Redox Flow Batteries: The Next Generation of Energy Storage

The Redox Flow Batteries teams that the university hosts are a great example of how the present generation of TU/e students is motivated more than ever by societal concerns. These young, intelligent, and driven individuals cannot be stopped from pursuing their ambitions of making a difference, not even by significant worldwide.

From the student squad squad Better/e, which was formed in the midst of the pandemic, Erik Nijkamp and Paul Volokas express their goals and aspirations in this article.

Erik Nijkamp, who co-founded Team Better/e with two other students and is presently pursuing a master’s degree in chemical engineering, stated: “In 2020, during the pandemic, I entered the TU/e Honors Academy.

“I realized right away that I wanted to create my own project rather than join an established student team. I made the decision to research the possibility of liquid metal batteries after thorough discussions with staff members.

“I was introduced to the idea of the liquid metal battery while I was in my second year as a mechanical engineering student,” Paul Volokas continued. I made the decision to join the team because I was attracted by the mix of fluid fluxes and heat management.

Tin and calcium, which are typically solid metals, are heated to 600 °C in a liquid metal battery to transform them into liquids. After that, the metal releases electrons that can be captured to create energy. The metal ions and electrons are reconnected with one another during charging, creating a neutral metal once more. These procedures result in a rechargeable battery that is very effective.

Switching Things Up: Creating Redox Flow Batteries

The team made the decision to abandon its original plan to work on liquid metal batteries during an extended study phase that lasted roughly a year.

“On paper, that idea looks great,” remarked Nijkamp. It should be extremely affordable and effective. In addition, since the architecture is membrane-free, an endless battery is theoretically possible.

But as is so frequently the case, practice proved to be more challenging.

“Liquid metals are in demand. And the atmosphere must be totally devoid of oxygen to stop the metal from rusting. Students would find it extremely difficult to construct such a contraption, Nijkamp continued.

“We understood that, at the university, we both lack the necessary expertise and the authorization to carry out the necessary experiments on liquid metals,” Volokas said. So we made the decision to use redox flow batteries instead. A prototype of this technology already exists. Additionally, a particular kind of redox flow battery is already being made in China on a commercial scale, though not yet for grid-sized applications.

The vanadium-based first generation of commercially available redox flow batteries is a rare earth metal. Team Better/e’s stated goal is to create a more economical and environmentally friendly substitute based on iron, which is widely available.

On paper, the redox flow battery’s operation appears to be rather simple.

Two tanks—a positive tank and a negative tank—and a core where chemical reactions happen make up redox flow batteries. FeCl2 and FeCl3 are present in the positive and negative tanks, respectively. The core experiences two reactions.

Fe is changed to Fe(2+) during discharge, which results in the release of electrons. On the other hand, the conversion of Fe(3+) to Fe(2+), which will make use of electrons. Both reactions are counter-clockwise when charging.

How long you can power your home or factory directly relates to the size of the tanks. Additionally, the number of buildings the battery can support is directly inversely related to the size of the core.

Up until recently, redox flow batteries were only thought to be a possibility for small-scale applications due to issues with the necessary membranes.But in recent years, membrane technology has substantially advanced, thanks in part to professor Antoni Forner-Cuenca of TU/e’s research.

According to Nijkamp, redox flow battery technology can also be prepared for large-scale applications. By making everything we do open source, we want to hasten this evolution.

Two Teams Will Work On The Issues

According to Nijkamp, “We first tried to copy a design from a piece of paper. But that was a complete failure.

Volokas remarked, “Since the original design used clamps rather than bolts, we were presented with huge leakages. Therefore, we have been developing a new housing design that we are currently evaluating for leaks.

Two squads have been formed inside Team Better/e. Both teams are working on the battery chemistry, with one team concentrating on the physics of the cell housing.

One of the chemical problems we will have to solve, according to Nijkamp, is how to stop the hydrogen evolution reaction that results in the formation of hydrogen gas when the pH is too low. We also have to deal with the issue of occasionally forming solid iron, which produces dust and causes slurry in our tanks.

What’s worse, according to Volokas, is that solid iron can create dendrites that can pierce our membrane and compromise our safety.

The team’s initial goal is to show that their concept functions at the single-cell level.

When we do that, Volokas said, “we will construct a small-scale demonstrator for Eindhoven Airport, with whom we have a collaboration, to showcase what we are working on to the general public. The following step is to multiply our one cell into a stack of cells.

I prefer to have huge dreams, Nijkamp stated. It would be fantastic if Team Better/e could someday create a battery that could power a structure on the campus of the university.

Future Redox Flow Battery Innovations

Overall, there are still many technological obstacles that the pupils must clear. However, they remain upbeat.

We receive a lot of support from Antoni Forner-Cuenca and his team at the university, in particular. Our coaches, Yali Tang and Mark Cox, as well as the Honors Academy, have both been a huge assistance. EIRES has been one of our strongest supports throughout the procedure. EIRES has always been there for us, whether it’s through lending us a conference room or sending us to Denmark to compete in a global competition. Additionally, we collaborate closely with Dr. Sanli Faez of Utrecht University and his team on the FAIR battery project, which also includes Antoni Forner-Cuenca and Yali Tang of TU/e. In addition to giving us financial help, they also shared with us all of their information, right down to the electronic specs and the architectural plan,” Nijkamp said.

Both students are promoting this open-minded innovation approach.

By developing this technology to a point where others would be interested in stepping in and taking over, Nijkamp continued, “We do not want to make a profit out of this, but we want to lower the barrier for entry.”

Both students emphasize that more individuals are welcome to join the team in order to fulfill this goal.

By the end of this academic year, several of the present team members will depart, according to Volokas. Thus, we could definitely use some fresh faces. Numerous obstacles still need to be overcome, such as those related to powering the stack.

Additionally, Nijkamp said, “Any academic staff members who can assist us in obtaining access to the high-quality materials we need would be extremely welcome.

Being a part of Team Better/e has been a really positive and rewarding experience for both kids thus far. The Honors Academy aims to help students develop beyond the curriculum and acquire new talents, according to Volokas. We have participated in a number of contests and challenges over the past year, where we had to showcase our concepts in front of sizable audiences and notable individuals. That demands abilities I would not have otherwise acquired.

“Leaving things better than I found them is my life’s mission,” Nijkamp said in his conclusion. It would be fantastic if we could produce a finding that other researchers could build upon to implement large-scale battery storage.

I have completed Master in Arts from Amravati University, I am interested in a wide range of fields, from Technology and Innovation, Sports, Entertainment, and online marketing to personal entrepreneurship.