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What in the world are flow batteries?

Engineers have been tinkering with a variety of ways for us to store the clean energy we create in batteries. Though the renewable energy battery industry is still in its infancy, there are some popular energy storage system technologies using lead-acid and high-power lithium-ion (Li-ion) combinations which have led the market in adoption.

Even so, those aforementioned battery types have deficiencies. They both have a relatively short lifespan and aren’t recommended to be fully discharged before they should be charged up again. Battery geeks refer to the latter feature as a shallow “depth of discharge”.

Flow batteries are a new entrant into the battery storage market, aimed at large-scale energy storage applications. This storage technology has been in research and development for several decades, though is now starting to gain some real-world use.

Flow battery technology is noteworthy for its unique design. Instead of a single encased battery cell where electrolyte mixes readily with conductors, the fluid is separated into two tanks and electrons flow through electrochemical cells and a membrane which separates them.

In this article, we’ll get into more details about how they work, compare the advantages of flow batteries vs low-cost lithium ion batteries, discuss some potential applications, and provide an industry outlook for their expanded use.

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