Next-generation batteries will be crucial for a decarbonized, electrified future. They will improve grid reliability and resilience while enabling greater integration of renewable energy. These advanced batteries can also provide backup power during natural disasters like ice storms, extreme heatwaves, hurricanes and more.
To accelerate development of future battery technologies with enhanced reliability and lower costs, the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity is funding a new facility - the Grid Storage Launchpad (GSL). GSL opens in 2024 on the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) campus. Research at GSL will complement PNNL's existing efforts across the street at the Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center, where projects aim to improve the resiliency of the national grid.
"GSL will allow us to take new technologies from basic materials development all the way to testing 100 kilowatt systems under real-world conditions," said PNNL advisor Vince Sprenkle, who leads PNNL's energy storage research. "Energy storage is critical for resilience and reliability in a decarbonized grid. GSL gets us there."
PNNL researchers already test battery technologies, model new materials for efficient long-duration storage, and develop strategies to safely deploy new systems.
Testing and Validating Grid Storage Batteries
In the Battery Reliability Test Lab, materials scientist David Reed heads a team testing battery technologies like sodium-ion and flow batteries for grid storage. Grid batteries must store many hours of power and operate for years. Reed's team tests batteries under diverse energy demand scenarios to ensure real-world viability.
"We analyze why a battery degraded under certain cycles and how to prolong its life," Reed said.
While lithium-ion has long been favored, PNNL studies alternative materials like sodium-ion, nickel-iron and lead-acid to provide cost-effective long-duration storage. Testing optimizes performance, which is critical for commercialization.
With expanded capabilities at GSL, PNNL can increase testing volume and battery size, directly supporting the DOE's Long Duration Storage Earthshot goal - 10+ hours of storage at 90% of today's cost within a decade.
Advancing Technology with AI and Machine Learning
Testing individual materials is not enough. A molecule's structure affects behavior, so different structures must be evaluated.
PNNL is exploring organic-flow batteries using organic molecules dissolved in liquid electrolytes. The molecules must be soluble to shuffle electrons. But solubility is complex to study, said materials scientist Wei Wang. Numerous molecules and solubilities must be tested to find optimal flow battery candidates.
Moreover, molecules can share core structures but have different atom subgroups. "For each molecule, there are potentially thousands of variations. How do you know which to work with? The problem scale is astronomical," Wang said.
Studying each variation is costly and time-consuming, so PNNL is developing a "digital twin battery" - a machine learning model to simulate behavior and test digital versions of molecules. With AI accelerating testing, Wang's team can build the model with GSL's flood of data from larger battery studies.
New technologies carry potential hazards. Large grid batteries have risks, so PNNL supports unique safety standards guiding safe system design and installation. GSL will have built-in safety features.
PNNL also focuses on safety for end-user communities. Complex energy storage systems with batteries, converters, air conditioning and more have inherent safeguards but also failure risks, said PNNL advisor Matthew Paiss. A former firefighter, Paiss specializes in system safety and educates stakeholders on battery emergencies and fires. GSL will enable tailored safety courses for local communities like firefighters and emergency responders.
"We're just scratching the surface of opportunities we can provide," said Paiss. "We want to educate anyone on battery lifecycles, whether they manufacture batteries or not."
The Future of Energy Storage
At GSL, researchers like Reed, Wang and Paiss can collaborate to accelerate decarbonization. The facility will also foster industry partnerships on long-duration storage challenges.
"Some battery problems only emerge at grid-scale," said advisor Sprenkle. "To solve long-term storage, stakeholders must align. GSL will be the focal point for those collaborations."