The new battery - which uses no metals or toxic materials - is intended for use in power plants, where it can make the energy grid more resilient and efficient by creating a large-scale means to store energy for use as needed.
Sri Narayan, professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and corresponding author of the paper, said the batteries last for about 5,000 recharge cycles, giving them an estimated 15-year lifespan, adding that lithium ion batteries degrade after around 1,000 cycles, and cost 10 times more to manufacture.
Narayan collaborated with Surya Prakash, professor of chemistry and director of the USC Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, as well as USC's Bo Yang, Lena Hoober-Burkhardt, and Fang Wang.
"Such organic flow batteries will be game-changers for grid electrical energy storage in terms of simplicity, cost, reliability and sustainability," said Prakash.
The batteries could pave the way for renewable energy sources to make up a greater share of the nation's energy generation. Solar panels can only generate power when the sun's shining, and wind turbines can only generate power when the wind blows. That inherent unreliability makes it difficult for power companies to rely on them to meet customer demand.
The new battery is based on a redox flow design - similar in design to a fuel cell, with two tanks of electroactive materials dissolved in water. The solutions are pumped into a cell containing a membrane between the two fluids with electrodes on either side, releasing energy.
The study has been published online in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.