Iron-Air Rechargeable Battery

University of Southern California (USC)
A Robust and Inexpensive Iron-Air Rechargeable Battery for Grid-Scale Energy Storage
Graphic of USC's technology
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$1,509,324
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
Project Term: 
10/01/2010 to 09/30/2013
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Critical Need: 
Our national electric grid has limited ability to store excess energy, so electricity must constantly be over-generated to assure reliable supply. Though wind and solar power are promising clean alternatives to fossil fuels, their natural unpredictability and intermittency present major challenges to delivery of the consistent power that is necessary to operate today's grid. The U.S. needs technologies that can store renewable energy for future grid-use at any location. Flexible, large-scale storage would create a stronger and more robust electric grid by enabling renewables to contribute to reliable power generation.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
USC is developing an iron-air rechargeable battery for large-scale energy storage that could help integrate renewable energy sources into the electric grid. Iron-air batteries have the potential to store large amounts of energy at low cost--iron is inexpensive and abundant, while oxygen is freely obtained from the air we breathe. However, current iron-air battery technologies have suffered from low efficiency and short life spans. USC is working to dramatically increase the efficiency of the battery by placing chemical additives on the battery's iron-based electrode and restructuring the catalysts at the molecular level on the battery's air-based electrode. This can help the battery resist degradation and increase life span. The goal of the project is to develop a prototype iron-air battery at significantly cost lower than today's best commercial batteries.
Impact Summary: 
If successful, USC's iron-air battery would represent a low-cost alternative to the best commercial batteries in use today. This technology could be scaled up to provide substantial storage capacity for the use of renewable power within the electric grid.
Security: 
A more efficient and reliable grid would be more resilient to potential disruptions.
Environment: 
Electricity generation accounts for over 40% of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Enabling large-scale contributions of wind and solar power for our electricity generation would result in a substantial decrease in CO2 emissions.
Economy: 
Increases in the availability of wind and solar power would reduce fossil fuel demand, resulting in reduced fuel prices and more stable electricity rates.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. John Lemmon
Project Contact: 
Prof. Sri Narayan
Partners
Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL)