By 2014 we will have liquid metal batteries big enough and cost-effective enough to back up national electric grids, says Dr. Donald Sadoway, John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Batteries have long been the weak point of portable electronic devices: they don’t last long between charges, they are expensive, and their manufacture requires rare earth elements such as lithium.
The circumstances are worse for generated electricity that powers our homes and workplaces. We only realize it when the power goes out and our rooms go dark. We are 30 seconds away from darkness at any time, should something go wrong in the grid. Why isn’t there backup electricity available when a power line goes down? The problem, in a word: batteries.
Our personal computers are better protected than we are: many PC owners have UPS’s (uninterruptible power supplies) that charge up between power outages to keep equipment running. But even UPS’s only last long enough to turn the equipment off safely.
All this has the potential to change. Dr. Sadoway and his team have developed a technology, and started a company to make the technology commercially available, that is big enough, reliable enough, and cheap enough for power companies to buy and install as backups to their grids. The solution, in a word: batteries.
Or, as Dr. Sadoway says, “colossal batteries that are dirt cheap because they are made from dirt” (earth abundant elements, such as magnesium and salt).
Like all batteries, Dr. Sadoway’s have a positive terminal, a negative terminal, and a power holding medium (electrolyte) in between. Unlike conventional batteries, Dr. Sadoway’s are liquid, inspired by 1886 industrial aluminum smelting technology, and can be made as huge as railroad shipping containers.
Unlike backup fossil-fuel generators, Dr. Sadoway’s batteries provide power while silent, with zero emissions, and requiring no fuel to operate. Unlike backup solar and wind generators, Dr. Sadoway’s devices can be produced and sold at acceptable market price points without need for government subsidy.
Look for Dr. Sadoway and his team’s liquid metal batteries to be available around 2014. Their mission, beyond economics, is “science and service to society.”
Chemical & Engineering News
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