We have been talking about liquid batteries back in March, when an MIT announcement stated that they invented one that could store much more than regular batteries can in a simpler and fashionable way by using liquid metals and liquid electrolyte in the middle.
Since then, the same man who had invented the liquid battery, MIT professor Donald Sadoway, has been gathering “some major funding” from the newly founded ARPA-E, who encourages risky projects in the field of energy. The approach is a little different this time. If then, the battery was planned to be used in commercial applications, and to be more specific in mobile applications, such as car batteries, now Sadoway says he wants to play big and help the energy industry by designing batteries powerful enough to hold all the excess wind and solar power. These two sources of energy are complementary to each other, in the sense that wind is powerful at night and the Sun can only provide power during the day.
Back in March, there was everything about a battery that contained antimony, sodium sulfide and magnesium. Because of patenting secrecy, any further public details have not been given, so what we know now of the battery’s components, like then, is that there are two metals and a salt involved.
Update: if you watch the blackboard behind him, you’ll see that the “secret” is about Nickel and Copper.
The working principle is simple: the energy is stored in the liquid metals that want to react with one another but can do so only by transferring ions – electrically charged atoms of one of the metals – across the electrolyte, which results in the flow of electric current out of the battery. When the battery is being charged, some ions migrate through the insulating salt layer to collect at one of the terminals. Then, when the power is being drained from the battery, those ions migrate back through the salt and collect at the opposite terminal.
Sadoway’s new liquid battery‘s sizes are huge, he projected a battery bigger than anything existing today: “We’re talking about batteries of a size never seen before,” he says. And the system they develop has to include everything, including control systems and charger electronics on an unprecedented scale.
Likewise, his liquid battery is not destined to the consumers, so money won’t be spent on making it safe or easy to use, but large and to be handled by specially-trained people. Also, the new battery would only function at high temperatures, because, he says: “Solid components in batteries are speed bumps. When you want ultra-high current, you don’t want any solids.”
It’s about time someone thought about investing and inventing in the large currents sector, despite the obvious need to make small and efficient batteries for cars. If the infrastructure won’t be fully developed in the future, when we would expect everyone to charge their vehicle, then either electricity won’t be cheap anymore, or we would have blackouts every evening, because the current system isn’t ready for such a huge power consumption.