Computational and experimental investigation of the effect of cation structure on the solubility of anionic flow battery active-materials†
Recent advances in clean, sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar have enabled significant cost improvements, yet their inherent intermittency remains a considerable challenge for year-round reliability demanding the need for grid-scale energy storage. Nonaqueous redox flow batteries (NRFBs) have the potential to address this need, with attractive attributes such as flexibility to accommodate long- and short-duration storage, separately scalable energy and power ratings, and improved safety profile over integrated systems such as lithium-ion batteries. Currently, the low-solubility of NRFB electrolytes fundamentally limits their energy density. However, synthetically exploring the large chemical and parameter space of NRFB active materials is not only costly but also intractable. Here, we report a computational framework, coupled with experimental validation, designed to predict the solubility trends of electrolytes, incorporating both the lattice and solvation free energies. We reveal that lattice free energy, which has previously been neglected, has a significant role in tuning electrolyte solubility, and that solvation free energies alone is insufficient. The desymmetrization of the alkylammonium cation leading to short-chain, asymmetric cations demonstrated a modest increase in solubility, which can be further explored for NRFB electrolyte development and optimization. The resulting synergistic computational–experimental approach provides a cost-effective strategy in the development of high-solubility active materials for high energy density NRFB systems.