Organic mega-flow batteries, inspired by rhubarbs
October 2, 2014 11:32 AM   Subscribe

There are a number of grid energy storage methods, including flow batteries, which have the potential to be scaled up with increased tank sizes, but that would be expensive due to the cost of metals involved in the process. Enter a research team from Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who have developed an organic mega-flow battery that utilize quinones, similar to those found in rhubarbs. The quinones serve as charge-carriers in chlorophyll during photosynthesis, with minimal degradation during the process, which is ideal for batteries used in large-scale energy storage and distribution. Some day, energy may be stored in "rhubarb batteries." (Abstract on Nature, paywalled article).
posted by filthy light thief (26 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is this going to have an effect on the bee bop a boo bop a rhubarb jingle from Prairie Home Companion?

brought to you by Rhubarb Power and Electric, making life sweet in a way you can see...
posted by sio42 at 11:37 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Don't Rub The Rhubarb
posted by The Power Nap at 11:45 AM on October 2, 2014


"Right now, the team extracts quinone molecules from crude oil because the method is cheap."

Crude oil? Bummer.

"“Ultimately,” Aziz says, “if we can get [quinones] out of rhubarb, that would be an extra bonus.”"

Right on!

Except what that will do to the price of rhubarb pie. Bummer.
posted by notyou at 11:46 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also, how's this for a crazy byline (pri.org link): "Adam Wernick is a freelance writer and a theater composer in St. Paul, Minnesota."
posted by notyou at 11:48 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Except what that will do to the price of rhubarb pie. Bummer.

The answer is synthetic rhubarb pie, just like mock apple pie (previously). Science has the solution to everything!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:49 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Can anyone who knows more about this tell me whether this thing that's been making the Facebook rounds is bullshit/a scam/vaporware etc.?
posted by stenseng at 11:52 AM on October 2, 2014


:/ It does not look as delicious as pie.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:56 AM on October 2, 2014


Can anyone who knows more about this tell me whether this thing that's been making the Facebook rounds is bullshit/a scam/vaporware etc.?

Ooh. I want one. I actually don't care if it works. I still want one.
posted by Naberius at 11:58 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


They're using HBr as an electrolyte. I really, really hope they find a better solvent. Bromic acid is an absolutely horrible compound. It produces burns which don't heal, it forms carcinogenic adducts, it doesn't biodegrade. Bromine in anything that could end up in the wild is a very bad idea.

Still, the idea of highly-scalable liquid batteries, tank farms of power storage, is pretty attractive. A sustainable source for hydroquinones shouldn't be too hard.
posted by bonehead at 11:58 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


It starts here, and ends with "The Matrix"
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 12:01 PM on October 2, 2014


rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb! rhubarb rhubarb! rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb! rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb! rhubarb rhubarb! rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb!
posted by Iridic at 12:06 PM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


It starts here, and ends with "The Matrix"

Maybe if you're a stalk of rhubarb.
posted by rocketman at 12:07 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


bonehead: They're using HBr as an electrolyte. I really, really hope they find a better solvent. Bromic acid is an absolutely horrible compound.

This article says they're working on it, and they think the answer might be more rhubarb:
The system is far from perfect, however: bromine and hydrobromic acid are corrosive, and could cause serious pollution if they leaked. “The bromine is, right now, the Achilles heel of this particular battery,” Aziz says. The answer could be to go completely organic, he adds: “We are working on replacing the bromine with a different quinone.”
Or more quinones, anyway.
posted by clawsoon at 12:20 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Can anyone who knows more about this tell me whether this thing that's been making the Facebook rounds is bullshit/a scam/vaporware etc.?

Their website ( http://www.nanoflowcell.com/ ) doesn't seem to give an obvious way to buy one, or book a future purchase, or give a price, so I think it's safe to assume this is not yet for sale, and may be Just Another Concept Car, however the concept seems plausible to me.

One thing to note about a car that runs on salt water, is that "salt water" is not "sea water". The salts will be of extremely pure extremely specific metals. The market advantage I assume they're going for is regular gas-station quick-stop liquid refueling - to recharge your battery, you just pull up the the pumps and pour new fluids in (while removing the spent fluids. The spent fluids can then be recharged at the station. Gas station doesn't need tanker truck deliveries any more, just a fat power-line and some charging tanks).

Another thing that jumped out at me - the top speed doesn't match the power. It has enough power to go much faster. Three possibilities, in order of least to most interesting:
1. It has a computer speed limiter for legal reasons. Seems an unlikely number to place a limit, so let's discount this possibility.
2. Top speed is limited by the (lack of) gearbox - as with the Tesla, the motors don't change gear, so the top speed is when your spindles are spinning as fast as they can, instead of the speed at which air resistance exceeds engine power. With an engine for each wheel, this is most likely the limiting factor to speed.
And/Or 3. Peak power is a burst mode achieved by combining the battery output with a capacitor bank output. The capacitor bank (used for regen braking) can deliver a massive amount of power, but stores very little energy, so it doesn't last very long, thus even though the peak power number is very large, it cannot be sustained long enough to get the car up to the kind of speed you would expect from those numbers.
posted by anonymisc at 12:27 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Re the car, as much as I like the look of it, note that it appears to have to carry 400 liters of water (with various metals and salts and crap in it) at all times. If I did my math right, that comes out to about 105 gallons, and would weigh just shy of 900 pounds. This thing's going to be very heavy. On the other hand I guess it doesn't have a big engine block to deal with.
posted by Naberius at 12:38 PM on October 2, 2014


anonymisc, could the top speed be limited by something as simple as tires not sticking to the pavement?
posted by clawsoon at 12:39 PM on October 2, 2014


Ah. Reading further, they give the weight of the car as 5070 lbs.

Which is quite a bit. Compare to other common vehicle curb weights.
posted by Naberius at 12:45 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


They're using HBr as an electrolyte. I really, really hope they find a better solvent. Bromic acid is an absolutely horrible compound. It produces burns which don't heal, it forms carcinogenic adducts, it doesn't biodegrade.

By "HBr" I first thought you meant the Harvard Business Review. But I corrected myself -- and then decided that the global economic side-effects of all those lame HBR case studies that my friends studied in business school indeed sounded an awful lot like "burns that don't heal."

:7(
posted by wenestvedt at 12:45 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: they think the answer might be more rhubarb.
posted by emjaybee at 1:22 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Maybe if you're a stalk of rhubarb.

I am seriously fucking redpilled right now.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 1:37 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can anyone who knows more about this tell me whether this thing that's been making the Facebook rounds is bullshit/a scam/vaporware etc.?

I looked into this for Jalopnik, and the short answer is that, yeah, it's most likely Very Not True. They claim nearly a 5x improvement in energy density -- roughly speaking, how much energy you can store in the batteries per kilogram of battery -- over Lithium-ion batteries. Previous flow batteries haven't even approached Lithium-ion battery energy density, so a huge improvement like nanoFLOWCELL is claiming raises a red flag.

And that's leaving aside how, five years ago, this same car was supposed to be powered by a breakthrough in solar cell tech that never materialized. Independent testing of their solar cell tech indicated possible funny business going on.
posted by sgranade at 2:10 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


If it were really powered by funny business, they could rename it nyuknyukFLOWCELL, and promote it as the sustainable clown car.

I'll show myself out.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:40 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


How many steps from rhubarb to Tommyknockers shower-stall dog-battery nightmares?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:42 PM on October 2, 2014


Rhabarberbarbarabatteries.
posted by gusandrews at 4:57 PM on October 2, 2014


And/Or 3. Peak power is a burst mode achieved by combining the battery output with a capacitor bank output. The capacitor bank (used for regen braking) can deliver a massive amount of power, but stores very little energy, so it doesn't last very long, thus even though the peak power number is very large, it cannot be sustained long enough to get the car up to the kind of speed you would expect from those numbers.

You missed:

4. The motor controllers are running at 300c at that point and would catch on fire if you went any faster or harder.

That's a big problem for high performance ebikes/cycles/cars. I already can't imagine the ESCs running a car going that speed, and I'd imagine that even then just with wind resistance you're talking about a HILARIOUS amount of current to go ~230mph in a 5000lb car pushing against the air.

Like, a time machine powering, Frankenstein reanimating amount of current.

This kind of thing is already a huge issue with both the batteries and the controllers in the tesla S at max power accelerating to say, 90. It's like 900 amps at 800 volts or something, just out of the battery. The motors are not 800 volt, so the amps out of the controller are higher(yes, I understand watts/volts/amps, a lower voltage higher amperage circuit is in a lot of ways the same thing, but it's still an imperial long fuckton of current, and it's inverting as well, which is where a lot of the heat comes from. Switching=mucho heat). A lot of this comes out of the controller as heat, it even has it's own coolant loop and radiator pump. See where I'm going with this?

It's a bit like having a super modified small engine that can produce 1000hp out of two liters. It can, but under what load and for how long? They had to set some sensible limits. And besides, if the thing can do 0-60 in 2.8 seconds or whatever, I bet it can do 0-100 in 4. That's more than enough to impress anyone who would spend 2 million or whatever on the thing, and all their friends when they have them jump in and go do that on the highway for a second.

People have made cars that put down that kind of torque electrically and go very fast. Like that miata, and some others. They mostly use DC motors and have crap range. Creating an inverter drive that can handle super high power at high speed is tough.
posted by emptythought at 8:08 PM on October 2, 2014


Not to de-rail the thread or anything, but I found this while exploring the subject: Japanese researchers have developed a fuel cell that can be mounted on an insect, and generate powered from sugar found in the insect’s body fluid. "The final goal.... is to combine the fuel cell with sensors and radio to create wireless sensor networks composed of cyborg insects – real insects that can be controlled"

posted by marvin at 3:58 PM on October 3, 2014


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