In a major development for renewable energy storage, researchers at Stanford University have unveiled a novel technology poised to transform how we harness and utilize clean energy. Dubbed the “liquid battery,” this innovation addresses the intermittent nature of renewable sources like solar and wind power, promising more sustainable and reliable energy grids that currently rely heavily on lithium-ion technologies.

The research team, led by Robert Waymouth, the Robert Eckles Swain Professor in Chemistry, has developed an efficient method to store hydrogen in a liquid form, overcoming the challenges associated with traditional hydrogen storage, which often involves bulky and complex infrastructure.

“We are developing a new strategy for selectively converting and long-term storing of electrical energy in liquid fuels,” said Waymouth, the senior author of the study.

Central to the team’s approach are liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHCs), chemical compounds capable of absorbing and releasing hydrogen. Utilizing a carefully designed catalyst system, the researchers directly converted electrical energy into isopropanol, a liquid alcohol that serves as a high-density hydrogen carrier. This process eliminates the need to produce hydrogen gas, a significant hurdle in conventional hydrogen storage due to its low energy density and safety concerns.

The potential applications of this liquid battery technology are extensive. In regions like California, which heavily rely on renewable energy sources, the ability to store excess energy during peak production periods and release it during high demand times could greatly enhance the stability and reliability of the power grid. Additionally, the liquid nature of the hydrogen carrier simplifies transportation and distribution, potentially opening new avenues for decarbonizing transportation and other sectors.

A key finding of the Stanford study was the unexpected efficiency of cobaltocene, a compound of the relatively abundant and inexpensive metal cobalt, as a co-catalyst in the hydrogen storage process. This discovery could lead to the development of more affordable and scalable liquid battery systems, further accelerating the adoption of renewable energy technologies.

While the technology is still in its early stages, the researchers are optimistic about its potential to revolutionize the energy landscape. “This is basic fundamental science, but we think we have a new strategy for more selectively storing electrical energy in liquid fuels,” Waymouth explained.

The team is now focused on refining the catalyst system, optimizing the energy storage and release processes, and exploring the use of other earth-abundant metals as catalysts to make the technology even more cost-effective and sustainable.

The liquid battery represents a significant advancement in our quest for a cleaner and more resilient energy future. By providing an efficient and scalable solution for storing renewable energy, it has the potential to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable energy system.

As the technology continues to evolve, it could play a crucial role in mitigating climate change and ensuring a reliable energy supply for future generations. “When you have excess energy, and there’s no demand for it on the grid, you store it as isopropanol. When you need the energy, you can return it as electricity,” Waymouth concluded.

By Impact Lab