Could we power a full solar energy grid with sulfur-based batteries?

Published: October 23, 2017

There are many types of renewable energy sources, from wind and waterpower to harnessing the power of the sun with solar power. However, what happens with its cloudy, or there is no wind one day? These sources of power, although renewable, are also unpredictable.


In 2012, President Obama’s energy secretary wanted to create a solar grid to help store the excess power produced by renewable power sources. But what he didn’t want was this solution to cost the government a bucket-load of money and he wanted it to have 5 times more capacity than a typical grid.


Yet-Ming Chiang, MIT’s department of material science and engineering in 2012 jumped at the idea of using “sulfur as the cathode, or negative terminal, and water as the electrolyte solution that holds the energy” and after all was said and done, Mr. Chiang’s battery would cost $1k per kWh. This battery would be relatively inexpensive to produce as opposed to the common batteries (lithium-ion) that we use in the majority of our devices today. If we produced the same mega-sized battery with lithium-ion style battery rather than the sulfur-based that Chiang is proposing, then it would cost $200/kWh.


This type of grid, if successful, would be a game changer to renewable energy sources as now we would be able to store the excess power and it would more cost-effective to have more renewable energy plants like solar and wind-powered plants. This sulfur-battery powered grid could also bring more domestic jobs to local areas across the country.


This project is far from complete though as currently the sulfur-based battery can only hold up to 1,500 hours worth of energy total, which is far from enough to power a grid-sized solar network. But it is within our lifetime.

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