Developing efficient storage technologies is the key to generating adequate electricity sources to meet growing global demand, according to Donald Sadoway, professor of materials chemistry at the Masschusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Speaking at the Tuesday keynote session at the Battery Show in Novi, MI, Sadoway said the key to continued prosperity in established regions, as well as the growth of underdeveloped areas, is making sure energy storage sources are safe, reliable, and above all a reasonable cost.
Sadoway’s work at MIT included developing liquid metal battery technology back around 2010, which he achieved with the help of student scientists. The research built upon Sadoway’s 40 years of work working with extreme electrochemical processes, ranging from aluminum smelting, to molten oxide electrolysis to extract oxygen from lunar regolith, to lithium polymer batteries. Eventually, Sadoway helped form a startup company, later named Ambri, to commercialize the technology.
“We had to change the research paradigm to make a cost-informed discovery, not just make the highest performing technology possible,” according to Sadoway. “You need to make cost a requirement from day one.”
An important part of that paradigm was, says Sadoway, was to use metals that are in abundance and relatively easy to find and produce, and avoid the use of rare metals. Several of those metals wound up including magnesium and antimony.
Sadoway’s research ignored conventional thinking that high-temperature battery processes would waste energy to make it work. His work also went against the notion that the technology could only work with smaller cells.
Sadoway notes that the liquid metal technology, which continues undergoing development, is easy to manufacture, immune to thermal runaway, and produces cells that are safe to ship, even by air. More important, the cells Ambri has developed have been shown to retain most of their initial capacity after over time and during temperature cycling.
According to Sadoway, research is now being done with liquid bismuth as efforts are underway to produce higher voltages and lower production costs.