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"Wattery Battery" -- The Discovery Files

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Stanford researchers have developed an affordable, durable technology that could harness "blue energy" -- energy produced from the mixing and mingling of salty ocean water and freshwater. They've targeted their technology for wastewater treatment plants, which are energy-intensive, consuming three percent of the total U.S. electrical load. The team says that by scaling up the process a treatment facility could fully run off the grid, immune to blackouts -- and maybe even have power to share.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Go with the flow.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

You've got your wind power, solar energy, biofuels -- then there's "Blue energy." Energy produced when (Sound effect: water sounds) salt water and fresh water mix and mingle. Stanford University researchers have developed a new blue energy battery that's simplicity and cost-effectiveness could mean energy independence for coastal area water treatment facilities.

A great place to start for the technology; a facility that requires a lot of energy and has a supply of freshwater and (Sound effect: seagull) saltwater.

Not the first blue energy battery, but the first to use battery electrochemistry instead of pressure or membranes. In the team's prototype, the sodium and chloride ions are released from the battery's electrodes into the solution, and the current flows from one electrode to the other. Then the batteries quickly flushed with seawater -- and the ions are reincorporated into the electrodes and the current flow reverses. Freshwater flush; seawater flush. Back and forth. The battery's constantly discharging and re-charging. No additional energy input needed.

(Sound effect: water treatment plant) The team says by scaling up the process -- they're working on that now -- a treatment facility could fully run off the grid, immune to blackouts. And maybe even have power to share.

A fresh, energizing idea that's definitely; worth its salt.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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