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Scientists at Harvard create a battery inspired by vitamin

Harvard researchers have identified a whole new class of high-performing organic molecules, inspired by vitamin B2, that can safely store electricity from intermittent energy sources like solar and wind power in large batteries.

According to the researchers, these high-performing organic molecules can safely store electricity from intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind power in large batteries.

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Flow batteries are a cheaper alternative for energy storage. However, the disadvantage is that they often make use of rare earth metals and toxic compounds. Harvard scientists had been working on cheaper, non-toxic and non-flammable alternatives since last year. They were able to develop a high-capacity flow battery that stored energy in organic molecules called quinones and a food additive called ferrocyanide.

While the versatile quinones show great promise for flow batteries, Harvard researchers continued to explore other organic molecules in pursuit of even better performance but finding that same versatility in other organic systems has been challenging.

“Now, after considering about a million different quinones, we have developed a new class of battery electrolyte material that expands the possibilities of what we can do,” Kaixiang Lin, first author of the study, said in a press release.

In this most recent research, the team found inspiration in vitamin B2, which helps to store energy from food in the body. The key difference between B2 and quinones is that nitrogen atoms, instead of oxygen atoms, are involved in picking up and giving off electrons.

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“Its simple synthesis means it should be manufacturable on a large scale at a very low cost, which is an important goal of this project.”

With a few tweaks to the original B2 molecule, the scientists discovered a new group of organic molecules that make good candidates for alkaline flow batteries.

“They have high stability and solubility and provide high battery voltage and storage capacity. Because vitamins are remarkably easy to make, this molecule could be manufactured on a large scale at a very low cost,” co-researcher Michael Aziz said in a statement.

“We designed these molecules to suit the needs of our battery, but really it was nature that hinted at this way to store energy,” said Gordon, co-senior author of the paper. “Nature came up with similar molecules that are very important in storing energy in our bodies.”

The team will continue to explore quinones, as well as this new universe of molecules, in pursuit of a high-performing, long-lasting and inexpensive flow battery.

Harvard’s Office of Technology Development has been working closely with the research team to navigate the shifting complexities of the energy storage market and build relationships with companies well positioned to commercialize the new chemistries.

The paper was authored by Lin, Aziz, Gordon, Aspuru-Guzik, Rafael Gómez-Bombarelli, Eugene S. Beh, Liuchuan Tong, Qing Chen, and Alvaro Valle and is published in Nature Energy.

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Peace-lover, creative, smart and intelligent. Prapti is a foodie, music buff and a travelholic. After leaving a top-notch full time corporate job, she now works as an Online Editor for Biotecnika. Keen on making a mark in the scientific publishing industry, she strives to find a work-life balance. Follow her for more updates!