The Weekend Wonk: Liquid Metal Batteries

March 31, 2012

18 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Liquid Metal Batteries”

  1. Do you agree, no batteries=no wind and no solar?

    • otter17 Says:

      I disagree with Mr. Sadoway here where he says that we “need batteries in order for wind and solar to come out of the wings” (paraphrased).

      1) Intermittency is an issue, but not an “instant off” issue as he makes it sound. Grid dispatchers have better forecasting tools, specialized for their purposes, and they generally have on the order of several hours to respond to a reduction in production from a given wind site. For solar, I haven’t looked into

      2) There are other energy storage methods aside from batteries, potentially cheaper methods, too. Solar thermal has a several hour potential which can work well for late afternoon peaks. In my experience as an engineer, I’ve seen the US Navy interested and testing flywheels and hydrogen, at least at the micro grid ship-level scale.

      3) Better grid interconnectivity and dispatching algorithms. I’ve heard even Google wants to get in on the smart grid phenomenon.

      4) Department of Energy reports that the USA can reach 20% wind penetration by 2030 even assuming no improvements in wind generation technology (as of 2008 tech status). See slide 5 for their assumptions from their landmark “20% Wind by 2030” report. Their estimates quite likely were conservative, too.

      Click to access 20percent_Summary_Presentation.pdf

      5) Wind and solar technology is improving. Peter has featured Makani wind turbines before, and they have a substantial increase in capacity factor, allowing a substantial increase in wind power penetration above 20%.

      6) Enhanced geothermal can be a renewable baseload power source. Nuclear fission can help out for some time. Nuclear fusion may come into play by 2050, which could help out too. Who knows.

      Renewables don’t have to be fringe players even if current technology stagnated, which it very likely will not.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      Absolutely wrong, Maurizio. And an omnologist like yourself should be embarrassed at taking such a narrow and unsubstantiated position.

      The intermittency of wind and solar is not a significant issue when they make up a low overall percentage of the grid and is quite manageable, as attested by electric utility managers who have actual experience.

      You should take a look at the Western Wind & Solar Integration 3-year study.
      Debra Lew’s talk on this can be seen on the Stanford U’s YouTube channel and she has some PDF presentations and articles available from
      and probably as well.

      You can also reach her directly at NREL at (303) 384-7037.
      Please let us know her comments on your opinion of the usefulness of wind and solar power in the absence of storage.

    • Alteredstory Says:

      No. The implication you are making not only ignores technology like the solar thermal plant linked, and other methods of power storage – it ignores a large number of things discussed on this very blog.

      Either you don’t know what you’re talking about, or you’re being disingenuous.

      Which is it, Maurizio?

  2. Mike Says:

    When intelligent people make the complex sound obvious and simple it looks like this.

  3. I love it!
    I’ll pinch this for my blog.
    I did some further research:

    One Magnesium-antimony battery about the size of a 40ft shipping container has a capacity of 2MWh – about enough for 200 homes. The technology is scalable (so smaller batteries could be used for individual houses, offices, workshops) and it is capable of dealing with the high temperatures that are associated with electrical surges (from rapid charging over a [relatively] short period of time).
    This battery could spell the end of antiquated power generation – steam turbines (which coal, gas, oil and nuclear power stations all use) could be a thing of the past, using [relatively] common materials that are inexpensive (certainly cheaper than Lithium ion – more than 21 times cheaper [Li = $9.50/100g Sb = $0.44/100g Mg = $0.29/100g – prices from] to be precise) and it has no moving parts to wear or break or that need replacing.
    Another great thing is that the batteries do not age nor do they decay in the way that many modern batteries using rarer elements do, thus they have a good lifespan.
    I really do see this as a fantastic breakthrough, this could be comparable to the invention of the internal combustion engine or the television for the massive way it could alter how we generate and use electricity. And it gives us the ability to store electrical potential for when it is needed, rather than ramping up the power at the ‘conventional’ power stations, as happens at the moment.

  4. greenman3610 Says:

    there are already state in Germany getting 40+ percent of their electricity from wind – with no, or little, storage. So storage is a bit overblown. (I’ll be reinforcing this in an upload soon.)
    However, it does add some flexibility to the mix, and if the price is right, could
    have some interesting applications.

  5. guylacrosse Says:

    I like it. At least it can help solve part of the problem.

  6. MorinMoss Says:

    For large-scale storage, another promising ( and cheap ) technology is Isentropic’s gravel-based Pumped Heat Energy Storage

  7. sailrick Says:

    Other solutions exist as well

    A company called Axion has created an advanced lead acid battery with a carbon electrode, that gives it some of the characteristics of a capacitor.
    These batteries have a much improved cycling ability and can give and take energy faster than a normal lead acid battery. One advantage is that we already have the manufacturing in place for lead acid batteries and also the lead recycling.

    There are a few different types of flow batteries, like the zinc bromide batteries made by ZBB Energy Corporation

    We also have the new lithium batteries from Envia Systems
    I don’t know if they have the right characteristics for use in grid storage.

    see here:

    DOE-funded battery breakthrough to halve cost, triple range

    “A new breakthrough from California-based Envia Systems will yield lithium-ion batteries that are less than half the cost of current cells, while also having three times the energy density. And guess who funded it? The Department of Energy. That’s right: Sometimes, when the government invests in innovation, it pays off moon launch-big.”

    “Envia’s announcement said that its packs would deliver cell energy of 400 watt-hours per kilogram at a cost of $150 per kilowatt-hour. Though it doesn’t disclose a cost breakdown, Tesla Motors rates the energy density of its Roadster’s pack at 121 watt-hours per kilogram. Envia said its energy-density performance was verified in testing of prototype cells at the Naval Service Warfare Center’s Crane evaluation division.”

    {read it at Grist}

    This will mean electric cars that are inexpensive, and have a 300 mile range

    And there is the vehicle to grid idea, using batteries in electric cars and PHEVs, to help balance the grid.

    And I like Solar Thermal power, paricularly when it has heat storage.
    Arizona alone has the potential for 285 GW, according to the NREL.
    And that is only using carefully selected land.

    Here’s how a CSP plant with 3.5 hours heat storage on typical summer day in Nevada would run.

    The plant would start saving heat at sunrise. A few hours later, it would start generating electricity and continue storing heat in the salt. By 1pm when the sun peaks, it would be at full rated power, say 1250 MW. It would continue to put out at least it’s full rated power, while increasing output and peaking at about 3,000 MW at 5pm, exactly when demand in the grid peaks in the southwest. It would continue putting out steady but declining power until midnight. No fluctuation when clouds pass by.
    Cloudy periods, which are rare in the southwest can be planned for by the plant manager and utility, from weather forecasts. In the daytime in what the NREL calls Premium Solar Resource areas, there is sunshine all but about 4% of the time.

    3.5 hours heat storage means enough to provide 3.5 hours at full rated power, without any input from the sun.

    The first plant with molten salt heat storage in the U.S. is being built in Arizona. It will have 6 hours heat storage.

    In the winter there is less solar resource due to the angle of the sun mostly, but demand falls even faster than output in non summer months. Air conditioning is the biggest demand, in the southwest. A plant would run about the same as described ,though at lower output.

    HVDC tranmission lines would enable solar thermal in this area to feed power into other regions.

    The above is just one scenario. Another utility company might choose something a little different, like not generating power all the way till midnight, but instead saving the heat to power up earlier in the morning.

    The plants can also have more hours of heat storage than in my example

    It’s possible to have them run all night. Heat can be saved for up to about two days.

  8. sailrick Says:

    Solar thermal and heat storage

    “Profit Maximization
    Energy storage allows the plant operator to maximize profits. During periods of low hourly power prices, the operator can forgo generation and dump heat into storage; and at times of high prices, the plant can run at full capacity even without sun.

    Peak Shaving
    Solar generating capacity with heat storage can make other capacity in the
    market unnecessary. With heat storage the solar plant is able to ‘shave’ the
    peak load.

    Reducing Intermittence
    The ability of thermal solar plants to use heat energy storage to keep electric
    output constant: (1) reduces the cost associated with uncertainty surrounding
    power production; and (2) relieves concerns regarding electrical interconnection fees, regulation service charges, and transmission tariffs.

    Increasing Plant Utilization
    Solar plants equipped with heat storage have the ability to increase overall
    annual generation levels by ‘spreading out’ solar radiation to better match
    plant capacity.”

    Click to access owens_storage_value.pdf

  9. sailrick Says:

    the secret to low water ue, high efficiency CSP

    Brightsource says their 410 MW Ivanpah site uses less than 100 acre feet annualy. Enough power for 140,000 homes while using 300 homes worth of water.

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