Chinese scientist Dr.Yiying Wu discusses latest progress on solar air batteries

Dr. Yiying Wu,  professor of chemistry and biochemistry at  Ohio State University and a native of Anhui province, logged onto social network site Reddit to answer questions about his latest research on storing solar energy.

“So far, we’ve invented a solar air battery (a “breathing” battery that releases oxygen when it’s charged by sunlight) and an aqueous solar flow battery (which has an eco-friendly water-based electrolyte circulating in it),” he wrote in the introduction to the “AMA” (ask me anything).

Their research is so promising, they recently won $100,000 clean energy prize from the U.S. Department of Energy.   For a good summary of Dr.Yiying’s work, check out the project’s youtube video.

He was joined by doctoral students Mingzhe Yu, from Suzhou,  and Billy McCulloch, from Ohio.

Here’s a compiled list of responses given by Dr. Yiying Wu to questions from users:


Q: Maxzon – For someone who has no idea how this works, could you explain it?

A: Dr. Yiying Wu (YW) –  We can use photosynthesis as an analogy. The solar panel captures the light, and the battery directly stores the energy as chemical energy. So when there’s no sunlight, the stored energy can be released as electric energy.


Q: Hobolow – Would the work you’re pursuing have potentially large scale applicability or otherwise move towards lessen the inherent shortcomings of solar power?

A: YW – Our invention solves the instantaneous supply/demand issue since we can harvest solar energy in the day and store it, then we can output the electricity at night or when it’s cloudy.


Q: OriginalNameHereOk -What are the biggest challenges for you? Storage? Distribution? Politics? Or?

A: YW – The biggest challenge is always the “valley of death” — the transition from an academic lab to commercial application, which requires patience and fortitude.


Q:  Spankthatdill – Will these actually become a thing? We’ve heard about and seen stories on batteries removing our demand for the grid for 10+ years now. What makes these any different from the dozen or so other folks that have promoted things here that we’ve never heard of before?

A: YW –  What makes this different is that we’re combining solar cells and batteries into one device, and we are building the new devices based on developed technology. So we believe that to be a less risky approach. We still need to pass the “valley of death” out of academia into commercial development.


Q:  TPNigl – Where in the scale of energy storage do you believe this technology will fit best? (consumer electronics, car batteries, microgrid storage, large scale storage)?

A: YW –   Microgrid and large scale storage


Q: MrSparks4 – Most solar cell installations offer 11-15% of energy converted to electricity. Your results show roughly 4% energy. If your system is 20% more effective storing energy then you’re still considerably below the current efficiency. What’s your plans to reduce cost or to increase efficiency to make your idea competitive with what’s on the market?

A: YW – The efficiency is not the only consideration. The cost is more important for the market penetration. So, right now, our solar battery has a small photocurrent. That’s what we are working on. We are targeting a 10% efficiency.


Q: SixVISix – I’d like to know if you are experiencing any push back from the energy industry or do you see the industry making a real attempt to change for the better?

A: YW – No pushback. We are talking with some potential partners in the energy industry.


Q:  thiney49 – What are the batteries made of, and are there any environmental concerns about using them?

A: YW –  In our solar flow battery, the process is similar to natural photosynthesis. We capture the light using a dye-sensitized photoelectrode (TiO2), and then we store the energy in an aqueous flow battery, so the electrolyte is water. So as long as the electrolyte is properly contained, there is no environmental concern.

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