Revolution in energy storage with vanillin

Scientists from the Institute of Chemistry of Polymeric Materials at the University of Leoben are researching a sustainable solution for batteries to store energy from renewable power generation. Together with an interdisciplinary project team, coordinated by the company Ecolyte, they are developing a redox-flow battery system that uses vanillin, an aroma component of the vanilla pod, as a redox-active component to generate electricity. This is how supply fluctuations in the electricity grid can be prevented in the long term. Research at the University of Leoben is focusing on the modification of carbon felts, the electron conductors of the battery system.

Redox flow batteries have already been in use for several years to balance supply fluctuations from renewable energy sources and thus keep our electricity grid stable. The functional principle of redox flow batteries is based on chemical reactions of liquids in the tank. They are long-lasting, inherently safe to operate and can be easily adapted to specific requirements - from small applications, e.g. in households, to large systems for load balancing. Currently, the main commercial technologies of redox-flow batteries are based on unsustainable and noxious materials that also damage other battery components, making early replacement necessary. The consortium is coordinated by the start-up Ecolyte andGraz University of Technology, and comprises the Spanish company Biobide, Darmstadt University of Technology and the Institute of Chemistry of Polymeric Materials at Montanuniversität Leoben is researching a holistic solution for sustainable redox-flow batteries within the "VanillaFlow" project.

Vanillin as a game changer: new raw material comes into play:

The aim of the project VanillaFlow is to develop an environmentally friendly battery system that works with renewable raw materials that are readily available in the EU and do not release any harmful substances during recycling. In particular, chemical structures such as vanillin, the aroma component of the vanilla pod, and derived hydroquinones are being investigated. In a novel biotechnological process, vanillin is to be converted with the help of modified yeasts so that it can be used in a battery as a redox-active molecule to generate electricity. The application of these new reactive components also enables the use of more environmentally friendly materials in other battery components. For example, new paper-based membranes that serve as a barrier between the liquids in the battery are to be developed, and the surface properties of the carbon felts that serve as electron conductors in the battery are also to be optimized. In addition, artificial intelligence will be used in the process: customized AI support systems will help both in the development of the battery and in its integration into existing systems as well as in the control of charging and discharging. The developed battery system will ultimately be integrated into the photovoltaic network on the TU Graz campus.

Our contribution: Improved surfaces for greater efficiency and durability

As part of the project, the Institute of Chemistry of Polymeric Materials at Montanuniversität Leoben is working on optimizing the surfaces of carbon felts. As already described, these felts serve as electron conductors ensuring the flow of electrons to the current collectors. Until now, this component of the battery has received little attention in research, but this is now set to change. By modifying the surface, the conductivity of the felts is to be improved on the one hand, allowing more current to be conducted, and on the other hand, soiling and deposits are to be minimized so that the life time of the carbon felts is increased. For this purpose, selected methods for surface functionalization are being researched using wet-chemical and dry activation methods, as well as silanization and grafting  approaches.  This process is also supported by AI systems.

Projectpartner: Technische Universität Graz (Coordinator), Ecolyte GmbH, Biobide, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Lehrstuhl für Chemie der Kunststoffe an der Montanuniversität Leoben


Dipl.-Ing. Dr.mont. Christine Bandl
+43 3842 402 – 2306

Foto von Jocelyn Morales auf Unsplash