A flow battery. Researchers are now making Methuselah Quinone, a organic compound that will be used for developing more efficient and safer flow batties. / Photo by: Idaho National Laboratory via Flickr


Flow batteries are the standard power cells used in electric vehicles and stand-alone power systems. While there are models that store high amounts of electricity, some are expensive while others have a short lifespan. In a study at Harvard University, engineers modified an organic molecule to develop a battery that can operate for decades.

The molecule in question is called Methuselah quinone, derived from an organic chemical quinone. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, quinone is an oxidized derivative of aromatic compounds that can be found in natural processes, such as aerobic respiration and photosynthesis.

A team of engineers at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard built the new organic compound to store electricity, based on chemistry results in a previous research. The new compound also showed a very long lifespan compared to standard flow batteries.

In the latest study, the engineers conducted a new series of laboratory experiments. The adjustments to the molecule resulted in the fade rate of Methuselah quinone of less than 0.01 percent per day, and 0.001 percent per charge and discharge cycle. The data could be translated as fewer than three percent of degradation rate every year. It also translated to tens of thousands of charge and discharge cycles.

“This important work represents a significant advance towards low cost, long duration flow batteries. Such devices are needed to allow the electric grid to absorb increasing amounts of green but variable renewable generation,” stated Imre Gyuk, director of the Office of Electricity Storage Program at the Department of Energy.

The organic molecule could be an alternative to the long-lasting but expensive vanadium flow batteries. It could enable the production of potentially safer flow batteries models as well, at a lower price.