New MIT research: grid-scale batteries one step closer to reality?

Promising news last week from MIT Professor Donald Sadoway's research on liquid-metal batteries for grid-scale storage. MIT News and The Boston Globe report on a new battery structure using innovative metal-mesh membranes, which appear to solve a vexing cost/reliability challenge faced in prior ceramic membrane designs. Says Sadoway, "I consider this a breakthrough."

Full details can be found in the team's new Nature Energy paper "Faradaically selective membrane for liquid metal displacement batteries."

You may recall meeting Professor Sadoway in a Climate Conversations podcast last year. Among other topics, we discussed cost-effective grid-scale batteries ("if you want to make something dirt cheap, make it out of dirt"), and how innovative uses of electrochemistry could reduce the climate impacts of steel manufacturing.





Rick Shankman's picture

Ambri Returns to the Energy

Ambri Returns to the Energy Storage Hunt With Liquid Metal Battery Redesign

The Gates-, Pritzker- and Khosla-funded battery startup from MIT hones its battery seals and balance-of-system.

... Getting an entirely new and novel battery chemistry to commercial scale is Sisyphean work.  About a year ago, the firm had to lay off approximately 25 percent of its staff because the startup had "not made the technology progress [it] had anticipated...."

David Snydacker, a battery scientist at Dosima Research, notes that "Sadoway’s claims of durability obscured a core tenet of battery diligence: Cycle life and calendar life are not the same."

He adds, "When batteries are tested in the lab, they are often cycled 12 times per day.  This allows researchers to achieve 1,000 cycles in just a few months.  Researchers are often tempted to extrapolate this cycle life to predict a lifespan.  For example, if a battery maintains 90 percent of its capacity after 1,000 cycles, then it should maintain 70 percent of its capacity after 3,000 cycles.  And if the battery is used just once per day, then 3,000 cycles should last nearly 10 years, right?  Wrong."

"When a battery is operated for years, many aging mechanisms appear that may be hidden during first months of testing.  All batteries contain reactive materials, which can degrade the battery over time, and this degradation is accelerated by high temperature.  Ambri’s very high temperature allows it to use molten electrodes but presents a variety of problems related to calendar life."

... There is a load of VC investment thinly spread in this field -- and a familiar, dismal reckoning awaits.