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During spring in the Pacific Northwest, meltwater from thawing snow rushes down rivers and the wind often blows hard. These forces spin the region’s many power turbines and generate a bounty of electricity at a time of mild temperatures and relatively low energy demand. But much of this seasonal surplus electricity—which could power air conditioners come summer—is lost because batteries cannot store it long enough.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a Department of Energy national laboratory in Richland, Wash., are developing a battery that might solve this problem. In a recent paper published in Cell Reports Physical Science, they demonstrated how freezing and thawing a molten salt solution creates a rechargeable battery that can store energy cheaply and efficiently for weeks or months at a time. Such a capability is crucial to shifting the U.S. grid away from fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases and toward renewable energy. President Joe Biden has made it a goal to cut U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030, which will necessitate a major ramp-up of wind, solar and other clean energy sources, as well as ways to store the energy they produce.

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