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UArizona researchers working on nontoxic battery to store renewable energy

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AZ Inno

Researchers at the University of Arizona have formed a startup with plans to use a metal-free electrolyte they’ve developed to make nontoxic batteries that can store large amounts of electricity.

CarbeniumTec LLC was launched by a team from UArizona’s College of Science and College of Medicine-Tucson with the idea of addressing the need to develop more methods to store and deliver large amounts of electricity for long periods of time.

“We strive to develop a sustainable, metal-free and environmentally friendly solution that addresses the increasing demand for electricity storage,” said a statement from co-inventor Thomas Gianetti, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and co-founder and chief executive officer of CarbeniumTec.

Gianetti said that in Arizona, energy storage needs are expected to increase by 3,000 megawatts hours by 2030. For reference, an average American home uses almost 11 megawatt hours of energy each year.

These storage needs come from the increased use of sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind energy, which produced power intermittently, meaning much of it must be stored before it can be used.

The lithium-ion based batteries that are widely used now are most suitable for a few hours of storage. That means new technologies can have a place in the energy market without necessarily replacing the kinds of batteries used in electronic devices people use every day.

UArizona team developing small-scale prototype

The battery envisioned by CarbeniumTec won’t require metals like lithium, rare earth metals, heavy metals or other materials that are toxic and corrosive, and that come from limited sources.

The new system was invented by Gianetti and CarbiniumTec’s co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jules Moutet, who was a postdoctoral research associate in Gianetti’s lab. Together they used a proprietary, metal-free, nontoxic electrolyte based on organic chemistry to develop what they described as a new type of organic-based reduction-oxidation (or “redox”) flow battery.

These kinds of batteries store and discharge energy through changes in charge states of ions kept in chemical solutions that are recirculated by pumps, the researchers said.

The team plans to develop a small-scale prototype with an eye toward securing a contract to demonstrate a scaled-up version of the technology.

The startup is getting help from Tech Launch Arizona, or TLA, which is the UArizona office that commercializes inventions stemming from research at the institution. The help included supplemental funding and the opportunity to participate in the TLA’s offering of the National Science Foundation I-Corps customer delivery program. The researchers were then accepted into the national-level program.

The startup is a recent winner of the UArizona Center for Innovation’s Sponsored Launch program, which gave the company a sponsored year of admission to the center.

CarbiniumTec is based at the UA Tech Park at Rita Road in Tucson.


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