What started with a meeting at a conference evolved within a few years to an impressive partnership. The mission? To make large-scale energy storage in batteries affordable and technically possible. “The best things happen when you talk with people.” According to Diana.”

What are you holding in your hand?

“This is an electrochemical flow cell. This is a core component of a redox flow battery, a form of electrochemical energy storage.”

What solution are you working on?

“I am working on accelerating the development of efficient and cost-effective energy storage technologies. One example are redox flow batteries. This is a promising battery technology for industrial scale applications that typically require large amounts of energy. I find it a fascinating technology, a hybrid between a fuel cell and a battery. Other types of batteries can also be used, such as lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries deployed at a larger scale so far can only offer a few hours of storage capacity, pushing the limit of what this technology can currently do in a cost-effective way. Redox flow batteries, however, have the potential to offer energy storage in excess of 8 hours. In addition to this, depending on the type, a redox flow battery can last 10-30 years without decreasing in capacity each year. That is considerably longer than the estimated lifespan of a lithium-ion battery of 7-10 years.”

“Redox flow batteries use materials that are present in abundance, they can store larger amounts of energy and have a longer lifespan. These advantages make large-scale energy storage in batteries possible.”

How does that work?

“Conventional batteries store energy in solid electrodes. Redox flow batteries store energy in fluid electrolytes containing electroactive chemical compounds. These fluids are stored in tanks where they circulate in stacks of flow cells, like the device I am holding in my hand on the photo. Electricity is generated during battery discharge, a process during which electrons are exchanged between charged electroactive compounds flowing through the stack. Some of these compounds lose electrons in a process called oxidation, whereas others gain electrons in a process called reduction. These oxidation and reduction processes give the battery its name: redox flow battery.”

What exactly do you do?

“Part of what I do is detective work. I identify promising new energy storage technologies and monitor developments in this field. I also initiate collaborations with other companies and universities to develop projects which aim to accelerate the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies.”

Who do you work with?

“To further develop the new generation of redox-flow batteries, we are part of a consortium called MELODY in which we work together with universities such as the Technical University of Applied Sciences in Delft, the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, the University of Exeter, Fraunhofer ICT and ETH Zurich. And with partners from the industry such as TFP Hydrogen Products and Elestor. The latter recently won the Dutch Chamber of Commerce Innovation Public Award for the most innovative company of 2020. Together we can develop a next generation redox-flow battery technology that will significantly reduce the costs of storing electricity. It is by no means a trivial task as we need to tackle a number of technical challenges in an integrated manner. It is for this reason that we decided to pursue this technology development in a consortium, to foster a collaborative environment and to bring together an extensive set of complementary skills and expertise.”

What’s in it for the consumer?

“This technology can enable access to renewable energy whenever and wherever needed.”

Society is increasingly using renewable energy from sources such as the sun or wind. This is wonderful, but it comes with a challenge. Fossil fueled power plants can run for many months without interruption and reliably provide large amounts of energy. Renewable power is intermittent, produced when the sun is shining, or the wind is blowing. To ensure a stable supply of renewable energy and to prevent waste, the ability to store and release renewable energy when needed is crucial. Batteries are one of the most efficient energy storage technologies.

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Windmolens of zonnepanelen wekken soms meer groene stroom op dan er op dat moment nodig is. Om een overschot te voorkomen, is opslag noodzakelijk. Bijvoorbeeld in batterijen.

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Technology at work

In collaboration with various partners, ETCA researchers are working hard on energy solutions for today and tomorrow. But what exactly are those solutions? And what’s in it for the consumer? Five Shell researchers show an object from their research and talk about what they do and why it matters. Read the short interviews here.