind energy sources.

The group will continue to perform research through April with funding through the SBIR grant. 

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