‘Liquid battery’ breakthrough could supercharge renewables transition, scientists say

Liquid hydrogen can serve as a battery for solar and wind farms (iStock/ Getty Images)
Liquid hydrogen can serve as a battery for solar and wind farms (iStock/ Getty Images)

Scientists have discovered a way to store electrical energy in liquid fuels in what could be a major boost for transitioning to renewable energy sources.

Batteries are essential for optimising the potential of solar and wind, allowing energy to be stored during periods of overproduction and fed back into the grid when there is low production.

Current lithium-ion batteries – which are found in everything from laptops to electric vehicles – are costly for such large-scale purposes, leading scientists to search for alternative systems.

A team from Stanford University in the US have now unveiled a new way to use liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHCs) as a means of renewable energy storage. LOHCs – or liquid batteries as they are referred to by the researchers – store hydrogen using catalysts and increased temperatures, before releasing it as electricity when needed.

“The electric grid uses energy at the same rate that you generate it, and if you’re not using it at that time, and you can’t store it, you must throw it away,” said Robert Waymouth, a professor in chemistry in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University.

“We are developing a new strategy for selectively converting and long-term storing of electrical energy in liquid fuels. We also discovered a novel, selective catalytic system for storing electrical energy in a liquid fuel without generating gaseous hydrogen.”

The discovery hinges on a “magic additive” called cobaltocene that works as a catalyst in the reaction to store and release the energy without releasing hydrogen gas.

“This is basic fundamental science, but we think we have a new strategy for more selectively storing electrical energy in liquid fuels,” said Professor Waymouth.

The research was detailed in a study, titled ‘Cobaltocene-Mediated Catalytic Hydride Transfer: Strategies for Electrocatalytic Hydrogenation’, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.