Liquid Metal Battery draws investors

An MIT spun project to create a liquid metal battery has found the backing of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and other Series A investors. It promises longer life and lower costs.

This liquid battery cell prototype consists of a heavy liquid metal cathode (red layer), (yellow layer) a molten salt electrolyte, and a less dense liquid metal anode (green layer); an insulator surrounds those components. Photo Credit: Martin LaMonica/CNET

A start-up company that is developing a novel “liquid” battery technology for grid storage has attained seed money from investors including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, CNET reported in a feature story today.

Liquid Metal Battery is commercializing technology that was invented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under grants from the Department of Energy's ARPA-E research agency and Total. It is designed for longevity.

MIT materials chemistry professor and Liquid Metal Battery co-founder Donald Sadoway applied his knowledge of industrial scale electrochemistry to solve the problem of degrading electrodes that lessen the lifespan of conventional batteries.

Eliminating metal components that can crack under stress over time reduces battery degradation, Liquid Metal Battery co-founder Luis Ortiz told CNET. Most current (no pun intended) batteries degrade over time due to a variety of reasons. Learn more here.

Liquid Metal Battery’s objective is to hook up production quality units to the power grid within three to five years. Its technology would be used for temporary storage of power generated by solar and wind sites; the estimated installed cost could be $250 a kilowatt-hour.

Storing renewable energy is an issue that has drawn the attention of U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Chu has advocated for wider use of hydrostorage as a way to ensure that energy is not wasted.

Existing battery technologies are already being used to add reserve capacity to the nation’s power grid. Less conventional approaches such as liquid salt energy storage towers , will soon utilized to complement solar energy projects.

The U.S. Department of Energy yesterday announced a US$737 million investment in the Nevada’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, which uses the latter technology.

Reducing costs is another of Sadoway’s design goals. His team’s battery uses less costly liquids in the cathode, anode, and electrolyte of a battery as substitutes for traditional materials such as lead acid and lithium; molten salt rest between two layers of liquid metals.

"I looked at how aluminum smelters take a giant hall with liquid aluminum and fill it and I said, 'That's where you can get economy of scale.' If you want a big battery, you build one big battery and you can't do that with today's technology," Sadoway said in a CNET interview. "The scalability is going to be enabled by borrowing the lessons of 125 years of aluminum smelting."

Lab prototypes used liquid magnesium and liquid antimony as positive and negative electrodes. Chemical reactions transform the liquids into metals during charging and discharging.

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