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GE and Berkeley Lab developing water-based high energy density flow battery for EVs

Conceptual design of a water-based flow battery GE scientists are researching as part of ARPA-E’s RANGE program. This battery could be one-fourth the cost of current car batteries, and could nearly triple the distance electric vehicles could travel on a single charge. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from GE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are developing a water-based flow battery targeted at EVs. The system uses water-based solutions of inorganic chemicals that are capable of transferring more than one electron, providing high-energy density. Discharge and re-charge of such flow batteries occur in electrochemical cells separated from energy storing tanks, which makes them safer.

The GE/Berkeley Lab project was selected by the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) to receive $899,958 in funding under the RANGE (Robust Affordable Next Generation EV-Storage) program. (Earlier post.)

Aside from offering significant advantages in terms of cost and range, the flow battery GE is researching would offer safety improvements over batteries used in cars today, and could be easily integrated into current car designs—both of these being stated goals of ARPA-E’s RANGE program.

Over the next year, the GE/Berkeley Lab team will demonstrate feasibility of this new battery concept and develop a working prototype.

We’re excited about the impact this new technology could have on electric vehicles, especially as it relates to cost and the need to recharge. Our flow battery could be just one-fourth the price of car batteries on the market today, while enabling roughly three-times the current driving range. The DOE wants a battery that can power a car for 240 miles; we think we can exceed that.

—Grigorii Soloveichik, project leader on the water-based flow battery project at GE Global Research and director of the GE-led Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC)

GE says that the work on this project will greatly benefit from the skills and knowledge acquired from GE’s ongoing role in the DOE’s EFRC program. GE’s EFRC—CETM, the Center for Electrocatalysis, Transport Phenomena, and Materials for Innovative Energy Storage—was designed specifically for building a fundamental base for next-generation energy storage technologies.

CETM’s focus is the development of basic science that lays the foundation for enabling the next generation of effective, flexible, and safe fuel cell systems for mobile and stationary applications based on the use of reversible, high energy density liquid organic fuels.

In the proposed system, energy is extracted by partial oxidation of an energy-dense organic liquid fuel, forming a stable hydrogen depleted compound. The direct extraction of protons and electrons at the anode would utilize homogeneous electrocatalysts and ideally proceed without production of hydrogen gas. Protons and electrons combine with oxygen at the cathode to produce a voltage and water as the sole reduction product.

The rechargeable system is based on a reversible electrochemical reaction combining the best properties of a fuel cell and flow battery for stationary and mobile applications.

Participating organizations in CETM include GE Global Research, Yale University– Crabtree Group, Yale University–Batista Group, Stanford University, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. GE Global Research is the only corporate research laboratory chosen to lead one of the 46 EFRCs.

The opportunity to expand our collaboration with GE from the EFRC to applied research under ARPA-E is of great interest. We have had great success in developing high-power traditional flow batteries, and the possibility of using that expertise for a high-energy flow battery is quite compelling.

—Adam Weber, Berkeley Lab Staff Scientist and PI for this project


  • C. Moyses Araujo, Davide L. Simone, Steven J. Konezny, Aaron Shim, Robert H. Crabtree, Grigorii L. Soloveichik and Victor S. Batista (2012) Fuel selection for a regenerative organic fuel cell/flow battery: thermodynamic considerations. Energy Environ. Sci., 5, 9534-9542 doi: 10.1039/C2EE22749E

  • Tucker, Michael C., Venkat Srinivasan, Philip N. Ross, and Adam Z. Weber (2013) Performance and cycling of the iron-ion/hydrogen redox flow cell with various catholyte salts. Journal of Applied Electrochemistry 43, no. 7: 637-644 doi: 10.1007/s10800-013-0553-2.



That came from left field!
Anyone know much about these?


You'd think Exxon et al would pour money into an idea like this. "Gas stations" would simply deoxidize the spent electrode.... electrode, right? Meh, it's early...


this is way early, it is just an idea
maybe i can get 800k to develop my cow poo battery
helps the environment and creates energy


I assume that if you needed a fast charge, it might be possible to pump out the catholyte and anolyte for instant replacement.
A bit more hassle than pumping petrol, but presumably possible for a quick fill.


darn it they have already created the cow dung battery


Yep, it is early in the development cycle.
That, like youth in people, is something all technologies go through, and which passes.


"..Our flow battery could be just one-fourth the price of car batteries on the market today, while enabling roughly three-times the current driving range..."

Been here - heard that..

Just want to buy it.


Does it use inorganic or organic fluid?

"The system uses water-based solutions of inorganic chemicals ..."

"In the proposed system, energy is extracted by partial oxidation of an energy-dense organic liquid fuel ..."

Nevertheless, the flow battery approach would allow energy storage (amount of inorganic/organic fluids) and power capabilities (size of bipolar cell stack) to be optimized separately.

Early in the game, but it's certainly interesting.


There is something to be learnt from apparently over-optimistic assessments of battery's potential.

The price they are giving indicates that they are not using rare materials, or they would be saying something to the effect that they are hoping to use more common materials.

The range they are quoting shows that the energy density is potentially high.

This does not mean I expect these batteries by Tuesday week, and indeed research at this early stage normally needs way more than 10 years to come to market, more like 20-25 years if they ever make them at all, but it does give us some parameters.


I wish them success, the more options we have for BEVs the better.


Flow batteries are very attractive since potentaly could simplify everything inside BEV - battery cooling, fast recharging, cycling, weight distribution and "battery" placement (electrolyte tanks). Why such small money for major potential oportunity?


Targeting EVs is a smart move.  The typical flow battery to date has had bulky solutions and low energy density, which takes a back seat to low cost and long life in stationary applications.

The EV battery has a far higher value per kWh delivered, so it can tolerate higher costs so long as weight and bulk are not excessive.  If GE and Berkeley can deliver a battery at 1/4 of today's prices (and meet the other objectives), they'll have a winner.  I wouldn't be surprised to see them pick up Tesla as a partner as soon as they have something in a vehicular form factor.


If they achieve the goal of demonstrating a prototype within a year they are on a fast track. Should that be accomplished working models for testing won't be far behind.


"..Our ___ battery could be just one-fourth the price of car batteries on the market today, while enabling roughly three-times the current driving range..." not so optimistic if it was promised in 5 years - some half dozen years ago is all I'm saying.

The first year of the 5-5-5 battery hub budget/performance is coming to a close in November.


As Northern Piker remarks, there seem to be some internal contradictions, although possibly only at first sight. If I were to speculate on what could possibly provide that high an energy density for a flow battery, I'd speculate on a primary battery annex fuel cell that oxidizes methanol (energy dense organic fuel) dissolved into an alkaline solution (solution of inorganic chemicals) into formic acid and water.


Crap, I should have bothered to read the references. Stupid mini laptop screen.

Account Deleted

This could be a Sodium Ion Aqueous Flow Battery. Lawrence Berkeley has patent 2011/0223460 described here ( Plus GE has manufacturing expertise on these batteries and has done extensive research as well.
The press release states "the new technology will use water-based solutions of inorganic chemicals capable of supplying high energy density by ferrying more than one electron at a time. They call the system a “flow” battery because the discharge and recharge occurs in electrochemical cells that stand apart from the energy storing tanks".


This type of battery could be better suited for large vehicles such as large trucks and large buses with more room for large energy storage tanks?


"Our flow battery could be just one-fourth the price of car batteries on the market today, while enabling roughly three-times the current driving range. The DOE wants a battery that can power a car for 240 miles; we think we can exceed that."

So they think they might be able to make a battery that's not quite as good as Tesla already has. I'm never too impressed when the target they are shooting for is lower than what already exists.


I believe the DOE has multiple targets, so they are looking for 240 miles of range for way less than the $90k or so a Tesla costs.


And a flow battery, having its active materials in tanks, can have the recharging done outside the vehicle.  Replacing the spent fluids with fresh can be done about as fast as filling a fuel tank.

Eliminating the charging delay while still allowing charging in the vehicle gets the advantages of both batteries and fuel cells.  Now to see about purchase cost and lifespan...

Kit P

"the more options we have for BEVs the better."

That would only be true if some of the options happen to be better.


That would only be true if some of the options happen to be better.

Having more options means you can use different technologies in different applications. One battery might be better in a truck while another is better in a car. One battery might be better for someone who recharges overnight while another would be better for someone who travels long distances and can only stop briefly to recharge.


I wonder what's the efficiency.
Fundamentally, a "simple" H2 (or hydrocarbon) fuel cell is similar but more simple to use.
just like this "flow battery", you can recharge electrically (if there would be an on-board electrolyser and a H2O reservoir) and you can fill up at a "gas station" or at home. Except you only need one instead of two fuels (the oxidans is air) and the waste product does not need to be restored. You need no return infrastructure to "regenerate" the fuels.
H2 production at home will also probably be much easier than a regenerator of these "fuels" (only 1 container instead of 3, no toxic stuff, no "reserve", no need to return "used fuel" that may be degenerated, at the end of the life, no waste "fuels" to be disposed of, ...

Although I like to explore any option, I wonder whether this complex system (with potentially toxic molecules) will ever compete with H2 / battery / ultracapacitor systems.


ai_vin, I just flashed on something.  A flow battery like this could be useful as a whole-building peak-shaver and UPS power source.  But if it has any capacity to spare, it's regenerating (recharging) spent fluids drained from trucks shipping stuff in and out.  The trucks get "refueled" with regenerated fluids while loading and unloading.

This eliminates separate fuel stops for the vehicles, time-shifts electrical demand and powers the building if the grid goes out.

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