The Perfect Battery: Liquid Metals Opens New Doors

Manufacturers continue to struggle with rising energy costs and are searching for a solution. Renewables seem as though they’re an obvious choice when it comes to cutting energy costs, however reliability can still be an issue. When it comes to solar, manufacturers cannot rely on their panels to generate energy on cloudy days and when the wind doesn’t blow, wind turbines don’t produce. Developing a way to store renewable energy for days, weeks and even years can prove to be the answer to manufacturers energy woes but the technology just isn’t there yet.

One company in Marlborough Massachusetts, Ambri, thinks they may have a solution to this problem. Storing huge amounts of energy and operating reliably for decades through the use of liquid metals. These batteries would be unlike anything on the market today. More robust, able to hold a charge for decades it would create a better battery overall. The idea came from the MIT materials chemistry professor, Donald Sadoway and Ambri thinks it’s time to take the next step.

Their factory in Marlborough is where the manufacturing and testing of these batteries is currently underway. Co-Founded by Sadoway and his now Chief Technology Officer David Bradwell, they want to take the idea of using liquid or molten materials and create a practical way to store and generate electricity.

“This is where we have all the processes that we need to manufacture and test the cells we’ll be producing for prototype and commercial systems,” said Bradwell. There are still many obstacles to navigate, but the team continues to make progress and it could have a profound impact on not only energy hungry manufacturers, but the entire world.

First the storage cells used magnesium and antimony, but to function the prototypes needed to be melted down into a liquid reaching temperatures of 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers improved on the design by using metals like tin, lithium and calcium. Today, Ambri is producing molten metal batteries that operate at a ‘cool’ 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Well, there’s a secret sauce on the specific materials that we’re using, – It’s not magnesium and antimony, but it’s similar type materials.” Bradwell explains.

The storages cells resemble a stainless steel shoe box, filled with raw materials and vacuum sealed. Bill Gates is one of the five investors which have pumped $50 million into Ambri. The low tech approach to the concept created excitement about its potential. This leads to the possibility of manufacturing these reliable batteries affordably.

Cost will be key when looking at its chance of success. The ability to develop a battery system that’s about 80% efficient while keeping a charge for years can have a tremendous impact on manufactures and the entire energy grid. Businesses might even be able to store their own energy generated from renewables and keep it on hold at their facility until energy demand calls for it to be used. The possibility is even there to run a majority of factory operations with renewable energy alone. This could become a reality because utilities would be able to store excess renewable energy on high output days and save it when renewable resources aren’t producing. It’s an exciting breakthrough and one that could greatly benefit manufacturers.

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