Solar-powered liquid battery hybrid prototype could be major breakthrough

liquid battery solar song jin 0015
Everyone loves the idea of solar energy, but the reality is that it’s not always efficient enough for our needs.

At present, solar cells have not been developed at a scale relative to our total energy requirements. Although engineers are building ever cheaper and more efficient solar panels for lapping up the sun’s rays, one major bottleneck is the inability to store this energy for times when the sun’s not shining down on us.

A new proof-of-concept device created by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Wisconsin, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia may help change that, however. They’ve combined a solar cell with a large capacity liquid battery that skips the electricity-making process in favor of transferring the harvested solar energy directly to the battery’s electrolyte.


“We wanted to create a technology that not only harvests the solar energy but also stores it in the form of electricity, so it can be used on demand,” Song Jin, a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Digital Trends. “Everyone’s familiar with a solar cell, which converts solar energy to electricity. But the problem with them is that, of course, the sun goes down every night and we don’t just want to use electricity when the sun is up.”

Discharging the battery to supply electricity at night, or on rainy days, is then a matter of connecting a load to a different set of electrodes, before passing the charged electrolyte through the device and letting the electricity flow out.

Before people get too excited, though, Jin said that the research still represents a work in progress.

“This is still an early prototype,” he said. “We’ve got a workable device, which we’ve shown can be charged without wasting too much energy in its cycles, but it only has a solar conversion efficiency level of about 1.7 percent. That’s compared to current commercial solar cells, which can be around 15-20 percent. Clearly we’re not at the level of being practically competitive yet, but as we point out in the paper we’ve got a lot of ideas for obvious directions we can take the research to improve the solar conversion efficiency, as well as the energy storage density.”

Product Review

LG Gram 14 proves 2-in-1 laptops don’t need to sacrifice battery for light weight

The LG Gram 14 2-in-1 aims to be very light for a laptop that converts to a tablet. And it is. But it doesn’t skimp on the battery, and so it lasts a very long time on a charge.

The best battery packs and power stations for use in the outdoors

If you want to keep your smartphones, tablets, and other devices charged while camping int he backcountry these battery packs and portable power stations are rugged enough to survive while providing plenty of power too.

Keep your laptop battery in tip-top condition with these handy tips

Learn how to care for your laptop's battery, how it works, and what you can do to make sure yours last for years and retains its charge. Check out our handy guide for valuable tips, no matter what type of laptop you have.
Emerging Tech

The best solar chargers for your phone, tablet, and other battery-powered gear

Looking for a gizmo that can help you charge your phone while on the go? Here, we've outlined the best solar chargers on the market, whether you're looking to charge your phone once, twice, or three times over.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.