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Student Devises Lithium Battery for Solar Energy Storage

Technicians in front solar panel array (NREL)

(National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

A joint research project between a graduate student at University of Southampton in the U.K. and the company REAPSystems, also in Southampton, has resulted in a battery that can help improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of solar power. REAPSystems was founded by Dennis Doerffel, himself a former Southampton researcher and now the company’s CEO.

A continuing challenge for solar energy is the need to store excess power generated on sunny days, for use at night or on cloudy days. Lead acid batteries, like those used in today’s gasoline-powered cars, have been tried for this purpose, but their lower efficiency and higher cost have been barriers.

Southampton graduate student Yue Wu in the university’s Sustainable Energy Technologies program, devised and tested lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries as a substitute for the lead acid variety. Wu connected the LiFePO4 device to test it with a photovoltaic solar system on one of the university buildings.

REAPSystems provided the battery management system for collecting the data. The company’s off-the-shelf battery management system monitors the status of each cell in a battery and manages relevant factors such as temperature, cell voltages, and current.

The results showed the lithium battery had a 95 percent efficiency rating compared to 80 percent for the lead acid battery. The lithium battery also weighed less and had a longer life span (1,600 charge/discharge cycles) than the lead acid battery. The findings indicate the LiFePO4 battery has the potential to improve the efficiency of solar power systems and reduce the costs of both installation and upkeep.

The lithium battery developed by Wu still needs more testing and development before it can be taken to market. Wu’s faculty advisers plan to keep the project going in future graduate student classes.

Read more: Engineers Develop Nanotech Solar Thermal Fuel Cell

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