Researchers at The biggest drawback to many real or proposed sources of clean, renewable energy is their intermittency: The wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine, and so the power they produce may not be available at the times it’s needed. A major goal of energy research has been to find ways to help smooth out these erratic supplies.
New results from an ongoing research program at MIT, reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, show a promising technology that could provide that long-sought way of leveling the load — at far lower cost and with greater longevity than previous methods. The system uses high-temperature batteries whose liquid components, like some novelty cocktails, naturally settle into distinct layers because of their different densities.
The three molten materials form the positive and negative poles of the battery, as well as a layer of electrolyte — a material that charged particles cross through as the battery is being charged or discharged — in between. All three layers are composed of materials that are abundant and inexpensive, explains Donald Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT and the senior author of the new paper.
“We explored many chemistries,” Sadoway says, looking for the right combination of electrical properties, abundant availability and differences in density that would allow the layers to remain separate. His team has found a number of promising candidates, he says, and is publishing their detailed analysis of one such combination: magnesium for the negative electrode (top layer), a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride for the electrolyte (middle layer) and antimony for the positive electrode (bottom layer). The system would operate at a temperature of 700 degrees
The electric utility companies that would ultimately be the users of this technology, Sadoway says, “don’t care what the stuff is made of, or what the size is. The only question is what’s the cost of storage” for a given amount of power. “I can build a gorgeous battery to a
Sadoway, along with Bradwell, has founded a company to bring this technology to commercialization, and is on sabbatical this year working with the company, Liquid Metal Battery Corp. “If this technology succeeds,” he says, “it could be a game-changer” for renewable energy.
Reference: “Magnesium–Antimony Liquid Metal Battery for Stationary Energy Storage” by David J. Bradwell, Hojong Kim, Aislinn H. C. Sirk and Donald R. Sadoway, 6 January 2012, Journal of the American Chemical Society.
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