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Jay Whitacre - inventor
Jay Whitacre – inventor
While Tesla revolutionises the business model for batteries, the basic product remained the same. Now a small upstart company has come along with a brand new way to store energy, a new chemistry. It will hasten the death spiral of the traditional grid.

The novel battery uses a water-based electrolyte that allowed developer Aquion Energy Inc. (Pittsburgh, Pa.; www.aquionenergy.com) to achieve a low-cost and safe battery with long cycle life, although more suited to stationary energy-storage applications because of large size. The Aquion battery technology, now entering its commercial launch process, employs an aqueous sodium-sulfate electrolyte. The water-based electrolyte makes the battery much safer than existing batteries that use organic-solvent-based electrolytes, says Jay Whitacre, chief technology officer of Aquion and leader of the research team at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.; www.cmu.edu) that first developed the technology.

Sodium ions are used as the charge-carrying agent in the battery, and the electrodes are made from manganese oxide (cathode) with a cubic spinel structure, and a carbon composite material (anode). The anode hosts pseudocapacitive reactions of three different ions, Whitacre explains, namely Na+, Li+ and H+. A simple non-woven cotton fiber material separates the electrodes in the battery.

“While these batteries are excellent for long cycle life, low-cost and safety, we sacrifice somewhat on energy density,” says Whitacre, but for stationary-storage applications, energy density is less of a concern than it is for vehicle batteries, where volume and weight are critical, he adds. The battery systems consist of one or more modular units of a battery that the company calls S10. Each unit is capable of delivering 150 watts of power, and the battery cells can be linked for increased power.

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Aquion has completed construction on a manufacturing line at its facility in Pennsylvania. The company expects that the batteries can be used in stationary long-duration energy-storage applications, such as microgrids, off-grid systems, integration of wind and solar power and others.

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