Nanoparticles for mega power – The “MEGAnanoPower” project aims to optimize an innovative energy storage device

In the Nano Argovia project “MEGAnanoPower”, scientists from the FHNW School of Life Sciences, the CSEM in Muttenz, and the industrial partner Aigys AG (Othmarsingen, AG) are seeking to optimize the PowerCell® battery, which was invented by Aigys. Using environmentally friendly materials, the researchers hope to develop a sustainable and affordable energy storage device for large-scale applications.

New storage media needed
Renewable energies such as wind and solar power are becoming an increasingly important part of our energy supply. As these energy sources continue to expand, there is a need for new storage media that can not only absorb peaks in energy production but also make energy available quickly in the event of prolonged periods of time without wind or sunshine.

Until now, research into storage media has centered around lithium-ion batteries. Instead, the “MEGAnanoPower” project is focusing its attention on a flow cell battery in order to avoid the key disadvantages that lithium-ion batteries exhibit. Since it was founded in 2011, the company Aigys AG has been actively involved in the search for alternatives and has patented a special flow cell battery known as the PowerCell®. The project partners, Professor Uwe Pieles from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), Dr. Sören Fricke from the CSEM (Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique) in Muttenz, and Dipl.-Ing. Andreas Schimanski, CEO of Aigys, are studying various approaches to further optimize the battery.

Energy supplied by an electrochemical reaction
As in a conventional flow cell battery, the PowerCell® stores electrical energy in the form of chemical compounds, which are held in two separate circuits. One circuit contains ions that have a high electronegativity and therefore readily accept electrons (e.g. Zn2+). A second, separate circuit contains ions with a lower electronegativity, which readily donate electrons (e.g. Cer3+). Ions are exchanged between the two circuits across a membrane, resulting in electron donation on one side of the membrane and electron acceptance on the other side. These oxidation and reduction processes release electrical energy.

Unlike in a conventional flow cell battery, however, the charge carriers in the PowerCell® are not held in solution. Instead, high-pressure technology is used to disperse them into the electrolytes in the form of small spheres measuring just a few micrometers in diameter.

MEGAnanoPower to increase storage capacity
These small particles in the dispersion need to be stabilized over a prolonged period of time and a higher charge density needs to be achieved. “We want to reduce the particle size of the solid electrolytes in order to achieve a higher energy density,” says Aigys CEO Andreas Schimanski on the project’s objectives. “In order to exploit the full potential of our PowerCell®, we’re relying on the expertise of the interdisciplinary team behind the Nano Argovia project MEGAnanoPower.”

The overall aim is to increase the solid electrolyte content in order to expand the storage capacity. In addition, the researchers are studying how the electrodes can be improved and how the membrane must be adapted to nanoparticles with a view to improving the efficiency of the electrochemical reaction. In all modifications, the interdisciplinary team is taking care to use abundant, environmentally friendly materials and compounds that solve the energy storage problem in a genuinely sustainable manner without causing problems in industrial operations.