Researchers at the University of Southern California have developed a low-cost, eco-friendly iron-air battery which could change how we store energy from renewable sources in coming years.

The team of researchers, led by USC professor of chemistry Sri Narayan, have come up with an efficient iron-air battery based on decades-old technology which utilizes oxygen to oxidize iron plates. The chemical energy that is generated by the process is then stored in the battery until it is needed. Past versions of iron-air batteries were not too efficient, losing 50 percent of their stored energy to another chemical reaction going on inside the battery which created hydrogen. By adding a small amount of bismuth sulfide (the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol) into the battery, Narayan’s research has gotten this energy loss down to just 4 percent and the new batteries have the capacity to store between 8 and 24 hours worth of energy.

“Iron is cheap and air is free,” Narayan said. “It’s the future.”

It’s not only the future because iron is cheap and air is free; the technology makes batteries that are a fraction of the cost of lithium-ion batteries while being more eco-friendly. So not only would a new iron-air battery be useful for deployment in solar and wind farm applications to store generated energy, it could also eventually be used for electric vehicles or our personal electronics.

California utility companies as well as the federal government have expressed interest in the findings, and the team has filed patents on the technology. They aren’t ones to rest on their laurels, either; they are now working to make the batteries store more energy while using less iron. The future of energy storage may be here sooner than we expect.

[via Energy Harvesting Journal]

Image Credit: USC Dornsife