LMBC wants to change that. The company's battery is liquid-based and remains in that state as it operates at high temperatures (400C to 700C). The essential components include a high-density liquid metal that lies at the bottom of the cell, a molten salt electrolyte atop that, and a low-density liquid metal above the molten salt. The two liquid metal layers serve as electrodes, while the molten salt acts as an electroloyte. The difference between the metals gives rise to the battery's voltage.
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.
"You would only need to store that small portion of the grid's power," he told Design News. "Then, you could obviate the need for so much idle capacity, which just sits there now."
Others have had similar visions. VRB Power Systems, Inc. has installed vanadium-based fuel cells in wind and solar applications around the globe. NGK Insulators Ltd. has created sodium-sulfur batteries for "load leveling and peak shaving." And various entities have created monster-sized grid batteries using tens of thousands of handheld-sized (18650-sized) lithium-ion cells in a container the size of a trailer.
However, Sadoway argues that the lithium-ion setup is too expensive and too labor-intensive.
LMBC believes its technology could have different sizes and multiple applications, including single-family homes, commercial and industrial settings, and utility-based backup for renewable sources.
"If you have a battery that's cheap and reliable and will allow you to use electricity from the sun, even when the sun isn't shining, that's powerful," Sadoway said. "That's a game changer."
For a deep look a GM's Chevy Volt, we recommend you go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. In the trip sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is taking the fire-engine-red Volt to innovation hubs across America, interviewing engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students as he blogs his way across the country.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.