The MetIL’s cation complex evenly distributes its net charge across its surface—like a soccer ball has evenly spaced white/black panels. Because of this symmetrical charge distribution, no two complexes can come close enough to each other to initiate ion pairing/solid formation, but they can easily capture, release, and exchange electrons.

A flow battery is a rechargeable energy storage device that pumps a solution of charged metals dissolved in an electrolyte through a membrane to convert chemical energy into electricity. Flow batteries can be rapidly “recharged” by replacing the electrolyte liquid while simultaneously recovering the spent material for external recharging.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have discovered a new family of metal-based liquid salt electrolytes, for use in just such flow batteries. The electrochemically reversible metal-based ionic liquids (MetILs) could lead to batteries packed with 3–10 times the energy density of other available storage technologies. The main innovation is the use of a nonaqueous electrolyte which does not need to be dissolved in a solvent—it is its own solvent. The Sandia team has invented a method for synthesizing MetILs from low-cost materials that contain transition metal atoms.

The research, published in Dalton Transactions, might lead to devices that can help economically and reliably incorporate large-scale intermittent renewable energy generation, like solar and wind, into the nation’s electric grid.

The grid was designed for steady power sources, making fluctuating electricity from intermittent renewable energy generation difficult to accommodate. Better energy-storage techniques help even out the flow of such fluctuating sources, and Sandia researchers are studying new ways to develop a more flexible, cost-effective and reliable electric grid with improved energy storage.

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Read the Sandia news release. Sandia news media contact: Stephanie Hobby, (505) 844-0948.