Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Vanadium Research Recharged

By Stephen Luntz

US President Barack Obama has described Maria Skyllas-Kazacos’ research as “one of the coolest things I’ve ever said out loud”.

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Vanadium redox batteries could be electricity’s ultimate storage mechanism. With the cost of electricity production from renewable energy falling rapidly, the obstacle to a fossil fuel-free future is the lack of appropriate storage solutions. Vanadium may be the answer.

If so, Em/Prof Maria Skyllas-Kazacos will be no overnight success. After undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of NSW she did a postdoc at Bell Labs in the United States before returning to UNSW to work with solar energy pioneer Prof Martin Green.

In 1984 Green was interested in NASA’s work on redox flow batteries, where discharged electrolytes can be replaced with fully charged substitutes. However, NASA’s iron chromium electrolytes quickly became mixed, requiring reprocessing. Skyllas-Kazacos agreed that the solution would be to use an electrolyte with four oxidation states.

“A colleague was working on extraction of vanadium and pointed out it has lots of oxidation states,” recalls Skyllas-Kazacos. She wasn’t the first to consider vanadium for this role, but others had concluded that the reactions involved were not reversible, and the concentrations too dilute for practical application.

“I spent a year finding ways to make the reactions reversible,” Skyllas-Kazacos says. “Then I found a way to increase the concentration, proving the technology was viable.”...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.