Despite the growing popularity of solar and wind power, the two renewable technologies still suffer from one glaring weakness: both generate power at nature’s mercy.


Their intermittent productivity is widely known. Now, a team of scientists at Stanford University and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have developed a new technology that may address this flaw.


In April, researchers from the DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University announced they have designed a low-cost, long-life “flow” battery that could eliminate the greatest obstacle preventing solar and wind energy from becoming major suppliers of electrical power to the grid.


Flow batteries offer one of the best energy-storage solutions for addressing the intermittent surges from renewable-energy sources. It is relatively simple to scale their components to the sizes needed to handle large capacities of energy on the grid.


The new battery developed by the SLAC/Stanford team improves on the design of most flow batteries, with a simplified, less-expensive construction. Unlike other flow batteries, it uses only one stream of molecules and does not need a membrane. Its molecules mostly consist of the relatively inexpensive elements lithium and sulfur, unlike other flow batteries, which typically consist of expensive liquids with rare materials, such as vanadium.


The new battery also shows promising durability. It performed through more than 2,000 charges and discharges in laboratory tests, which is equivalent to more than five and one-half years of daily cycles.


The project represents the successful collaboration of the two institutions under the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub. JCESR is one of five such hubs established last November by the DOE to accelerate energy research.