What just happened? Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a new battery membrane technology that could lead to low-cost batteries with long lifecycles – perfect for storing renewable energy in large quantities.

As Berkeley Lab highlights, the utility industry is keen on using giant batteries called flow batteries to store electricity in tanks of liquid electrolyte. The problem is that current implementations aren’t exactly cost efficient. The Lab’s new technology could solve those shortcomings.

The membrane, derived from a group of polymers known as AquaPIMs (short for aqueous-compatible polymers of intrinsic microporosity), is the part of the battery that separates the anode from the cathode. AquaPIMs are appealing because they can enable low-cost batteries based on readily available materials like iron, zinc and water.

The team even developed a model that estimates a battery’s performance with a given membrane, potentially allowing scientists to predict the efficiency and lifetime of a flow battery without having to build out a full-scale example.

Brett Helms, a principal investigator in the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) and staff scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry who led the study, said you’d typically have to wait weeks or even months to learn how long a battery will last. Using their new membrane screen, that time can be cut down to just hours or days.

Those interested in collaborating with Berkeley Lab or licensing the technology are encouraged to reach out to the school’s intellectual property office.

Masthead credit: Electric shock by Bjoern Wylezich