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Precision electronics components

Vitamin-inspired battery stems
from new family of organic molecules

A Harvard research team has discovered a new class of high-performing organic molecules - inspired by vitamin B2 - that can securely store electricity from energy sources like solar and wind power in large batteries. The researchers had previously developed a high-capacity flow battery that stored energy in the organic quinone molecules and a food additive called ferrocyanide. This new progress builds on those original findings, which delivered the first high-performance, non-flammable, non-toxic, non-corrosive, and low-cost chemicals that enable large-scale, low-priced electricity storage.

Researchers tried to find other organic molecules that offer as much potential for flow batteries as quinones possess, but the process initially proved to be difficult. "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," said Kaixiang Lin, a Harvard Ph.D. student and an author of the research paper. "Its simple synthesis means it should be [manufactural] on a large scale at a very low cost, which is an important goal of this project."

Image: Vitamin-inspired-battery-stems-from-new-family-of-organic-molecules.

Flow batteries are able to store more energy based on how big their external storage tanks are. In their latest attempts to find more energy storage, researchers discovered the capabilities of vitamin B2, which helps to store energy from food in the body. In B2, nitrogen atoms, unlike oxygen atoms in quinones, are involved in picking up and giving off electrons. A few tweaks to the B2 molecule enabled its high skill as an alkaline flow battery.

"They have high stability and solubility and provide high battery voltage and storage capacity," said Michael J. Aziz, a professor of Materials and Energy Technologies at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). "Because vitamins are remarkably easy to make, this molecule could be manufactured on a large scale at a very low cost."

The new research is deemed B2-inspired because the scientists found that alloxazine, which has a similar molecular structure to vitamin B2, performs much better under requirements for redox flow batteries (RFBs), having features such as higher stability and lower reduction potential. "The discovery of alloxazine along with its ease of synthesis became the backbone of this project," said Lin.

Discovering these molecules can help researchers learn to improve flow battery performance as they also search for alternative energy storage. "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 Roy Gordon, a professor of Chemistry.


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