This research work, led by the Basque Center, involves the participation of four BRTA centers (Tecnalia, Tekniker, Ikerlan and Cidetec), together with the UPV/EHU and Mondragon Unibertsitatea universities, and the BERC Polymat center.

CIC energiGUNE, the Basque research center of reference in battery storage, thermal energy solutions and hydrogen technologies, and member of the Basque Research & Technology Alliance-BRTA, has obtained important collaborative results in four promising lines of research linked to the overcoming the current framework of electrochemical and thermal energy storage technologies that will facilitate the global energy transition process. The work has been developed within the framework of the CICe2020 project, included in the Elkartek 2020 call of the Basque Government to promote Collaborative Research, and has focused on two main objectives: to offer different technological alternatives that are more sustainable than lithium-ion batteries for stationary storage, and to improve current thermal storage technologies.

The Elkartek CICe2020 project has been led by CIC energiGUNE, as a reference center in energy storage, with the participation of four other BRTA centers (Tecnalia, Tekniker, Ikerlan and Cidetec), together with the UPV/EHU and Mondragon Unibertsitatea universities, and the BERC Polymat center.

“The results of this project confirm that, in the medium term, the Basque industry is going to be able to develop and industrialize disruptive products related to stationary storage”, said Montse Casas, scientific coordinator of CIC energiGUNE. “Moreover, it has shown the great capacity of the Basque ecosystem, since eight entities have collaborated in its development, five of which are part of the BRTA”.

The work has led to 4 major breakthroughs, with innovative results. Of these, three correspond to the search of an efficient alternative to the current lithium-ion technologies, which is the dominant option in the international market and which “hides several technological, economic and environmental challenges that clash with European development objectives”, the Basque center reminded.

In this sense, the three lines of research applied to the stationary sector within the CICe2020 have been: research on materials and analysis of their behavior for sodium batteries; development of materials for metal-air batteries; and research on a new generation of redox-flow batteries based on an organic aqueous electrolyte.

Regarding research on sodium-ion batteries, work has focused on the development of new materials (anodes, cathodes and electrolytes) with the aim of improving the electrochemical performance of this type of batteries, as well as the control and optimization of the processing and prototyping of the cells manufactured with these materials. Specifically, in the CIC energiGUNE laboratories very relevant results have been obtained, such as the improvement of energy density up to 20% and the large-scale processing of a sodium cathode and anode in the stage immediately prior to industrialization.

The second line of research within the framework CICe2020 has opened the door to the development of stationary storage technologies based on the application of oxygen (metal-air batteries) due to their high density of energy and, specially, their advantages from the environmental and resources utilization point of view, leading to the production of cathodes and the development of a harmless electrolyte. Studies have made significant progress in both the sodium-air combination and the zinc-air format.

As far as zinc-air is concerned, a system with very promising electrochemical properties has been developed. This progress has been a result of the optimization of formulations –anode and cathode- and the correct selection of materials. Compared to the most widely used lead acid technology in this field, the zinc-air alternative presents better environmental characteristics.

The third line of research within the electrochemical storage corresponds to the development of a new generation of flow batteries based on an aqueous organic electrolyte. In this sense, several organic active materials have been developed that can replace vanadium –the most widely used element in these types of batteries-. Moreover, work has been carried out in the joint development of the components of the power module, principally membranes and electrodes that can make possible the implementation of those organic materials. As a result, an electrolyte has been obtained that combines high energy densities without compromising its stability and opens the way for a new generation of flow batteries.

Advances in thermal storage

The fourth line of research of the Elkartek CICe2020 project has focused specifically on thermal storage technologies, based on the assumption that electricity generation and heating and cooling sectors play a very relevant role in the transformation towards a decarbonized economy.

The main challenge in this field has been the generation of a versatile system, with a lower cost and higher storage density, resulting in systems up to 3 times more compact than the conventional ones. These challenges have been addressed through the selection of Plastic Crystals as the basis for the development of the project. These materials are extremely energy dense and can be combined to adjust their working temperature to that required by the system. The solid-solid phase change materials and the development of new coverings also make it possible to dispense with heat exchangers, thus reducing costs.

After the work carried out, it has been possible to decipher the undercooling mechanisms of Plastic Crystals, as well as to reduce this effect and thus increasing their thermal conductivity, which allows to face with good prospects their practical applications. In fact, the work carried out in this field aims to open the door to a new generation of solid-solid phase change materials for thermal storage, which will contribute to the future development of new  thermal storage systems for domestic or industrial heat pumps, and in this way, advance in the electrification of heat. As a consequence, the volume of storage tanks and their investment costs will be drastically reduced.

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