Reposting: Don Sadoway on Energy Storage

February 25, 2014

Good discussions this week on the topic of new paradigms for utility grids and energy storage.  I’m reposting Don Sadoway’s TED talk from 2012, because he has a promising technology for energy storage – that has continued in development by the startup Ambri.

Tech heavy stuff.  Excerpts here – more details at the link.  Experts weigh in.


The three layers in the Ambri battery are self-segregating, cheap to manufacture and earth-abundant. The materials used in the original design were magnesium and antimony separated by a salt — but “we needed higher voltage and lower temperature,” said the CTO, and so the firm has a new, undisclosed chemistry arrived at with the help of ARPA-E funding.

Prototype units started as the “shot glass,” followed by the 3-inch, 20-watt-hour “hockey puck,” and then by the 6-inch, 200-watt-hour “saucer.” The commercialized product will use a 6-inch square.

Bradwell notes that the batteries achieve 1,000 cycles of continuous deep cycling with negligible fade. There are no moving parts, pumps or valves in the design.

The cell is contained in a 4-inch-by-4-inch stamped stainless steel housing with no nanoscale microstructures or difficult-to-synthesize materials, according to the co-founder.

The cells have a DC-to-DC efficiency of 80 percent at a five-hour charge/discharge rate and an AC-to-AC efficiency of 70 percent to 75 percent.

Ambri hopes to have its first scaled 20-kilowatt-hour units operational early this year, with 35-kilowatt-hour commercial units coming in 2015. A larger system will reach 200 kilowatt-hours in 3 cubic meters. The 10-ton weight of that unit will serve as an effective theft deterrent, joked Bradwell.

In an earlier presentation at this event, Tad Glauthier, VP at storage system vendor Stem, cited Ambri and Aquion as new battery vendors with potential price-competitiveness. He noted that improvements in lithium-ion technology are small and incremental, while changes in battery technologies’ price points have the potential to change the size of the market. Glauthier sees near-term battery price reductions reaching one-half to one-third of lithium-ion, falling to sub-$100 per kilowatt-hour levels before 2020.

13 Responses to “Reposting: Don Sadoway on Energy Storage”

  1. This is pretty good stuff. Its going to compete with a host of other good storage options. The info I see on a cell basis indicates its best to discharge them slowly. (high series resistance) That can be allayed by paralleling. With Tesla going for lower lithium cell costs, its a race to see who gets the lowest cost and the most market the quickest. We are now looking at a generation of much higher production volumes and rapid cost reduction. A paradigm shift is in the making.

  2. Cy Halothrin Says:

    I’d love to have one of these batteries when they become available commercially. It would make a good replacement for the bank of lead-acid batteries I currently deploy. However, from the looks of the above graphic, it seems that they are gearing up to make very large batteries – I’m hoping that there will be a size available that a homeowner could use.

    My understanding is that the biggest hurdle they’ve had to overcome is the heat. These salt-metal batteries only function at a rather high temperature, but there is said to be progress at getting them to work at something below 100°C. To be practical for anything like home use, it would be ideal to have it operate at room temperature, but I don’t know if that’s possible.

    • Kiwiiano Says:

      I think Don addressed that: they are liquid metal, the only metal liquid at RT is mercury and that’s waaay too toxic. Don’t fret about it tho, the trick would be to develop really good insulation so the householder is barely aware of the temperatures lurking within. After all, we tolerate kitchen ranges, pottery kilns, night-store heaters, even simple candles by just taking appropriate precautions.

  3. Fascinating. I now have a Google news alert for “Ambri new chemistry”

  4. Good place to start learning:

    Energy Storage Association –

  5. andrewfez Says:

    On a related note:

    From about 32 minutes in to 42+ talks about thermal storage (a little bit about molten salt thermal storage). This professor is saying thermal storage is a lot less costly than battery storage. He also says Chevron is investing in solar thermal in CA, alongside the regular venture capital.

    This is from a 73 lecture series on energy on Stanford University’s Youtube channel.

    Here’s another one i haven’t watched yet:

    • Andrew – great reference video. Solar thermal storage via eutectic salts or molten salts has been around for a while, but not as heavily commercialized as today. I think the focus of today’s thinking id a bit misplaced, being primarily electricity. He did mention solar CHP in the Q and A afterwords. I have referenced that subject recently. There are large CSP plants with storage currently completing. That’s great. We need to look at the requirements for non electrical energy. The mix will change to more electrical, for EVs, for example and we want to turn to practical means for residential, commercial, and industrial heat. The last require process heat, which is a great application for solar. Process heat could be stored in water or molten salt, if needs are continuous. Solar is used in hotels to provide cooling and hot water. When was the last time you saw passive solar housing mentioned? This lecture also mentions a national electrical grid. Everyone loves it. An electrical super highway. Then there is desertec. These things are all possible. Wind was possible and economical long ago. After the 70 s oil shocks, we found efficiency( cars). Then the ensuing oil glut until peak conventional oil in 2006. The forest we have been missing behind the trees is the nature of demand growth and it’s relationship to capitalism. Technical efforts can’t stop it. As Kopits says, we all want a bigger vehicle if we can afford it. Watch Kopits in the ref on oil. Oil is over. Ivanpah and Tonopah are two recent CSPs.

  6. Mark Sebela Says:

    How exciting! Just think of the endless amounts of dollar store shit industry will be able to continue to make. Maybe he can come up with a way to power heavy mining vehicles so we can finish strip mining the planet. Market solutions are awesome.

  7. rayduray Says:

    Time for a music break? Spanish flamenco master Paco de Lucia died peacefully on a beach yesterday. Here’s his breakout tune from 1976, “Entre dos Aguas”

  8. rayduray Says:

    Climate Change Denial Found To Be Universal Human Truth!

    Today’s NASA Earth Observatory features the stunning new climate of Northeast China, where there are quips going around about the the dense smog being a useful deterrent to U.S. laser guided missiles.

    My favorite line comes from a Chinese government supported “news” source, the Global Times. This is classic denial:

    “The Global Times, meanwhile, said that the cause of China’s smog is still unknown.

    “There is still no authoritative or scientific explanation for this air problem,” the paper said.” Source:

    Move over Joe Barton and Tom Coburn. We got us some new idiots in charge of not knowing anything! 🙂

  9. dumboldguy Says:

    Don’t know why “Off Topic Ray” is trying so hard to distract us, and he has cherry picked the ONE MOST EMBARRASSING LINE from a long and fairly informative article, but we should remember that we are talking about a country that is a bit smaller than the U.S. and holds 20% of the world’s population (against less than 5% for the U.S.) Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Chinese to clean up their air—they have the same problems we have with idiots X 4+

  10. rayduray Says:

    Any chemists among us?

    Bolivia has just announced a pilot plant for the production of lithium carbonate batteries.

    My question is how does lithium carbonate relate to lithium-ion type batteries? Is Bolivia heading in the direction of current leading edge battery design?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: