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Liquid Metal From MIT Stores Solar Power Cheaply | Valley News

Ambri won a $250,000 grant last week from New York state to develop and test a prototype battery with Con Edison. The company, backed by investors including billionaires Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla, plans to install its first two prototypes by early 2015 at a Massachusetts military base and a wind farm in Hawaii. It opened its first manufacturing facility in November and is planning a larger one next year.

Ambri is the first company to pursue liquid-metal storage and the technology has the potential to reshape the battery industry, said Brian Warshay, an energy smart technologies analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New York.

“There’s nothing out there quite like it,” Warshay said. “If they can get under $500 a kilowatt-hour, that would be a really good price point.”

Sadoway, the John F. Elliott professor of materials chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wouldn’t say what goes into liquid-metal batteries. They use materials that are “abundant” and easy to harvest from the earth, which is key to making them cost effective.

“To make it dirt-cheap you have to make it out of dirt,” he said. Earlier versions used molten magnesium and antimony, separated by a layer of salt, to store and release electricity. Those materials only worked at temperatures that were too high to sustain and didn’t produce enough voltage. Sadoway and his team tested more than 1,000 cells with dozens of alloys and salts to find one that’s commercially viable.

They will compete against lithium-ion batteries, the same technology used in laptop computers and electric cars, which are becoming more common for grid-storage. AES Corp., the largest operator of power-storage systems, said today it’s now selling them to utilities and renewable-energy developers, for about $1,000 a kilowatt.

That technology is a better fit for cars and portable electronics than for large storage systems that feed the transmission grid, Sadoway said. “Lithium-ion plants are too expensive to build, and it makes no sense to string a bunch of these tiny things together.”

Other companies are developing other storage technologies. Duke Energy’s Notrees wind farm in Texas has 36 megawatts of dry cell storage capacity, provided by Xtreme Power, a Kyle, Texas-based battery maker that filed for bankruptcy protection in January.

International Business Machines is developing a lightweight lithium-air battery for electric vehicles. Toyota and Bayerische Motoren Werke are also pursuing the technology.

Collecting and storing energy from the grid costs about $1,500 a kilowatt-hour using current types of battery technologies, according to New Energy Finance. Improving the designs may reduce that to $575 by 2020. The average U.S. home used 903 kilowatt-hours a month in 2012, according the the U.S. Energy Department.



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