A research team from Graz University of Technology recently made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of sustainable energy storage technologies. They found that vanillin, a common flavoring and main component of vanilla, can be used as an environmentally friendly replacement for liquid electrolytes in redox flow batteries. This breakthrough has the potential to significantly reduce the environmental impact of energy storage.
Vanillin is currently derived from lignin, a by-product of papermaking. It is thus a sustainable resource that is available in large quantities. The research team developed a method to convert vanillin into a redox-active material that can be used in flow batteries using mild and environmentally friendly chemistry. The process works at room temperature and does not require toxic or expensive metal catalysts.
commercialization and uses
Having patented the cleavage and grafting process, the researchers are now aiming to commercialize their technology. They are already in talks with the world's leading manufacturer of paper-based products, Mondi AG, who are showing great interest in this technology. The researchers plan to connect their facility to a pulp mill to isolate the vanillin from the lignin left over as waste.
The redox flow batteries with vanillin electrolytes could help to relieve the power grid and make an important contribution to the energy transition. The technology is particularly interesting for the expansion of renewable energies such as wind and solar power, as it can store large amounts of energy and cushion voltage peaks in the power grid. In addition, the batteries are suitable as backup storage for stationary applications such as power plants, hospitals, mobile phone systems or e-charging stations.
Advantages of redox flow batteries
Compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries, redox flow batteries are more easily scalable, less toxic, more recyclable and more fireproof. Other advantages are their long life expectancy and low self-discharge.
The discovery that vanillin can be used as an environmentally friendly replacement for liquid electrolytes in redox flow batteries is a promising step towards sustainable energy storage. This technology has the potential to significantly reduce the environmental impact of energy storage and make an important contribution to the energy transition. It remains to be seen how this technology will develop further and be implemented in the industry.
Future developments and areas of application
The next phase of research will be to test the technology in real operation. The researchers are currently looking for energy supply companies that are willing to integrate the redox flow technology into their infrastructure and thus relieve the grid. By using vanillin as an electrolyte, these batteries could help to keep the value chain from the procurement of raw materials to power generation regional and enable storage capacities of up to 800 megawatt hours.
The use of vanillin in redox flow batteries could also help reduce reliance on heavy metals and rare earths found in many conventional battery electrolytes. These materials often pose significant environmental and health risks, and their availability is limited.
The discovery could also lead to other bio-based materials being explored as alternatives to traditional battery components. This would pave the way for further innovations in sustainable energy storage and potentially help reduce the environmental footprint of batteries even further.
In summary, the use of vanillin in redox flow batteries is a promising approach for environmentally friendly and sustainable energy storage. The technology has the potential to significantly reduce the environmental impact of energy storage while improving the performance and efficiency of renewable energy systems. If the technology evolves and becomes commercially successful, it could help transform the way we store and use energy.
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/anie.202008253 --> Original publication