MIT Built a Liquid Battery that Runs on Gravity

MIT Liquid Batter

Like the name suggests, a liquid flow battery contains two chemical components suspended in some sort of liquid, which is separated by a membrane built into the chamber. (1) As a result, while the chemical components remain in their separate spaces, the exchange of ions can occur through the membrane, thus providing a flow of electric current.

Liquid flow batteries have a number of important advantages compared to their counterparts. First and foremost, they are rechargeable batteries, which makes them particularly well-suited for eco-friendly purposes when combined with the fact that they produce no harmful emissions. Second, they are extremely long-lasting compared to other rechargeable batteries, which makes them not just even more eco-friendly but also excellent products by providing their users with outstanding value for their money.

Finally, it should be noted that liquid flow batteries do not need to be overcharged in the process called equalization to ensure an equal charge in all of their cells, thus making it even more eco-friendly while also saving its users a fair amount of time and money over sufficiently long periods of time.

Naturally, liquid flow batteries come with their fair share of disadvantages as well. For example, they tend to be less powerful than other rechargeable batteries, which is a serious problem that has hindered their adoption in a wide range of fields for a wide range of purposes. Something that is particularly true because this lack of power is combined with a need for more sophisticated technologies in order to make proper use of liquid flow batteries, which is not something that can happen without significant cost and other expenditures of limited resources.

As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that there is a significant number of institutions interested in improving on the concept of liquid flow batteries. One such institution is MIT, which has made some recent headlines because a MIT team has come up with a proof of concept for a liquid flow battery that runs on gravity.

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How Does MIT’s Liquid Battery Function?

One of the biggest problems with liquid flow batteries is that increasing their power cannot be done without increasing the size of the separate spaces so that they can contain more of the chemical components suspended in liquid, which in turn, means an even more complicated system of pumps and valves to make use of that increased space. Unsurprisingly, this process is not just expensive but also inefficient, meaning that it is not a particularly desirable choice for those interested in getting things done without having to break their budgets in the process.

What the MIT team has done is replace the complicated system of pumps, tanks, and valves with a gravity-fed pump, thus enabling them to choose different rates at which energy is produced by tilting their liquid flow battery at different angles, which is so simple that it almost beggars belief. (2) Furthermore, the MIT team has come up with a number of other innovations, which promise to make their liquid flow battery a significant step-up compared to its predecessors.

For example, MIT’s liquid flow battery is actually neither a true solid battery nor a true liquid battery because it incorporates both solid and liquid components. As a result, it shows that hybrid batteries are not just possible but also useful, which could spark other efforts into exploring their full range of possibilities. Something that could have interesting implications for the future. Similarly, MIT’s liquid flow battery is extremely simple, so much so that the MIT team believes that its components could be potentially made using nothing more than 3D printers. Considering the cost efficiency of 3D printers compared to traditional manufacturing processes, this could make such batteries not just extremely useful but also extremely accessible, thus speeding up the rate at which they are adopted by their potential users.

With that said, it is important to note that MIT’s liquid battery is no more than a proof of concept at the moment. This means the MIT team has not built a functional example but instead something to show that their concept is feasible rather than feverish fantasies. As a result, while MIT’s liquid battery possesses much promise, it has not undergone the sequence of steps needed to turn a concept into a marketable product. Never mind the refinement needed to make that marketable product as effective and as efficient as possible at an affordable price. Summed up, this means that U.S. businesses and consumers should expect to see such batteries not in the near future but sometime after that, assuming that the concept will not run into some other serious obstacle in the process.

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What Does This Mean for the Future?

Still, if MIT’s liquid battery is indeed as big a step-up as the MIT team has made it out to be, there are reasons to believe that it will be able to change the world for the better. (3) After all, while batteries are so ubiquitous that most of us never pay attention to how their presence influences our lives, that same ubiquity means that better batteries can bring a wide range of benefits to a wide range of people, thus improving the world as a whole.

One simple example would be the increased convenience to a wide range of users in a wide range of fields from having better batteries. However, the most interesting example would be the enormous cost-savings that could be realized by using more effective and more efficient batteries, which would free up money as well as other resources without actually compromising the results that are being produced through the expenditures of such. As a result, businesses and consumers would be able to spend that money as well as those other resources on other purposes, thus improving their lives as a whole. Combined with the fact that liquid flow batteries are extremely eco-friendly compared to their counterparts, MIT’s liquid flow battery could mean happier and healthier lives for people all around the world, so long as it can live up to the MIT team’s promises.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery
  2. http://inhabitat.com/mits-new-liquid-battery-charges-with-gravity-like-an-hourglass/
  3. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2013-08-11/better-batteries-better-world


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