Zinc-Nickel Redox Flow Battery for Energy Storage

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering Computer Science and Maths

Abstract

With a number of advantages over other existing energy storage system (ESS) including flexibility, mobility, depth of discharge, rapid response, and safety, redox flow batteries (RFB) are one of the most promising and versatile options for grid scale energy storage, potentially enabling the integration of intermittent but growing fast renewable energy sources into power grids. RFB represent one class of electrochemical ESS and have been attracting attention over last two decades. Several chemistries of RFBs have been studied. However none of them fully meet the cost and performance requirements. Significant developments are required at all levels: investigation of new chemistries, materials engineering, cell design and long-term performance characterization in realistic environments.

This project will investigate an innovative RFB system based on nickel and zinc redox couples. The zinc-nickel system is promising due to the low cost and material abundance of its redox couples, their environmentally acceptable chemistry, high standard electrode potential and high power and energy densities. The scope of this project is on the improvement of materials and engineering design, combined with advanced characterisation techniques and computational modelling to gain fundamental insights and accelerate progress towards a high-performance, durable cell design. The programme will be focused on ways to improve the morphology of thick zinc electrodeposits when subjected to multiple deposition/dissolution cycles, and methods to increase the charge capacity of the positive electrode in flowing electrolyte conditions.

In addition, the system is a membrane-free flow battery, which differs from conventional flow battery technologies since it employs only a single electrolyte and therefore operates without a need in membrane separator; this reduces the cost and design complexity of the batteries significantly. Overall, the performance of the Zn-Ni battery should compare well with existing redox flow batteries.

The project will be a collaborative research endeavour between highly experienced researchers with internationally recognised expertise in flow batteries from the University of Exeter, Imperial College London and the University of Warwick.

Planned Impact

The project is based on substantial pre-existing activities of redox flow battery (RFB) research and development between the universities of Exeter, Imperial, and Warwick. We have now reached the stage where investment from EPSRC will significantly accelerate the research. Outputs from the project will contribute significantly towards the future energy mix of the UK, as well as Europe and beyond.

The project research will focus on the ultimate goal of developing a marketable, scalable zinc-nickel flow battery concept, capable of meeting energy storage needs from kW to MW scales. The research therefore has the potential to make a significant contribution to the development of the emerging energy storage industry in the UK. More generally, through its contribution to the continued viability of the UK's energy infrastructure, the research has the potential to contribute to the national economy as a whole.

One direct impact is that renewable energy sectors will be benefited from the zinc-nickel flow battery. Two energy storage companies, WhEST and C-Tech Innovation, are significantly interested in the research direction and will be involved in developing and realising effective routes towards exploitation.

Outcomes of the project will be reported in peer-reviewed scientific journals targeting J Power Sources, Energy & Environ Sci, and Electrochem Commun etc. and presented at major international and national conferences such as International Flow Battery Forum and International Society of Electrochemistry. The dissemination of the results will assist the wider academic community including materials scientists, electrochemists and chemical engineers. Additionally, there will be the opportunity to communicate the findings of the research at various seminars and workshops.

Exploitable results or innovations arising from the programme of work will be managed by the Research & Knowledge Transfer teams at the University of Exeter, Imperial, and Warwick, who have significant experience in such matters.

The successful build-up of a demonstration of this battery will provide undergraduate and postgraduate students with an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the field of energy storage technology. The PDRAs and a PhD student working on this project will acquire a range of technical skills in RFBs field and these skills which are highly valued by practitioners will enable them to contribute to energy storage technology in the future.
 
Description The most significant outcome of this project has been the establishment of an in-situ x-ray tomography based electrochemical reactor to minimise zinc dendrite growth in operating flow cells. This knowledge can be taken forward by other researchers to scale-up the Zn/Ni flow battery for possible commercial testing. An Imperial College spin-out company, RFC Power, is likely to take this forward and also apply the nickel side half-cell for other low cost battery systems for grid-scale energy storage applications. In this regard the application of special nickel electrodes being developed by Exeter University is expected to be of value to RFC Power in future.
Exploitation Route as shown above.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Energy,Environment,Transport

 
Description To ensure the research deliver impacts appropriate to its stage (on society, the scientific community, and the UK economy and environment), we have conducted the following activities: (1) engage with industrial partners, WhEST and C-Tech Innovation by quarterly project meetings and regular discussions in order to ensure that results and outcomes can be disseminated quickly and directly to the energy industry; (2) present our research work on workshops/conferences, e.g. UK Energy Storage Conferences (2016-2018), ICL-MIT Redox Flow Battery workshop (07/12/2017), UK-China Energy Storage Symposium (14/01/2018), The Davy Initiative Event (01/02/2018) and International Society of Electrochemistry (08/2018); (3) publish the research work in high-impact journals; (4) supervised six undergraduates dissertation projects and four MEng postgraduates industrial placement projects in the area of battery storage technology between 2016 and 2018. In addition, our research has attracted a number of companies and visitors to visit us and discuss potential collaborations, including Dr Deborah Pullen (BRE Group), Dr David Hodgson (PV3 Technologies), David Hull (Safeguard Nautica), Gabrillia Bogart (France-Channel-England South West of England Programme Facilitator), and Christian Marston (a self-funded MSc Renewable Energy student). The outcome of this research is yet to have an impact upon society. The results may be valuable in informing future scale-up options of zinc/nickel flow cells as a robust and economical system for grid-scale and renewable energy storage options. The raw materials used are ubiquitous and economical. The purpose of this investigation has been to determine conditions for minimising limiting factors to the scale-up of this viable technology.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Chemicals,Education,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description British Standards Institution (BSI) Committee Member
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description Member of Supergen Energy Storage Hub
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description Training and Education
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The research work of the project has been introduced to postgraduates courses and provided students with an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in battery storage technology. Elements of this project have also been used as a basis for exciting and innovative individual student projects. The courses include ENEM102 Advanced Energy Storage Technology for MEng & MSc students with Renewable Energy subject in the University of Exeter, and MSc courses in Sustainable Energy Technologies and Energy and Power Engineering in the University of Warwick. Three PDRAs and one PhD student working on this project have acquired a range of technical skills that are highly valued by practitioners and will enable them to contribute to future energy storage technology R&D.
 
Description STFC/MDC Futures Early Career Award
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 01/2018
 
Title New electrochemical reactor 
Description A new reactor was designed and implemented to study in-situ X-ray tomography of zinc dendrite growth and dissolution back into solution as a function of electrolyte flow rate. The zinc/nickel flow cell is charged and discharged while X-ray imaging occurs. Unique images have been determined that will inform a computational fluid dynamic model to predict optimum flow rates for minimising dendrite growth and side reactions like hydrogen evolution. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact see above 
 
Title Project Programme and Method 
Description • Developed a method to explore electrolyte additives on morphology evolution of zinc deposit, using polyethylene glycols (PEGs) model additives of precisely controlled backbone length and side chain/terminal endpoint functional groups, in couple with in-operando imaging techniques. • Design and development of a three-electrode in-situ electrochemical cell that enables real time 2D/3D visualisation of zinc morphological evolution at remarkable resolution using X-ray radiography and computed tomography. • A novel in-operando three-electrode system has been designed and is currently being manufactured. This system allows to study electrochemical phenomena under flowing electrolyte conditions. The cell will specifically be used in the synchrotron X-ray tomography experiments for visualisation of zinc deposition and dissolution during Zn/Ni battery charge and discharge operation. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Two research papers from University of Exeter team are ready for submission, one to Electrochimica Acta by April 2018 and another to Journal of Power Sources by May 2018. One research paper from ICL team is under preparation and aiming to submit by September 2018. One conference paper from University of Warwick team is in press in Journal of Physics: Conference Series: "Probabilistic sensitivity analysis for multivariate model outputs with applications to Li-ion batteries". 
 
Description ICL-MIT RFB Workshop 
Organisation Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution On the 7th December 2017 researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hosted a one day symposium of redox flow battery (RFB) research at ICL, presented by RFB academics from across the country. In collaboration the UK RFB Network invited all RFB based academics and industry to attend the workshop. Dr Xiaohong Li presented on zinc-based redox flow battery and additives study to control zinc morphology and Dr Vladimir Yufit presented on in-situ X-ray CT visualisation of the influence of additives on zinc deposit morphology evolution.
Collaborator Contribution Members of the Brushett group from MIT attend the ICL-MIT workshop at ICL. Dr Jeffrey Kowalski presented on testing protocols for new redox active molecules and Dr Antoni Forner-Cuenca presented on the role of electrode microstructure and surface properties on the performance of redox flow batteries.
Impact Joint publication and proposal are under preparation.
Start Year 2017
 
Description The Davy Initiative - Electrochemistry in Cornwall 
Organisation PV3 Technologies Ltd
PI Contribution Research team in the University of Exeter and in association with PV3 Technologies initiated and organised a workshop called "The Davy Initiative - Electrochemistry in Cornwall" in Penryn Campus in Cornwall on 1 Feb 2018. This workshop acted as a platform to bring together academic researchers and businesses in the region to discuss future developments and opportunities within the electrochemical and energy storage sector. There were 21 organisation/companies with 45 attendees, including Cornwall Council, KTN, Innovate UK, BRE National Solar Centre, Smart Energy Islands- Hitachi, Cornish Lithium, PV3 Technologies, University of Exeter etc.. The workshop was a successful day of networking, knowledge sharing and the pinpointing of a real commercial opportunity for Cornwall going forward.
Collaborator Contribution PV3 Technologies is a Cornwall-based company with a focus on electrochemical materials for a wide range of applications including: water electrolysis, fuel cells, flow batteries and corrosion protection. The company acted as one of the two initiators and organisers for this workshop. The company also supports the proposed research work in the awarded project and particularly interested in the elements of the work that explore the role of long term benefits to redox flow battery systems. PV3 Technologies are available to (i) advise on relevant aspects of implementation of such technology, (ii) advise on stability issues and (iii) advise on the development of a testing facility at University of Exeter.
Impact Working together, we have submitted a proposal to European Regional Development Fund call under Priority Axis 1: Promoting Research and Innovation, and have been successful at the outline stage.
Start Year 2017
 
Title Sensitivity analysis for multi-variate outputs 
Description This software allows for global (variance-based) sensitivity analysis to be performed for multivariate (including high-dimensional outputs) by using first emulating the output using a Gaussian process emulator and using dimensionality reduction to perform the emulation in a low dimensional space. Mulit-variate outputs can be ranked according to the sensitises of leading coefficients in an expansion. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The findings have yet to be disseminated (article in press). 
 
Description Demonstration to GCSE and A Level students 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Dr. Barun Chakrabarti in Imperial College London will be demonstrating a simple electrochemical cell to GCSE and A Level students in May 2019. He will also engage with the public during Imperial's Annual Festival with regards to the importance of the Zn/Ni flow battery research in June 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description EPSRC Early Career Fellowship Application - Dr Barun Chakrabarti 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr Barun Chakrabarti at Imperial College London funded from this project has submitted an EPSRC Early Career Fellowship application inspired by this research. The proposal is under review.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Engagement with students and parent 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact During 2018/19 academic year, there are approximately 90 people (year 3 undergraduate students, A-level students, as well as parent) who have been demonstrated the Zn-Ni redox flow battery system. The year 3 undergraduate sutdents mostly have significant interesting in energy storatge technology, and some of them are taking up redox flow battery as their dissertation topics. A-level students and their parents have shown great interest to apply renewable energy as their major in the university. In short, since the project started and the Zn-Ni flow battery was built up, it has very good impact towards learnign and studying of energy storage technology in Penry Campus at the University of Exeter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
 
Description ICL-MIT RFB Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On the 7th December 2017 researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hosted a one day symposium of redox flow battery (RFB) research, presented by RFB academics from across the country. In collaboration the UK RFB Network invited all RFB based academics and industry to attend the workshop. The research work on zinc-nickel RFB project was presented on the workshop and there was lively debate and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://sites.google.com/view/ukrfbnetwork/workshops/workshop-dec-2017
 
Description Presentation to BSI Standards for Energy Storage Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Prof Xiaohong presented "Energy Storage Research & Teaching at Penryn Campus of University of Exeter" at BSI Standards for Energy Storage Workshop, BRE National Solar Centre at Eden Project, Cornwall, 16 Feb 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation to Industry 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Prof Xiaohong has presented Zn-Ni flow battery system to Flann Microwave Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall on 10 May 2018. CEO and CTO of the company were in the meeting.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Research-led Teaching and Supervision 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact From 2017 to 2019, 9 3rd year undergraduate students and 5 MEng students have taken redox flow battery as their dissertation topics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
 
Description The 69th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Electrochemistry, 2 to 7 September 2018, Bologna, Italy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact David Trudgeon, PhD student at the University of Exeter gave an oral presentation on his research work of screening of effective electrolyte additives for zinc-nickel redox flow battery at the conference on 7 Sept 2019. His talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards, and established some networking in related research areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://annual69.ise-online.org/69-AM-program.pdf
 
Description UK-China Energy Storage Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr Xiaohong Li was invited to give a keynote lecture on redox flow battery in the UK-China Symposium on Energy Storage Technologies & 1st UK-China Forum on Energy Storage in Beijing on 14-15 January 2018. The symposium was partially funded by Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in China, with the aim of establishing new and sustained links between academics, industry, government and non-government agents from both countries. The symposium was a great success and one of the outcomes is to run the second UK-China Energy Storage Symposium to strengthen UK-China collaborations in energy storage technologies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.bjb.cas.cn/kjhz_gzjz2016/201801/t20180118_4935689.html
 
Description UKES2016-2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr Xiaohong Li was invited to present a keynote lecture entitled "Membrane-free redox flow battery system" at the UK Energy Storage Conference in University of Birmingham on 30 November - 2 December 2016. The event and contribution to the conference has been published on Johnson Matthey Technology Reviews, 2017, 61 (3), 222-226. Cited as "The keynote addresses in the flow batteries session on a redox flow battery (RFB) system which does not use membranes. In most commercially available RFBs, the ion exchange membrane comprises about a third of the production cost, so removing the need for this membrane will offer opportunities to make RFB technology economically viable for grid-scale applications . The technique is to develop a zinc-nickel RFB which uses a single electrolyte, eliminating the need to separate two electrolytes with a membrane. This will also improve performance and greatly simplify device manufacture and operation."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
URL http://ukenergystorage.co/