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Ambri Designs Liquid Metal Batteries for the Grid

The U.S. has the potential to transform itself into a powerhouse of green energy. The varying types of geography and climates within the borders of the U.S. offer the chance to tap into solar, wind and water power, allowing the country to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The problem with turning to alternative energy sources is the grid.

As shown by its utter failure during storms, or even as the result of poor timing (e.g. the blackout in 2003), the country’s grid is a creaking, fragile thing. Simply hooking a few wind turbines or photovoltaic cells up to the grid isn’t a solution, and could actually cause more problems. Compared to energy produced burning fossil fuels, energy from natural sources is somewhat sporadic. The wind doesn’t blow all the time, the sun isn’t always shining, etc.

Ambri Liquid Metal Battery

A test model of Ambri's liquid metal battery. Courtesy of Ambri.

As a result, during periods of intensive energy use, such as the hottest days of summer, energy use spikes, which can quickly drain the energy available from natural sources and force the system to reroute energy from other sources. This is yet another moving part in a system that doesn’t need any more ways to break down.

Ambri, a company dreamt up at MIT, would like to solve this dilemma by producing liquid metal batteries the size of 40-ft. shipping containers to store energy produced from natural sources until it’s needed. Because size and weight aren’t really an issue for grid energy storage, Ambri’s batteries use inexpensive materials and a simple design. When the battery is heated to around 500°C, the battery’s electrodes and electrolyte melt, creating a battery with no moving parts.

The company claims using its battery technology will reduce costs associated with energy storage, and is seeking investors who believe in alternative energy. It intends to produce a full-scale prototype by 2014.

Below you’ll find a video featuring Ambri co-founder Donald Sadoway on The Colbert Report.

Source: MIT Technology Review

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