This breakthrough, according to the brainiacs at MIT, “relies on an innovative architecture called a semi-solid flow cell, in which solid particles are suspended in a carrier liquid and pumped through the system. In this design, the battery’s active components — the positive and negative electrodes, or cathodes and anodes — are composed of particles suspended in a liquid electrolyte. These two different suspensions are pumped through systems separated by a filter, such as a thin porous membrane.”
The new design, created by MIT graduate students and professors, is said to separate “the two functions of the battery — storing energy until it is needed, and discharging that energy when it needs to be used — into separate physical structures.” It is this separation that reportedly means batteries can be designed more efficiently. Also, because the new semi-solid flow battery design in some ways looks and flows “like black goo and could end up used in place of petroleum for transportation,” it is being called “Cambridge crude” by those involved.
There are a variety of potential advantages, according to the developers, which are realized in this new battery design. These potential advantages include reducing the size as well as the cost of a complete battery system, including all of its structural support and connectors, to about half the current levels. In EV applications, this permits the possibility of literally refueling the battery by pumping out the used liquid slurry and pumping in a fresh, fully charged slurry replacement or quickly swapping out the holding tanks. As far as energy storage applications, this system allows for large scale, clean energy storage at what is predicted to be low costs.
The director of Drexel University’s Nanotechnology Institute, Yury Gogotsi, commented on the creation of this battery to MIT, saying “the demonstration of a semi-solid lithium-ion battery is a major breakthrough that shows that slurry-type active materials can be used for storing electrical energy. This advance has tremendous importance for the future of energy production and storage.”
One of the MIT professors involved with the ‘Cambridge Crude’ project, Yet-Ming Chiang, should be well known to energy storage news followers. His previous work on lithium-ion battery chemistries led to the successful 2001 founding of MIT spinoff A123 Systems. In this instance, the new technology developed under his is being licensed to a company called 24M Technologies, founded by Chiang himself and others in 2010.
Funding for MIT’s ‘Cambridge Crude’ battery breakthrough was provided, in part, by grants from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). EarthTechling attended an ARPA-E conference earlier this year, noting the advances universities and early stage companies were making in green cleantech advancement with help from ARPA-E and the U.S. Department of Energy. The new ‘Cambridge Crude’ project looks to be just another success story of this innovative public-private partnership.