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Researchers develop potential large-scale solar energy storage system

02 July 2015

A University of Texas (UT) Arlington team has developed an all-vanadium photo-electrochemical flow cell that enables efficient, large-scale solar energy storage.

Early benchtop prototype of the solar energy storage system (photo: UT Arlington)

Their innovation is an advance on common solar energy systems that rely on using sunlight immediately as a power source. Those systems are hindered by not being able to use that solar energy at night or when cloudy conditions exist.

The UT Arlington team's all-vanadium photo-electrochemical flow cell has been proved and the team is now working on a larger prototype.

"This research has a chance to rewrite how we store and use solar power," says UT Arlington's Fuqiang Liu, who led the research team. "As renewable energy becomes more prevalent, the ability to store solar energy and use it as a renewable alternative provides a sustainable solution to the problem of energy shortage. It also can effectively harness the inexhaustible energy from the sun."

The research is published in the American Chemical Society journal, ACS Catalysis.

Dong Liu, lead author of the paper, said a major drawback of current solar technology is the limitation on storing energy under dark conditions. "We have demonstrated simultaneously reversible storage of both solar energy and electrons in the cell. Release of the stored electrons under dark conditions continues solar energy storage, thus allowing for non-intermittent storage around the clock."

Co-author, Zi Wei believes the research should allow solar energy storage to be done in a much higher capacity and on a much larger scale. "Using an all-vanadium photo-electrochemical cell gives our energy storage an edge over other systems. This cell allows us to attain higher storage capacity in a smaller unit.

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