The Elements of Innovation Discovered

Zero-waste, water-based organic redox flow

Metal Tech News - March 20, 2024


Quino Energy upcycles coal and wood tar into organic quinones, which are most commonly found in a large variety of natural dyes and turn out to be excellent battery reactants.

Quino's first-of-a-kind continuous production organic flow battery process.

Quino Energy is a start-up developing water-based redox flow batteries that can cost-effectively store up to 40 hours of electrical energy in organic molecules called quinones. The company upcycles coal and wood tar into these molecules, which are commonly used to make a large variety of natural dyes but also happen to be excellent battery reactants.

Mid- to long-duration battery storage solutions such as the one being developed by Quino are needed to balance the supply of renewable power from intermittent sources like wind and solar and peak period customer demand that does not always happen when the sun is shining or a breeze is blowing.

While short-duration grid storage has predominantly been performed by lithium-ion batteries, flow batteries have been developed as an alternative well-suited for longer durations between four and 40 hours.

Naturally superior

While synthetic dyes are typically produced from petrochemical sources, natural colorants are abundantly available – plant biomass being the most sustainable source. These dyes have been used for centuries to color cotton, silk, wool, and leather, as well as in henna, hair color, inks, candles, and food.

Organic quinones tend to decompose over time, which at first glance would reduce their appeal in a battery. However, a game-changing discovery demonstrates that the decomposed material can be restored simply by mild oxidation, either by bubbling air through the battery electrolyte or by simply performing an extra-deep discharge of the flow battery.

Some quinones are composed of redox-active molecules with high water solubility and chemical stability. They can be converted between reduced hydroquinone and oxidized quinone forms, making them ideal for water-based flow battery reactants.

Unlike its lithium-ion competitor, the quinone flow battery suffers no adverse effects from low states of charge or deep discharge.

Ready to greenlight

Quino Energy's quinone flow battery, with technologies developed and originally licensed from Harvard University, has been running its offices on an onsite microgrid with six kilowatt-hour systems using the same full-size commercial stacks that could be deployed at 100 megawatt-hour-scale, allowing operations to move off-grid as needed.

Installed in commercial flow battery hardware originally designed for vanadium – the organic active material has successfully demonstrated a degradation rate of less than 1% per year – a rate three times lower than the typical lithium-ion phosphate competitors used in grid storage today.

The water-based organic battery active material pilot production line has achieved a manufacturing readiness level (MRL) 7. This designation confirms a capability to begin production at a smaller scale, with present materials available and costs and supply chain as it is now.

"Witnessing Quino's remarkable progress, from groundbreaking technology at Harvard to achieving MRL 7 for their zero-waste production process, reaffirms our confidence in its vision and potential to provide affordable and practical long-term grid energy storage solutions," said Guy Yavin, Investment Director at Doral Energy-Tech Ventures, one of Quino Energy's seed stage investors. "Quino Energy's success not only positions them as leaders in the flow battery industry but also catalyzes the widespread adoption of cost-effective energy storage solutions in the U.S. market."

Lean and green

Quino Energy's pilot design converts upcycled chemical dyestuff into high-performance, long-lifetime quinone battery active material through an electrochemical reaction using a modified flow battery stack as the chemical reactor. No downstream purification is needed, creating zero chemical waste from a cheap and abundant feedstock.

Quino says cost comparison will be equal to or below vanadium, a popular redox flow battery material that is often sourced from Russia or China.

"With this pilot production line, we will be able to produce flow battery reactants that are immediately cost-competitive with vanadium," said Quino Energy CEO Eugene Beh. "Ultimately, Quino Energy's technology will enable organic flow battery systems to reach half the cost of lithium-ion batteries. Our organic battery material will allow flow batteries to finally become a viable, mainstream choice for grid energy storage. We are especially grateful for the generous support from DOE AMMTO that made it possible to bridge the gap from making a few grams in the lab at Harvard to the full ton-scale pilot production line we have today."

Animation courtesy Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Moving forward

Electrosynthesis Company, Quino Energy's partner and co-developer, operates the pilot at its facility near Buffalo, N.Y. Later this year, the operation will be relocated and further scaled up at a manufacturing site in Houston, Texas, for pilot demonstrations at the megawatt-hour scale.

"I am impressed by how far Quino Energy has come in such a short time. Their successful scaleup of their zero-waste active material production process will accelerate the widespread deployment of cost-effective domestically produced energy storage in the U.S.," said Changwon Suh, Technology Manager at the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office (DOE AMMTO).

Quino Energy received $4.58 million in funding through DOE AMMTO to support production line development as part of the DOE's ongoing efforts to strengthen the U.S. domestic flow battery manufacturing ecosystem.

"Quino Energy's safe organic flow battery technology made from abundant materials is a complete redefinition of what's possible," Added Marcus Clover, Partner at Energy Revolution Ventures, a Quino Energy seed investor.

Quino Energy's organic flow battery chemistry has the potential to emerge as a significantly cheaper alternative to lithium-ion and a leader in the organic redox flow market.

With rapid scalability and accessibility at half the cost of lithium-ion, three times less degradation rate than lithium iron phosphate, no risk of fire and zero synthetic chemical and critical mineral usage, these organic batteries tick all the boxes on a sustainable, green energy future.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated on 03/20/2024 to reflect the duration of energy storage of Quino Energy batteries.


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