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.
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..........
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 countryís 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 youíre an embedded systems engineer whose analog capabilities are getting a little bit rusty, then youíll want to take note of an upcoming Design News Continuing Education Center class, ďAnalog Design for the Digital World,Ē 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.