We’re always on the lookout for cheap, efficient ways to store energy. A new invention from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is likely to be the solution we have all been waiting for.

MIT researchers have recently unveiled a new battery design that practically reinvents how traditional batteries work. The flow battery they revealed uses flowable instead of solid materials and has the potential to exponentially increase storage capacity, yet keep the costs down.

The new flow battery design can provide a cheap solution to store wind or solar energy.

The new flow battery design can provide a cheap solution to store wind or solar energy.

Unlike other similar batteries, the rechargeable flow battery engineered by MIT does not rely on expensive membranes. In traditional flow batteries, the electrolytes gradually damage the membrane and shorten a battery’s lifetime.

This time, researchers removed the membrane and kept the electrolytes (liquid bromine and hydrogen fuel) in check by using a phenomenon named laminar flow: under the right conditions, if both liquids are kept at low speeds while being pumped between two electrodes, they will not mix and instead will flow in parallel. The phenomenon practically eliminates the need of using a membrane.

There have been previous attempts to create battery designs without membranes, but this was the first time when the result was a rechargeable battery.

Moreover, the palm sized MIT flow battery prototype was able to produce 0.795 watts per square cm. That is three times more power than any membraneless design, and a whooping ten times higher power than most lithium-ion batteries.

MIT flow battery

There is a lot more work to be done until the battery can be mass produced, but the system shows real promise and is likely to have a significant impact because it can enable very cheap energy storage on a large scale. Researchers projected that the design can be used to produce energy for as little as $100 per kilowatt hour.

The technology could have an immense range of applications, especially for the storage of renewable energy, mostly solar and wind power. Such energy sources are generally unreliable as they largely depend upon weather conditions. But this new flow battery design could easily store renewable energy either as a backup source at times of crisis or to cover excessive demand.

[Images via Inhabitat & Treehugger]