Ambri, a startup founded by MIT researchers, is developing liquid-metal batteries that can store power for less than $500 a kilowatt-hour – less than a third the cost of other battery technologies. Liquid-metal sounds fancy, but apparently the materials used are abundant and easily obtainable. (The researchers won’t say exactly what the metals are.)
The technology promises an alternative to the massive pumped-water systems that make up 95 percent of U.S. energy storage capacity. At that price, developers will be able to build wind and solar projects that can deliver power to the grid anytime, making renewable energy as reliable as natural gas and coal without the greenhouse-gas emissions.
One area where liquid-metal batteries would be particularly competitive is with pumped-hydropower systems. This common form of storage involves moving water to an elevated reservoir when electricity demand is low, and releasing the water to drive hydropower generators when more demand is high. Pumped-hydropower systems require suitable topography, but Ambri batteries could be used anywhere and delivered using a truck.
2014 may not be the year we see a major breakthrough in battery technology, but we are doubtlessly on our way. Ambri intends to install two prototypes in early 2015; one at a military base, and another at a wind farm in Hawaii. And while other companies are developing storage technologies, no one is pursuing liquid-metal technology. This is a unique storage solution.
“If we can get liquid-metal batteries down to $500 a kilowatt-hour, we’ll change the world,” Donald Sadoway, chief scientific adviser at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Ambri Inc., said in an interview.
Yes, please. This 500 USD price point is similar to Elon Musk’s plans with the gigafactory. Musk expects to push down battery cost by about 30%, which also equals about 500 USD/hour.