How Does a Flow Battery Work?


If you are reading this blog post on a cell phone or laptop computer, you should know that the device is likely powered by something called a lithium-ion battery. A lithium-ion battery is a solid state battery, which means it stores energy in a solid electrode material like metal. It is rechargeable as lithium ions are moved from negative electrodes to positive electrodes and back during discharge and charging respectively.


The two electrodes in a lithium-ion battery are separated by microperforated plastic. The plastic separator allows the ions to pass through without having the positive and negative electrodes come into contact. While lithium-ion batteries are highly useful in a number of applications, there are some concerns with them.


First, they only last a few years at most, so they will likely need to be replaced during the lifetime of the device. Second, they can overheat. If you ever charged your laptop and it suddenly shut off, this could be because of overheating. While a positive temperature coefficient is supposed to prevent overheating, it can sometimes fail. This is why you will see battery vent caps on lithium-ion batteries. Battery venting is necessary because if a lithium-ion battery gets hot enough, it can explode, which obviously nobody wants.


How Do Flow Batteries Store Energy


A flow battery works a little differently, which is important for various scenarios where more energy is needed and dependability is a must. Flow batteries store their energy in electrolyte liquids, making them much sturdier than lithium-ion batteries. Flow batteries can last for decades, and they can store more energy than lithium-ion batteries.


This means they will run longer before they need to be recharged, making them perfect for data center applications, microgrids, and large utility projects. Flow batteries can be recharged by replacing the electrolyte liquid and recovering the spent material.


There are several types of flow batteries out there in the market today, including redox flow batteries, hybrid flow batteries (iron-chromium flow batteries, vanadium redox flow batteries, zinc-bromine flow batteries), and membraneless flow batteries. Each offers different benefits for various applications.


However, it should be noted that flow batteries are not perfect. They have notably lower energy densities than lithium-ion batteries, and they are less efficient than nonreversible fuel cells. On the other hand, flow batteries can be recycled, making them the preferred choice of those who are concerned with sustainability issues.


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