Cheap batteries that can store power from renewable energy sources like wind and solar are being developed by a startup company. Liquid Metal Battery’s ambition as a company is to bring this rechargeable battery at a very affordable price to the market. Even though their workspace is a small basement headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the technological aspect of what they are doing is not to de underrated.
Their simplicity is well defined, especially when considering their workshop that has rudimentary equipment. However, the chemistry behind their technology is highly advanced. The batteries look underdeveloped: thick-walled steel cans that the researchers fill with powder scooped from large buckets and barrels.
Though simple by design, the company goal is to make cheap batteries that store power from renewable sources when the energy demand is low, like during the night, and use it during the day. This project has attracted millions of dollars in early-stage investments from Bill Gates, French oil company Total, and the US Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy.
Liquid Metal was founded in 2010. It started earnest last fall when it expanded from a 7 to 17 employees. It has faced challenges, just like many other clean energy startups. This mostly has been the case because of the high costs of making new products, and because utilities generally favor established technologies.
Liquid Metal Battery got its name from the activity of melting powders and then pouring them into battery cells. At the melting point, the molecules disintegrate into the negative and the positive electrodes, while the electrolyte separates them. These liquids at that point are highly conductive, making the batteries quickly dischargeable and rechargeable. They have the capacity to accept charge in a millisecond and return it in the same time, if necessary, to help stabilize fluctuations of demand and supply on the power grid.