Startup Devises Liquid Metal Batteries for the Electricity Grid
David Bradwell (left) and Donald Sadoway are co-founders of Ambri, a Cambridge, Mass.-based startup that is developing a liquid-based battery they hope will be the foundation for the next-generation electricity grid. (Source: MIT)
This is the kind of thinking that really has exciting possibilities if its potential can be fully realized. No longer will alternative energies be excluded from large-scale power grids if energy can be stored in this way and meet the low-cost needs of the industry. It really could revolutionize the use and generation of the energy not just in the United States, but worldwide. I applaud inventors like Sadoway and his team who are really trying to solve the energy crisis not with rhetoric but true scientific invention.
I can see it leading to direct to consumer products for urban dwellers who rent. It's a growing market in the US. Many people would love to put solar panels in or near a window and use that energy to power both small and large appliances.
I know that versions of that already exist for cell phones, ipods, etc. Many green consumers would jump at the chance to power up a refrigerator off the grid.
Great, thanks for the link, Chuck. Sadoway seems like a bit of a rock star...definitely a brilliant mind and this would be great if it really lived up to the potential, as I said before. I just think it's cool there are some big minds trying to tackle these problems, and he seems very passionate about it.
Great article and innovative use of new materials. One concern I have would be the current lack of Antimony availability outside of China. Some of the information I'm reading states that no significant new antimony deposits in China have been developed recently and other economic reserves are being depleted.
You have a valid concern, Greg, and I imagine the founders of Ambri saw it that way, too. They're now using a different chemistry for the battery that has a similar result. Perhaps they ran into the antimony problem as well! I am not sure they are disclosing the battery chemistry (probably for IP reasons). I think the new chemistry is more cost effective and higher voltage (I mention it in the story). Thanks!
Yes, Greg, it's also good that the chemistry was able to be modified to meet the availability of minerals for the battery. But I suppose that is something that the inventors had to consider in the design. Often what works when something is first developed doesn't always work well for mass production.
Regulation and green energy is sure to benefit from the "giant battery" approach. Let's hope the cost doesn't reflect size. A lithium-ion battery that size would do the job too, but the cost would be in the multi-millions.
Yes, Cabe, I know cost effectiveness is part of the design plan of Ambri, but I guess it will remain to be seen until the batteries start shipping and are being used. And you're right, multimillion-dollar batteries would be a little pricey and probably not worth the investment. There are interesting innovations being made in lithium-ion batteries, as well, though, so you never know what designers may come up with.
I know many are making batteries for storage already, but as I said, cost is high. Especially compared to old methods like water displacement. I also read about freezing, momentum, and weight storage of energy. All of which seemed silly.
Perhaps when capacitors reach higher density of surface area, they could be used.
When you say "water displacement," Cabe, are you referring to pumped hydro? Pumped hydro -- pumping water up to a higher spot and then using it to spin a generator -- is still the most common form of grid storage by far, I believe.
Exactly. Major problem there...evaporation and other water retention problems. Other issues come in the loss of power through the inefficient pumps and other electrical mechanisms. Not to mention the reconversion of the water back to electricity through turbines.
The battery cuts out a lot of the problems of other systems, cuts right to the chase, electrical power ready to go.
Just a thought, but if the water "siting" was inside a sealed enclosure, only opened when necessary, would hydro be a better option? The size of the container to enclose a lake might be a bit sci-fi though...
What could be reasonable for bulk energy storage in fixed locations is good old lead batteries, since the lead is a common metal and fairly simple to recycle, and the technology is quite well understood. That is a bunch of reasons to consider a tecnology not right at the cutting edge.
Yes, the known reserves of Antimony (Sb) are less than 2M tonnes. That may sound like a lot but antimony, like lead, is very heavy so those "40 foot containers" might contain as much 20 tonnes each. Worse yet, the huge percentage of antimony reserves are in China - which has recently shown a reluctance to expolit their rare-earths further than 2010 levels.
If I'm reading this correctly, the entire contents of the battery is in a liquid state. To liquify antimony and magnesium requires approximately 1200 degrees F. So, this battery is at that temperature to function?
Hey, what's in that 40' trailer over there? Oh, just 80,000 lbs of liquified metal. Is that a problem?
While the chemistry may be very effective, keeping that much material that hot is going to require a bit of heating power and some very good insulation. So the practical utilization of the concept is a real challenge. Possibly use an atomic reactor to keep it hot, but what effect would the intense radiation have on the system? In summary, "it works in theory, but will it ever be practical." Keeping metals melted is a hot task indeed.
I was thinking exactly the same issues... But wandered a little aroud the thermodynamics of it: any heating (self heating) would represent a form of looses (like heating from mechanical friction or self heating by eddy currents in transformer cores)... And heating looses would raise inefficiency. Measuring some NiMH and LiPo's batteries for my R/C model airplanes with a good intelligent charger, reveals batteries have quite different values between energy charged (In) vs. energy delivered (out), but I seldom see discussions on this inefficiency, and no thermal insulation is perfect. In some cases, even dedicating some energy to maintain cooler Battery temperatures by using extra fans (driven from the same battery) is advantageous, but costs more energy wasted to keep the battery from melting itself. [high power electrical powered model airplanes with several horsepower motors].
With a better understanding of materials’ response to load and temperature, researchers could potentially use the knowledge to improve design. The research could even help geologists studying plate tectonics.
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