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New water-based organic battery is cheap, rechargeable and eco-friendly


June 29, 2014

The USC organic redux flow battery (not pictured) replaces metals with water-soluble organic materials (Photo: Shutterstock)

The USC organic redux flow battery (not pictured) replaces metals with water-soluble organic materials (Photo: Shutterstock)

Lithium-ion batteries have made portable, rechargeable electronics commonplace. Unfortunately, they do have some glaring drawbacks, including heat issues, being made with rare, toxic elements, and the fact the technology doesn't scale up very well, which limits applications. A team of scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) is working on an alternative in the form of a water-based organic battery that is not only cheaper and more environmentally friendly, but also holds the potential for scaling up for use in wind and solar power plants as a means to store large amounts of energy.

The technology developed by the USC team is what’s called an organic redux flow battery. It’s a bit like a fuel cell, and a similar one was developed for NASA’s Helios electric-powered drones. It consists of two tanks containing solutions of electroactive chemicals. These are pumped into a cell, which is divided by a membrane. The solutions interact through the membrane and electricity is produced.

According to the team, the tanks can be of any size in comparison to the cells, so the total amount of energy that the system can store depends on how large the tanks are, which is one up on conventional batteries. The flow battery also has a better life span than lithium-ion batteries and its variants.

"The batteries last for about 5,000 recharge cycles, giving them an estimated 15-year lifespan," says Sri Narayan, professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “Lithium ion batteries degrade after around 1,000 cycles, and cost 10 times more to manufacture.”

The key to the new flow battery is the electroactive materials used. Instead of metals or other toxic materials, the USC team used organic compounds. By trial and error, the researchers were able to develop materials based on oxidized organic compounds called quinones, which are found in plants, fungi, bacteria, and some animals and involved in photosynthesis and cellular respiration.

Specifically, the quinones used in the new battery are anthraquinone-2-sulfonic acid or anthraquinone-2,6-disulfonic acid on the negative side, and 1,2-dihydrobenzoquinone- 3,5-disulfonic acid on the positive side of the cell.

The team sees the technology as one day leading to large “mega-scale” battery banks that are cost-effective and environmentally friendly. The quinones used in the flow battery are currently produced from naturally occurring hydrocarbons, but the team hopes one day to derive them directly from carbon dioxide. However, the immediate goal of the team is to scale up the technology to make it more practical.

The team’s findings were published in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.

Source: USC

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Jerryd - there is absolutely a market for grid sized batteries - just not at current price and performance levels.

Tony Morris

The picture of AA (AAA?) batteries is seriously misleading, even the caption describes it as a flow battery ie pipes connecting separated liquids to a reaction chamber.

I agree with PvD. Any reporting on flow batteries should mention energy density and estimates of unit cost. It is a technology on the verge of commercialization and if we're to be impressed we need something to compare it by.


@ Paul van Dinther Clearly they are not suitable for an EV or flashlight but maybe for for storing your expensive electricity.


The glaring detail missing is: Storage capacity per volume and weight.

Paul van Dinther

updating information on these discoveries is one of the tasks that seems to be missing in gizmag.com also. Not only improvements, but also in discarding failed "improvements" that don't measure up eventually and the reasons why they were discarded. future researchers would be able to look at why the method was discarded and perhaps come up with a variation that does work.


some of the data is presented in the journal link posted, but i didn't see any figures on: 1. how much energy it took to run the pumps. 2. how much energy it took to recharge the battery in comparison to how much it puts out. 3. what the static discharge rate of the battery is over time. i just scanned the journal article, so i may have missed that data.


With their lying about Lithium it's hard to take them seriously.

Nor are their scaling points valid as others do too and are already tested, viable.

Just 1 problem, there is NO market for grid size batteries as there are over 10 kinds yet no utility will buy them except grants and being forced.

If there was any before, that ended when the new NG GT CC 60% eff powerplants that can be eff throttled to 50% power to follow the load, killed any market left.

The RE variability is propaganda and what little problem there is, is easily, cheaply solved. Utilities have handled far more variability on the demand side for 100+ yrs.,

Sounds like grant hyping to me.


They've been experimenting with flow batteries in Alaska (almost certainly not the same formulation) for some time now. It's a promising technology for storing large amounts of energy, where space is not an issue, but cost and durability are. I haven't heard any success stories as of yet; they haven't performed as advertised; they're full of technical glitches.... but that's where the technology is at.... trying to make that giant leap from the laboratory to a commercially viable product. The creativity & motivation of folks like the scientists at USC will definitely help it along.


Performance details, please!

Jansen Estrup

This is already being done with patents pending in a 13 countries!

The portable demo units are 12volts the home units are 110v with some units being in use for over 3 years


Tina S

But I can see the ads now - "New Prius 2 with Earth-friendly Organic battery! Vehicle holds one occupant"...

And some folks will rush out to buy


Quit whining about how well this works right now. The history of science & technology is absolutely chock full of stuff that worked like crap until, incrementally, one issue after another was run down, isolated, improved upon etc. etc. Also, there is a sizeable potential for a few "disruptive" unanticipated innovations that could abruptly make flow batteries actually far better than sliced bread. Who knows, maybe this is THE killer app for graphene made from municipal waste and plastic bags, etc.etc. So chill & be patient.


Solar-charge in the desert, and pipe into the city for 24/7 consumption maybe?


Hey “f8lee” - Somebody needs to grab hold of your tail and drag you into the 21st century. You clearly have no concept of how scientific development proceeds or just can't see beyond the tip of your nose. This concept is in early development and not intended for release to the market tomorrow. It shows one direction, one possibility, one kernel that could light other pathways to the development of some future product/solution. It was an interesting article to read and certainly worthy of publication. We are transitioning to a new age, with or with out your approval, so keep your worthless sarcasm to yourself.

To “SamB”, who said “The pictute of AA (AAA) batteries is seriously misleading” must have missed the words ”(not pictured)” in the caption or he would have instantly realized the picture was “representative”.

“jerryd” says “Utilities have handled far more variability on demand for 100+ years”, except that's not true. New wind and solar power sources offer greater variability on a constant basis and if these sources of clean power are to replace dirty/non-variable coal fired power sources, as we should all hope they will, one solution for their inherent variability could be flow batteries. If it takes “grant” money, I consider that money well spent (with or without success). It wasn't free market investment that developed the internet or built the interstate highway system, it was American tax dollars and this crucial transition is no different. How far into the future could Reagan see when he removed the solar power source on the White House roof placed there by Jimmy Carter instead of letting it remain an example and inspiration for a new way to power America over 30 years ago.


Xander77, You have some valid points, but are missing one key point. Solar will never replace coal and most likely will never be a viable "clean" energy source. Panels are expensive to produce and use environmentally hazardous materials. Solar is a novelty and a political boondoggle. The future of energy production is Nuclear (fusion or fission). Reagan realized this early on. Carter has peanut butter for brains.


Jeff Michelson

@ Xander77 Carter's solar water heater installation cost more damage to the roof than the solar collectors saved in fuel. Granted that was the fault of the poor installation but sense it was on the White House it was clear evidence (grantedly false in retrospect) that roof top solar is a bad idea.


notarichman, are you incapable of doing your own research? Is gizmag.com the only website you visit? Can you perform a simple web search - even if it is to discover how to perform more complex web searches? The purpose of publications is to prompt you into asking questions, not answer all of them.

Noel K Frothingham

Anthraquinone and dihydrobenzoquinone disulfonic redox type. Not the Updike Mk.11 misanthrovodka/distrobantamtrine redux type. Easy to confuse the two.

Reaganites who bought computers to play 2-minute puts and play BioShock who haven't yet paid their tokamak contractors may be interested in the green RSoC bit (embodied energy etc. etc.) https://www.jku.at/JKU_Site/JKU/ipc/content/e166717/e222992/e222996/e224680/2014-005.pdf

Jeff; sequester it.

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