While Bill Gates' financial backing is not a certainty of success, it can't hurt this startup and even better, it shines a spotlight on what you say is one the "great underappreciated issues of renewable energy," energy storage, for the broader public. It can only serve to foster more attention and hopefully, more investment in this very important technology issue.
This is a good opportunity for an investor like Bill Gates. He gets to invest in something that can potentially make lots of money while also helping the environment and the country. LiIon batteries may be a dead end unless someone can come up with a safer approach. While we concentrate on the Chevy Voit battery problems today, I wonder how many remember the fire issue with the Apple MacBook a wuile back. What we need are solutions that match the application. Batteries for distributed utility power do not need to be the same as batteries for mobile devices, or even cars.
I applaud any and all battery research, but why can't we get some major funding for a proven energy storage technology: Kinetic Energy via the use of high-speed flywheels? It is a proven concept, it has very good storage capability, it is environmentally low-impact, and it can be scaled easily.
As interesting and significant as this is -- as the story says "The company's battery can store about 1.2MWh -- or about 300kW with a four-hour drain time. Sadoway believes it could handle the extra capacity that the grid uses during peak load times" -- the real challenge isn't big batteries which can store more Wh. It's on small batteries, for EVs. As Chuck has written many times, the progress there hasn't met expectations, or, more correctly, promises and hopes. At best, we have specmanship which attempts to make things sound/seem better than they are.
An interesting 'teaser' article - you have my interest but the engineer in me wants more details! I reluctantly acknowledge the main thrust of the article/post is to hit the high lights (i.e. Bill Gates, Liquid Metal Battery Corp, (LMBC) wind, solar, etc) but how about more?
There is NO doubt that large capacity storage of electrical energy is one of the key components in implementation of renewable energy past some percentage of useage (the figure of 20% is sort of sticking in my mind - we are somewhere in the 5% range now (??)) and we absolutely must have some efficient and cost competitive way of getting there. The work being done by LMBC is promising.
OK, on reflection, I guess I should go out on the web when I have sometime and do a bit of wandering around in search of more details. The inquisitive mind.
Grid storage other than very short term like under 5 minutes peaking isn't a problem at all. Why is the grid has been doing that, adjusting the grid since it began around 1900.
Facts are grid demand is far more variable than RE and supply and demand are really just 2 sides of the same coin. So No, you don't need more than 2% of grid storage and that is just for smoothing out the second to second difference between supply and demand.
Though that will easily be solved by the smart grid along with home, apt and EV batteries, charging when cheap to absorb extra grid power at night and between daytime peaks while supplying power during peaks. The utility saves so much in peak power costs and added revenue at off peak EV's might get free fuel for their service.
Recent CCGT tech can be throttled up to 50% power using NG also will cut the need for grid storage.
Another Solar thermal panels are used to suppliment NG power plants meaning no storage needed. Biomass, Hydro also are on demand. Really the only problems are big distant wind farms that start/stop together and even their with cogen biomass to cover when the wind isn't blowing.
And last for now, far more RE spread out in small systems on many homes, buildings will average out very well again making storage far less.
This whole scam was made up by big energy/power because they know RE is already if well shopped in many places competitive with coal even before the 30k people/yr in the US that die, etc. from it's pollution. And they want the corporate welfare to continue paying congress to make sure it happens.
What's the big deal? Spoken like someone who doesn't have to do it.
Facts are we have improved batteries by a factor of 4 but no matter how good they are, everyone wants more for less in a smaller size. Then they bitch when given bleeding edge tech and the laptop bursts into flames!
Maybe consumers could stop wanting all those features they never use, maybe a slower cpu or a car that does take 4000lbs to move a 200lb person around?
And back on topic, we already have $100/kwhr batteries for grid UPS work. They are called lead batteries. Yet no grid battery banks of them. Why? Lead in grid UPS use costs under $10/kwhr/yr.
Could it be there is no market for batteries in that service?
Whole-heartedly agree. Too bad we can't change human behavior. Everyone wants more, bigger/smaller, and faster and they want it yesterday. Nevermind the fact we don't need or use it. And I include myself in that behavior as well.
Thanks for the comments, Jerry. You are right, I don't design them, and neither do most people commenting here, so thought I'd ask the really basic question to get some enlightenment for all of us.
It sounds like one major problem is the same one as all the other basic electronic problems, such as "not enough" processor speed, RAM, HD space or -- battery life, at least from the user's POV. In other words, these ideal specs are all moving targets. That was a bit of a wakeup, to learn that batteries have improved by a factor of 4. Did you mean in terms of lifetime?
I used x's4 as an average comparing lead/ nicad, NiFe to Lithium present average about in capacity/lb.
In cycle life it's hard to beat NiFE/Edison or Ni-Cad flooded cells which last 50+ yrs. Some NiFe made in 1900/10 for EV's are still going strong!! I have some Nicad battery cells that are 40+ yrs old and still do rated power I abuse in an E bike. But NiFe really needs watering every 4 days and battery self discharges over 10 days. Nicad is much better but still more work than lead has almost 2x's the number of cells at 1.2vdc/cell, lead at 2,2 and lithium about 3.7vdc.
Some lithium if charged correctly and not over discharged like A123 get over 10k cycles. But they likely have an age limit we won't know until they hit it. 7 yrs is mentioned by some makers but no one really knows as they haven't been around long enough to find out. YMMV
Lithium's need very good battery management systems to live and those are still coming up to speed. I'll wait until price drops some more to about $250/kwhr before I switch my EV's over to them as lead does fine and my pack has another 5 yrs in it.
One last thing is battery salepeople are liars. Never ever believe them. Ask but verify anything they say. In hobby EV's we, EVDL list that have been building, driving EV's for 30 yrs, , take every new battery and test it hard both on the bench and on the road, then report to the rest of EVers if it's good enough and if it meets specs. Few do.
In the future li/air and li/sulfur have 10x's present Li cap on the bench. If they can tame them and increase cycle life fossil fuels won't stand a chance. Costs for materials would be about $20/kwhr at that weight!! I believe in a battery only when I can put it in my EV's though as many are vaporware.
The only good point is even lead batteries in a well designed EV or home power RE system can do what we need very cost effectively. For those few times you need more, just fire up a small generator for unlimited range at over 100mpg.
Before I go I always wondered why those up north don't use heating fuel to make electricity first, selling it to pay the cost of the fuel? Power the home, charge the battery for when the heat cycles and supply peak grid power at high profit rates? I can't justify it here in So Fl but up north would be the first thing I'd do before my first winter there.
I use lead battery storage in my 'off grid' house in Tennessee. Here's the big lead battery problem: The $100 / kwh needs watering, desulfating and equalizing to preserve its promise. Use of hydro-caps lowers watering expense (including labor), but increases the cost. AGM lead-acid batteries reduce much of the above listed limitations, but go for about $175 / kwh. But, here's the big deal breaker... You get about 500 cycles at 50% depth of discharge. That's $0.20 / kwh alone. I look forward to these batteries, and the 57 degree C batteries being promised for 2015 for $250/kwh. The big deal is that they offer thousands of charges without all of the maintenance. Plus charge (coulombic) efficiency is over 99%. This promise then provides storage under $0.02/kwh which makes it a deal changer.
Sounds to me like you are seriously overcharging your batteries, murdering them. You shouldn't need to water batteries more than 4- 6x's/yr if charged correctly. They only need to be equalized 1/mo to 15vdc. I see at most 1hr/mo doing battery check/watering, washing PV or give the windgen a good look at. Only poor systems need a lot of work.
Most batteries do not die, they are murdered well before their time. You think lead is hard to do, Wait until you get lithium.
One doesn't 'desulfate' lead batteries, they are charged, Pulsing/desulfating scam does little that a 60cycle battery charger doesn't do. Nor do properly cared for batteries sulfate until their 7-9 yrs for golfcart and better lead batteries. By the time they are sulfated, they are already dead so reviving' them only lasts a few weeks at very low capacity.
Any good RE system needs to be automatic tending to itself most of the time on battery charging, grid feed times, etc. It's not that hard to do. Just stop charging when batteries hit 14-15vdc/ 12vdc nom depending on temp, age. The other is cut loads at 10.75vdc to prevent reversing a cell. Done right you'll get 7-8 yrs out of them.
Though for homes, business molten salt of which there are a number like The Zebra Battery allready in the OEM market for vehicles, etc and GE is doing one could be a good market. Backing up the grid is too big a job for batteries.
Charge eff might be good but keeping it hot means you have to really work it to be economic. In EV's their eff dropped badly from such losses if the vehicle didn't work most of the day, or better, 24/7 like delivery or taxi, for which they are great it seems.
I'm far from a battery expert, but my belief is that the substances known to be suitable to build a battery simply don't have the capacity to develop electrical energy for truly long periods. Think of what is required - regardless of whether we're talking energy storage for wind, or solar, you'd better be able to provide a clean 7-days' worth of electrical energy at advertised output, and those substances simply don't exist currently.
Researchers in Germany are currently working on a battery which shows promise, but a practical prototype is still a few years away. I don't believe that there's a, "conspiricy theory" at work, because the first one to, "reach the finish line" stands to make a big pile of jack. Once the final barriers are broken, among other things, you'll see a subsequent, rapid de-centralization of electrical energy generation, because consumers will embrace these technologies.
I've checked into doing something for my family, and truthfully, I need to come up with at least $25,000.00 - $30,000.00 to generate a scant 12-KW reliably. Payback is well-past 25-years, so guess what? I'm reluctantly sticking with the electrical energy utility in our area.
Do you complain when you have to refuel your car before reaching your destination? Maybe you find it inconvenient to eat more than once a week. Batteries have come a long way, but can't keep up with the demands and wants of the people. I've had this discussion several times.
A prime example of the naive faith that technology is infinitely malleable and any miracle is possible if we just put our minds to it.
As James Howard Kunstler says, we have a touching belief that all problems have technological solutions, and we lately have taken to using the words "technology" and "energy" almost interchangeably. It just ain't so. Read his book The Long Emergency.
As long as you are going to run very hot batteries, why not improve upon fuel cells? True, they are far more complex and expensive today, but with improved design and mass production they could become economically feasible. You need three elements, a fuel generator driven by electricity, a storage system and finally the fuel cell battery to reverse the process. One benefit of fuel cell technology is the ability to "burn" multiple fuels. The other is the ability to supplement the renewable fuel source with purchased fuel for those times where renewable sources of electricity may be in short supply.
For electric locomotion fuel cell batteries can be recharged in a couple of minutes, just like internal combustion engines, by filling the fuel tank. Storage batteries cannot be recharged as rapidly. And hairbrained schemes to mimic conveniently short pit stops revolve around swapping out whole thousand pound battery packs at the refueling station.
This is not pie in the sky as there have been hydrogen powered electric busses in service in some cities.
Sorry but foolcells are for those who write FC grants or otherwise make a living off them or misinformed. They when everything is added in they never bother to mention, FC's are 25% as eff as batteries or a third rail. They'd be better off burning the fuel in an engine/gen at 35% eff.
Trains should be run on a thrid rail or overhead wires as many are and almost all trans just by adding contact arms, run on the electric grid. as an added benefit trains going downhill or stopping, their energy can be used to accelerate or climb hills by other trans.
I'm sorry any one that has an RV out in the woods understands capacity vs use rate - without a generator. The other thing people don't understand is a discharged battery vs a depleted battery. Battery capacity declines with age and use. For my battery operated electronics I have rechargables and primaries. It is a life style. Cycle the discharged batteries through the charger. The primaries are backups when the rechargables fail and they will. And at some point they all die permanently. I worked on MinuteMan silos for the MX missile. I studied the electrical grid, diesel electric backup generator, lead acid secondaries and primaries. You match the end of life capacity with the desired use rate. It is just that simple. For stationary power there are little worries. It is the mobile applications that are hard. Where volume and weight have big effects. But we had electric cars since the 1900's, right. Just build inexpensive electric cars. It is the initial cost that is prohibitive. I only have a 24 mile commute (round trip) with only a five mile stretch (both ways) of forced high speed. The rest is 35 mph. I don't need blue tooth, web, and all that other crap. Mpg, maintenance, reliability, and cost is what it is all about.
WBS, The Nissan Leaf EV will easily satify your needs with 60-75 miles to spare. And over 7 yrs will pay for itself in gasoline savings.
You could also spend a lot less by doing some work and converting your own. Take a Miata, Corvette or other lightweight car, put in $1200 in golfcart batteries and a forklift motor and for about $3-6k, you can drive very cheaply using no gas. You can spend far more but not needed.
I have a Harley size trike EV that with a nice body costs me under $1.5k in parts to build as a prototype for possible production. It gets the equivalent to 600mpg/mpge using lead with 60 mile range and a 6hp gas generator that gives unlimited range.
Google EV racing and follow the links to make your own EV until they are really in mass production.
I wish I had the money to invest seriously in technologies like this that may one day deliver real benefits to the world. But since that's not going to happen, I'd just like to say: "Thanks, Mr. Gates, for doing it for us."
First - I'd like to applaud DesignNews for providing visibility to the critical need of mass energy storage as a practical enabler of most "renewable" energy sources such as solar and wind power. This is a "dirty little secret" that most green power advocates fail to mention, but the grid can't really acheive over, say, 30% green sources without bumping into this big problem.
By the way - one reason that the US Govt. is heavily promoting electric vehicles (even though the technology isn't really yet ready for mass adoption) is that they have a HOPE that millions of EV's connected to a "smart grid" will actually BECOME the required mass energy storage for a future green energy system. It could happen, but I'm pretty skeptical and think there are better solutions.
I believe that the two most likely practical solutions are: A) a chemical "fuel" that can be synthesized via solar or other energy sources (biofuel or even better - direct solar or electricity synthesized fuel). This fuel can then be "burned" in a rather conventional power plant or even possibly in vehicles or B) direct thermal energy storage as molten salts which buffers power from multiple renewable sources.
It is relatively inexpensive to have huge insulated tanks of molten salt as energy storage. Converting this heat storage is typically done by rather conventional steam turbines. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy#Molten_salt_storage . Furthermore, these systems can be designed for long life and minimal maintenance, etc. and don't use toxic and rare chemicals.
The current experimental installations use heliostats ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliostat ), and results look encouraging. However, wind power could also add heat to a storage system using resistive elements (I'm not aware of this being tried). Another great benefit of this approach is that a power plant designed to use molten salts for an energy buffer can easily have a "backup mode" of operation that creates steam using natural gas (or other conventional fuel) and the same turbines / generators. This way, the powerplant can provide reliable 24/7 power even during extended overcast or windless days. This flexibility allows one power plant to provide power instead of requiring two plants (one renewable, one conventional) for guaranteed power.
Hopefully a practical solution can be invented and deployed before a "Mad Max" scenario that will happen if fossil fuels run out before a new solution is in place.
The goal is indeed to to get the battery cost to $100/kWh. That's the battery cost, not the cost of the energy. So, for example, a battery capable of storing 20 kWh would cost $2,000. The $0.13/kWh that you're quoting is the price of your electricity.
First of all, let me state that I'm an electrical engineer, so all the discussion about this chemistry and that chemistry pretty much goes over my head. To me, most of these battery technologies sounds dangerous, difficult to control, and inefficient - and with a short life span to boot.
Why don't we consider using one of the oldest 'battery' technologies around: reservoirs? Use the excess energy from the renewable sources to pump water up the mountain to the upper reservoir. When the energy is needed, let the water flow down to the lower reservoir while spinning the turbines on the way down.
Are batteries significanly more efficient than reservoirs? Water reservoirs are certainly more safe, last longer, and other than the small amount that evaporates or seeps into the ground, the energy stored in a reservoir has a very long 'shelf life'. Of course, there are other benefits to water reservoirs - they can be great sources of recreational activity too.
To DougISanDiego: You're right -- the technique you describe is pumped hydro, and it is currently the largest form of storage that we have (albeit, we have very little storage). The problem with pumped hydro is that it takes up large chunks of land -- too large, I'm told, to be seriously considered as a large-scale solution. It's a case of counties not wanting it in their backyards.
In response to the suggestion of using pumped storage, it is expensive and not that efficient, and it requires a whole lot of land, plus it could have a huge environmental impact. Other than those problems, it may be OK.
Seeing " Mister Monopolizer" funding any potentially crucial development is cause for concern.
The biggest challenge related to liquid metal batteries is keeping them hot, because it would require a lot of power just to do that, unless the battery uses mercury, in which case the howel from the safety people will be quite loud.
What about the polystyrene battery that I read about being developed, which is supposedly ten times better .
Dr Xie Xian Ning from the National University of Singapore's Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Initiative and his team developed the soft, foldable membrane using a polystyrene-based polymer. When sandwiched between two charged metal plates it can store charge at 0.2 farads per square centimetre, which is claimed to be well above the typical upper limit for a standard capacitor.
Most polystyrene plastics are not very toxic, as well as not very expensive. Those are two valuable characteristics to have in a bettery. At this point it would be worthwhile to have more people investigating that approach.
Of course we must make sure that some patent troll does not get hold of the patent. Perhaps I am being a bit ahead of things with that thought, but maybe not.
I understand the "Mister Monopolizer" moniker, but I have to give Gates credit on this: It's one of five battery start-ups that he's funding. Development of battery technology is difficult at best, with serious doubt as to any payoff in the long run. If it works, we're all the better for it in the end.
OK, i'll say it again, energy storage via kinetic energy, not hydro but flywheels. Direct conversion of electricity, both in and out, at high effeciency, small footprint, near zero environmental impact, scalable. Why is everyone so fixated on yet-to-be-discovered battery improvements and ignoring this mature techmology? Even it it is used as a bridge solution it is affordable and implementable right now.
Maybe the technology that he SHOULD be funding is the next generation of computer operating systems that perform correctly ALL THE TIME. Here's a novel thought. He could invent a multitasking system and name it DOORS 3.2, since someone else has already trademarked the WINDOWS moniker!!!!! Or, how about OS/2.2? That's another catchy name..........
Not interested in getting into a flame war. Just playing devil's advocate.....
You could just as easily point to the Sony laptop batteries that burst into flames, to shoot down battery storage.
Just spitballin' here. My point could have been the perceived safety issue, or the capital costs of building something akin to a nuclear reactor vessel. I don't know.
I wasn't slamming flywheels. I have found however that when an idea isn't not pursued, there is an underlying reason. Sometimes technical, oftentimes political or economic. Without direct knowledge, or exhaustive analysis, am I not allowed to ask the question?
No offence taken, it just seems that containment of a flywheel assy is easily addressed, and as such is relatively a non-issue, IMO. I imagine that this is a technology that would best be scaled up to grid-level NOT by scaling up the flywheel size, but by scaling up the flywheel quantities per installation site. Oh, and while they are at it, a STANDARDIZED design would be nice so that unit costs could be managed, and site capacity would just be a matter of quantity of flywheel modules to install.
The negaive comments on flywheels is akin to rubishing airships because of the Hindenberg.
Modern flywheels are made from composite materials, not solid metal. As such, if they fail, they turn into a shredded ball of fibre with energy absorption everywhere. Yes, they still need a containement vessel to keep the bits in, but not to stop chunks of metal fling everywhere.
Look at Satcon if you want to see how the technology has advanced since the Hindenberg.
The main premis behind the thinking that we must have storage in order to make intermittant power sources useful is based on the presumption that these renewable sources of power would replace the present ones completely, and that anything that allowed for less than 100% use of capacity is worthless. That presumption is based on the business plan that demands that there be no excess capacity, that all the KWH that can be produced must be produced and sold, to provide the maximum Return On Investment. That is the exact same reason as why expending the capacity of the electrical distribution system will do nothing at all to prevent another blackout. The instant that additional capacity becomes available the utilities will do their very best to assure that it is completely utilized, with the result being that there will be no spare capacity to handle the increased load on hot days.
REgarding rotating storage systems: People have been proposing them since at least 1956, when they were discussed in Popular Mechanics magazine. So the concept is not new. But I agree that there must be some problem with the implementation that has kept them from becoming a mainstream choice for all of these years. And the problem is certainly NOT a safety issue. And if guarding them was a concern, just install them in a basement, and any fragments would be stopped before they caused damage or injury. But I am certain that the problem hindering their useage is something besides that.
One additional thought is this: Would you want an individual whose company has a monopoly obtained by questionable means to be in the business of providing something vital? IN addition, would you want the business attitude that intentionally sells products that are deffective, repeatedly, to have a monopoly on high powered batterys that we would be depending on? Would you want your homes power source to be as reliable as Windows?????
IF you don't find those thoughts disturbing, you may not have a grasp of the situation.
While it is quite convenient for people to bash Bill Gates and his software company, it goes without saying that the pro-active way in which fixes are delivered to problems have been adopted by several early and late-stage startups. Once you are past the early adopter stage and trying to commercialize your products, it is all about time to market. The other path is to do years of technological due diligence to come up with the mythical perfect product only to find that you are behind the 8th ball and a step away from bankruptcy since all those years of due diligence and R&D (= cash burn) has eroded your balance sheet. Key strategy is to get your product into the hands of the user once the fatal flaws are removed; follow through with a fixed-term maintenance contract, and solve the end-use problem that you developed the product for. In additiion to software, this philosophy is being adopted in commercializing solar-PV, fuel cells, flywheels, SMES (some day soon) and yes - batteries too!
This move by Bill Gates is a step in the right direction. It is good to see MIT's molten-salt large-scale energy storage technology being productized. With more renewable energy (RE) assets interconnecting to the grid, such a solution is a must from the standpoint of optimally harvesting the energy both during the generating phase as well as non-generating phase (no sunshine and/or wind). This also helps the utilities regulate the energy demand as well as fluctations of frequency and VARs which are direct results of RE integrated into the traditional power generation base. Some of the challenges for adoption of grid-tied energy storage are the cycle life, response (rate of charge and discharge), power/energy density, footprint and cost per kWh. Much akin to various kinds of power generating assets - both traditional and non-traditional, we can expect to see various kinds of energy storage technologies with different performance charactersitscs and ergo different problem solving capabilities. e.g. short-duration or long-duration storage, fast or slow charge and discharge - operate in harmony.
I've always thought that the flywheel concept for storage/capture of excess or intermitent energy is a solid one, though most of the discussion I've read here is focused on large scale (utility- based) application. Does anyone know of any attempts or assessments of small scale (individual) residential or commercial applications of flywheel storage?
It would seem to me that, particualrly for wind power capture, having a mechanical storage system could be that "bridge", absent the presence of the "smart grid" connection that would capture and utilize any excess power.
Finally, I think the entire issue of energy generation, storage and utilization has to be approached with the goal of establishing an integrated, multiple source system. Too, often I sense that the goal is to have these "renewable" sources be the replacement for fossil fuels and ultimately the sole source for power generation. I do not believe that is practical or doable in the near or even long-term, with current technologies. If in the evolution of technology we get to that milestone, so be it...
I had a physics professor tell me about a motor/generator with flywheel system he built at an observatory in Chile. It was large enough to maintain the radio telescope and observatory computers for many minutes, and needed since the local power was often intermittent,
The question of whether engineers could have foreseen the shortcut maintenance procedures that led to the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979 will probably linger for as long as there is an engineering profession.
More than 35 years later, the post-mortem on one of the country’s worst engineering disasters appears to be simple. A contractor asked for a change in an original design. The change was approved by engineers, later resulting in a mammoth structural collapse that killed 114 people and injured 216 more.
If you’re an embedded systems engineer whose analog capabilities are getting a little bit rusty, then you’ll want to take note of an upcoming Design News Continuing Education Center class, “Analog Design for the Digital World,” running Monday, Nov. 17 through Friday, Nov. 21.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.