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Scientists at the University of Southern California created a "natural" battery using quinones, organic compounds that can be found in both plants and animals.


‘Natural’ Battery Created At USC Lab

Scientists at the University of Southern California created a “natural” battery using quinones, organic compounds that can be found in both plants and animals.

Scientists at the University of Southern California created a battery using quinones, organic compounds that can be found in nature. Plants, fungi, bacteria and some animals contain them. “These are the types of molecules that nature uses for energy transfer,” explained USC professor Sri Narayan. The researchers derived their quinones from naturally-occurring hydrocarbons. The point of using them is their much lower cost. Currently, it is more common for flow batteries to use metals, such as Vanadium, but the cost is higher for metals.

Image Credit: Nick B. Wiki Commons

Redox flow design

The new battery is based on a familiar design: the redox flow battery. This type of battery can use water as an electrolyte that also contains some dissolved electroactive chemicals. Narayan and Surya Prakash at USC  wanted to use an organic compound to dissolve in water for their electrolyte. A large redox flow battery has been operating successfully at a California almond farm to store energy generated by a solar array. The Enervault battery on the almond farm near Turlock, CA uses iron-chromium in the electrolyte.

Quinones: the Energy Carriers for a Natural Battery

Quinones are in plants such as black walnut, persimmons, aloe, buckwheat, teak and many others. In plants, quinones carry electrons and occur as pigments. Animals that contain them obtain them through ingestion.

An example of an insect using quinones , or a type of them, is the bombardier beetle’s defensive spray, which is emitted at a temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and can be irritating to the target. They aren’t only found in nature though. Sources can also be human-made such as benzene and naphthalene.

In fact, the USC scientists said they might be able to make them from CO2, which would be quite a twist. Material used in flow batteries to store energy made from solar arrays and wind turbines could be made from a fossil fuel byproduct. They aren’t the only ones to conduct research into the potential use of quinones for flow batteries. In January 2014, it was reported that scientists at Harvard were also experimenting with them.


ARPA-E, the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute and the University of Southern California funded the USC research.

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