Yes, you read that headline right. A team of Harvard scientists have hit upon an energy storage breakthrough based on a common molecule that is found in rhubarb.
The research, led by Harvard professor Michael Aziz, makes use of what's known as a "flow battery." Unlike typical batteries, which rely on chemical solids to hold the charge and convert it to electricity, flow batteries use liquid to store the charge and pump it to conversion hardware to produce electricity as needed. That means that the only limit to how much charge a flow battery can hold is the size of its tanks.
While flow batteries are rechargeable and easily scaleable, the big drawback is that the chemical fluids required make use of high-cost metals like vanadium and platinum.
Aziz and his team swapped out the metals for quinones--a family of inexpensive organic carbons. The specific type of quinone they settled on (out of more than 10,000 they tried) is almost identical to one found in rhubarb. Their battery performs equally as well as flow batteries that contain vanadium.
The flow battery breakthrough has huge implications for clean power. From Think Progress:
The reason this could such a big deal for renewable energy is that, right now, renewable sources like solar and wind are mostly dependent on when the sun shines and when the wind blows to generate their power. But those times don’t always line up with when most people on the electrical grid are using power. If the excess power can’t be stored and then rereleased when people do need it — and right now, battery technology of that size is hard to come by — the power goes to waste. (Fossil fuel power, by contrast, can be switched on or off in response to demand for electricity.)
The battery is still in the development phase, so it will be a while until commercialization is achieved. But if it pans out, the technology's scaleability means that a small version could be used for an individual homeowner's rooftop solar array, while larger versions could service the energy storage needs of an entire wind farm.
The research is being funded in part by you, the taxpayer, via the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, which gives small grants to early stage research. The Harvard group plans to start commercializing the battery down the road with project developer Sustainable Innovations.
And here we were thinking pie was the only good use of rhubarb.
(via Think Progress)