The Next Web writes that Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands is the site that implemented a testing unit from Oregon-based startup ESS to power some of its ground power units that provide electricity to parked aircraft. ESS develops iron flow batteries as a more affordable and effective way to store green energy, an alternative to the more popular, but expensive and not very practical lithium-ion cells.

The first iron flow battery was developed at the beginning of the 1980s by Ohio researchers at Case Western Reserve University, but the idea was abandoned, due to the widely-available and cheaper petrol.

Chemical engineers Craig Evans and Julia Song found the project some 30 years later, when the energy sector and the planet's climate looked very different than in 1980. That's why they decided to found ESS in 2011 and to contribute to the development of clean power worldwide.

Currently, the US-based startup is the only one that is able to produce iron flow batteries on a commercial scale and it attracted support from the likes of Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

Compared to lithium-ion batteries, iron flow cells use two liquid electrolytes made from iron salts dissolved in water and two separate tanks store the electrolytes. This means that, the larger the tanks, the more energy the battery is able to store.

The big advantage comes from the fact that iron flow batteries can have fresh electrolyte added to them when they start to age, compared to lithium-ion cells, which have to be recycled entirely and can't be "revitalized".

Besides the fact that they can "live forever", the materials that make them are easily accessible, affordable and abundant, while not being toxic. Iron, salt and water is what's required to keep the energy stored and going. Oh, and they can't catch fire, either.

The drawback is that we can't use these batteries to power our phones or cars, yet, as they require large sizes, but at least we can use them for energy storage in order to power commercial, industrial and even residential buildings with cleaner and more affordable power.

Sybren Hahn, Schiphol Airport’s executive director of infrastructure, said that "if the result is successful, more batteries will follow, with the aim of making all ground equipment emission-free and electric."

Another customer of the Oregon-based startup is SB Energy, which ordered 2 GWh worth of iron flow batteries for over 300 million USD.

Photo source: ESS