In a world where renewable energy sources are the future, this latest breakthrough may be able to help do just that. This could be the missing piece to the renewable puzzle that has remained unfinished for the last decade. Now you’re probably wondering what this breakthrough is, well, it comes in the form of a new battery. A new type of flow battery.

Debates over renewable power sources have gone on for a while, and the most convincing argument by those against it is that renewable power sources are just not reliable. The wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine, and even in the Mojave desert, night falls with regularity. The hunt to find a cheap way to store energy created from the wind or sun when there is an abundance of it, so that it can be used when there is no power source is on.

A plethora of solutions have been proposed, from storing electricity in superconducting rings to pumping water up a mountain and using that as a hydroelectric plant. But the most obvious one is storing it in batteries, if only they could be big enough.

But here comes the flow battery to the rescue. Now what is a flow battery? As you guessed, it has something to do with flow. It is composed of two liquids, each being in contact with an electrode and separated by a membrane. In essence, this membrane only allows hydrogen ions to pass through, which when passed through and back creates a large sum of electrons, which is the source for what makes electricity work the way it does. After this happens, the liquids are then able to recharge, which would allow for this process to repeat itself.  Now since the contents of the battery are liquid this allows for them to be stored in large tanks once they are charged up. Which in theory can allow them to store huge amounts of energy.

Sounds perfect, right? Not quite. The only problem is that to make the battery, it requires some of the rarest metals on earth. And that is not cheap.

But there is no problem with no solution, and professors at Harvard University think they have come up with a way to make the cost of the battery cheaper. Much cheaper. Using some of the more common metals and substances, they have managed to put together a flow battery with the same capabilities as one using the rarest metals on earth. Cue the quinone batteries. Quinones are molecules that are made up of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. These atoms ionize the same way metals do. But they are more abundant to get and cheaper. What allows them to be the game-changer in the battery game is that instead of having to use rare metals, scientists can now use organic molecules. They are no longer restricted by what metals exist on the face of the earth. Which in turn gives them the opportunity to tweak the substances by adding or subtracting atoms to give the outcome they want.

The future looks bright for renewable energy sources, and some time down the road,  it will become a bigger part of our lives.

Image Credit Andreas Demmelbauer, Flickr, Creative Commons Generic 2.o