Harvard University researchers report an advance in organic flow battery of biblical proportions. The energy storage breakthrough is attributed to a newly discovered long-lived, high-performing organic molecule nicknamed the Methuselah quinone — after the longest-lived biblical figure.

Organic flow batteries are a potentially safer, less expensive alternative to lithium-ion batteries and vanadium flow batteries for large-scale renewable energy storage. With the inclusion of the new quinone, these devices could usefully store and release energy many tens of thousands of times over multi-year periods.

The Methuselah molecule is a modified quinone, an abundant, naturally occurring molecule integral to biological processes such as photosynthesis and cellular respiration. The researchers characterized the degradation process of previous quinone molecules in flow batteries and made modifications to increase the calendar life.

During laboratory trials, the Methuselah molecule demonstrated a fade rate of less than 0.01 percent per day and less than 0.001 percent per charge-discharge cycle. This translates into a less than 3 percent degradation over the course of a year, and useful operation for tens of thousands of cycles.

The stable molecule can store more energy in a smaller space and operates in a weak alkaline electrolyte. These properties reduce the cost of the battery by allowing use of inexpensive containment materials and an inexpensive polymer membrane to separate the positive and negative terminals.

The research is published in the journal Joule.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com