Liquid Metal Battery: “Saving Electricity for Our Future”

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Professor Donald Sadoway speaking at TED2012.
Photograph by James Duncan Davidson

Donald Sadoway, materials chemistry professor at MIT, believes that “we need a better battery if we’re going to improve our ability to make use of electric power.” He explained his rationale, using a chalkboard, to an audience at the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) 2012 conference in Long Beach/Palm Springs, California: “The way things stand, electricity demand must be in constant balance with supply” (from “Liquid battery could charge green energy” by AFP for Dawn Media Group). Furthermore, Sadoway stressed “innovation” from the ground up. From the TED Blog:

“If we’re going to get this country out of its current energy situation, we can’t conserve our way out, we can’t drill our way out; we can’t bomb our way out. We’re going to do it the old-fashioned American way: we’re going to invent our way out, working together.”

The battery, as Sadoway sees it, is the key to addressing strained energy production and consumption. Aluminum smelters inspired his idea of a liquid metal battery. According to “We Need a Battery Miracle” by Bill Gates (an investor of Liquid Metals Battery Corporation –LMBC), the mission became clear: “To develop an inexpensive ‘liquid metal’ battery that will dramatically improve battery efficiency and provide large scale energy storage.”

“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.” Photograph by Martin LaMonica/CNET

Vanadium and magnesium are the battery’s key metals. In tech-speak, Sadoway’s liquid 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,” according to “Liquid Metal Battery draws investors” by David Worthington for SmartPlanet. (You can read more about the liquid metal battery in the paper “Magnesium–Antimony Liquid Metal Battery for Stationary Energy Storage” published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.)

Sadoway and his students formed startup LMBC to commercialize liquid metal battery technology for “grid-scale energy storage.” Here’s to Sadoway and his company making a “battery miracle” real!

Nate Burgos is a designer who is ever-curious about design and designing at Design Feast.

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Comment (1)

  1. Energy Storage is set to be the fastest growing and most mission critical business sector to come by in years.  Global value of over $200B by 2015.

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