Liquid batteries could level the load

February 14, 2012 by David L. Chandler, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor Donald Sadoway and Materials Processing Center Research Affiliate David Bradwell observe one of their small test batteries in the lab. The battery itself is inside the heavily insulated metal cylinder at center, which heats it to 700 degrees Celsius. Photo: Patrick Gillooly

The biggest drawback to many real or proposed sources of clean, renewable energy is their intermittency: The wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine, and so the power they produce may not be available at the times it’s needed. A major goal of energy research has been to find ways to help smooth out these erratic supplies.

New results from an ongoing research program at MIT, reported in the , show a promising technology that could provide that long-sought way of leveling the load — at far lower cost and with greater longevity than previous methods. The system uses high-temperature batteries whose liquid components, like some novelty cocktails, naturally settle into distinct layers because of their different densities.

The three molten materials form the positive and negative poles of the battery, as well as a layer of — a material that charged particles cross through as the battery is being charged or discharged — in between. All three layers are composed of materials that are abundant and inexpensive, explains Donald Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT and the senior author of the new paper.

“We explored many chemistries,” Sadoway says, looking for the right combination of electrical properties, abundant availability and differences in density that would allow the layers to remain separate. His team has found a number of promising candidates, he says, and is publishing their detailed analysis of one such combination: magnesium for the negative electrode (top layer), a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride for the electrolyte (middle layer) and antimony for the positive electrode (bottom layer). The system would operate at a temperature of 700 degrees Celsius, or 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit.

In this formulation, Sadoway explains, the battery delivers current as magnesium atoms lose two electrons, becoming magnesium ions that migrate through the electrolyte to the other electrode. There, they reacquire two electrons and revert to ordinary magnesium atoms, which form an alloy with the antimony. To recharge, the battery is connected to a source of electricity, which drives magnesium out of the alloy and across the electrolyte, where it then rejoins the negative .

The inspiration for the concept came from Sadoway’s earlier work on the electrochemistry of aluminum smelting, which is conducted in electrochemical cells that operate at similarly high temperatures. Many decades of operation have proved that such systems can operate reliably over long periods of time at an industrial scale, producing metal at very low cost. In effect, he says, what he figured out was “a way to run the smelter in reverse.”

Over the last three years, Sadoway and his team — including MIT Materials Processing Center Research Affiliate David Bradwell MEng ’06, PhD ’11, the lead author of the new paper — have gradually scaled up their experiments. Their initial tests used batteries the size of a shot glass; they then progressed to cells the size of a hockey puck, three inches in diameter and an inch thick. Now, they have started tests on a six-inch-wide version, with 200 times the power-storage capacity of the initial version.

The electric utility companies that would ultimately be the users of this technology, Sadoway says, “don’t care what the stuff is made of, or what the size is. The only question is what’s the cost of storage” for a given amount of power. “I can build a gorgeous battery to a NASA price point,” he says — but when cost is the primary driver, “that changes the search” for the best materials. Just based on the rarity and cost of some elements, “large sections of the periodic table are off limits.”

The team is continuing to work on optimizing all aspects of the system, including the containers used to hold the molten materials and the ways of insulating and heating them, as well as ways of reducing the operating temperature to help cut energy costs. “We’ve discovered ways to decrease the operating temperature without sacrificing electrical performance or cost,” Sadoway says.

While others have researched similar liquid-battery systems, Sadoway says he and his team are the first to produce a practical, functional storage system using this approach. He attributes their success in this partly to the unique mix of expertise in a place like MIT: “People in the battery industry don’t know anything about electrolytic smelting in molten salts. Most would think that high-temperature operation would be inefficient.”

Robert Huggins, a professor emeritus of materials science and engineering at Stanford University, says, “As for any radically different approach, there are a number of new practical problems to solve in order for it to become a practical alternative for use in large-scale energy storage, [including] electrolyte evaporation, and corrosion and oxidation of components, as well as the ever-present issue of cost.” Nevertheless, he says, this is “a very innovative approach to electrochemical energy storage, and it is being explored with a high degree of sophistication.”

Sadoway, along with Bradwell, has founded a company to bring this technology to commercialization, and is on sabbatical this year working with the company, Liquid Metal Battery Corp. “If this technology succeeds,” he says, “it could be a game-changer” for .

Explore further: Liquid Battery Offers Promising Solar Energy Storage Technique

More information: Paper online:

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1.3 / 5 (14) Feb 14, 2012
liquid batteries are nothing new they are the oldest batteries ever thought of. Plus how are you going to maintain 700 degrees when the wind is not blowing? This research is a joke.
1 / 5 (12) Feb 14, 2012
You'll need not too much energy to keep the battery in its molten state. Anyway, you're right in the point, the cold fusion will remove the necessity of all these costly, environmentally unfriendly and material hungry solutions. It would be a much effective to streamline the effort into implementation of cold fusion itself - the only problem is, too many researchers would lose their jobs. So that the research in classical technologies continues, we are facing devastation of life environment and another oil war with Iraq - and all these researchers are responsible for it, too. The collective responsibility of people and prioritization of research is zero.
1.3 / 5 (14) Feb 14, 2012
The cold fusion will save the money not only for fossil fuels, but even for iron and cooper used for building of distribution grids, the heavy metals and lithium used for batteries, the indium used for making of solar cells etc., because this source of power can be regulated easily. It seems, the cold fusion reactors will even transmute the copper from nickel instead.

But would you support such a technology, if you would work for Liquid Metal Battery Corp? No way...
5 / 5 (11) Feb 14, 2012
Correct me if I'm wrong, but cold fusion has not even been proven on any scale, even in a lab.
1.5 / 5 (8) Feb 14, 2012
As part of the IAP Course on cold fusion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Mitchell Swartz, JET Energy, and Prof. Peter Hagelstein demonstrated an energy gain greater than 10 for five days. http://world.std....cft.html

On March 22nd, the CERN conference will be dedicated to a cold fusion. http://indico.cer...d=177379

NASA is dealing with cold fusion too

The original twenty publications of Piantelli group. The were never attempted to replicate in peer-reviewed press, because mainstream physicists are ignoring it from fear of lost of their credit, jobs and grants

Although the list of replicators is quite extensive.
2 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2012
Interesting, but:
What is the barrier to running an electric car, stopping at a battery station and swapping the batteries out every 300 miles ?
Don't we have to do that now anyway ?
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 14, 2012
It is hard to imagine that a very high temperature could be maintained efficiently enough but I hope they are right. Is it just the fact that the heat makes electron transfer easier which makes this method supposedly better than low temperature batteries?
1 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2012
@jdbertron or in the northern winters every 25 miles.
4 / 5 (6) Feb 14, 2012
It is truly sad that no company, government or individual person is allowed or encouraged to do ANYTHING that is solely for the GOOD OF MANKIND. Here is the equation "We don't want to do X, because we are making money on Y". Or "Why cure a disease and make people healthier and happier when we can make a daily treatment and make lots of money!" Truly, the world will consume itself by going down this path.
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 14, 2012
djr - Yes we agree completely. I have seen perhaps 100 breakthroughs reported on this site over many years, and yet, very little has changed. Why does good technology have to get doubted, stunted, hidden or destroyed, just to make the rich even richer!
5 / 5 (5) Feb 14, 2012
Time from research to market is on the order of a decade (or more). Physorg reports on bleeding edge research papers.
This goes especially for technologies which need to be implemented on a large scale. Here companies (and governments) want to see stuff put into practice that is mature (i.e. has seen years and years of testing in the field).

You have not been here long enough to see anything put into practice. Be patient. From research to product doesn't happen overnight. A lot of stuff has to be figured out first (scaling, optimization, distribution, operational specs, integration, ... )
1 / 5 (3) Feb 14, 2012
It is truly sad that no company, government or individual person is allowed or encouraged to do ANYTHING that is solely for the GOOD OF MANKIND. Here is the equation "We don't want to do X, because we are making money on Y".

Cold fusion may become such a thing: I believe, its principle and realization can be so simple, virtually everyone could use it. But from the same reason it's a poor business for every money maker. Once you sell the first cold fusion reactor, other manufactures will replicate it. This is one of reason, nobody is hurrying with its development. If it could serve as a weapon of mass destruction, we would already have developed all configurations thinkable. It took just five years from finding of nuclear fission to first successful Trinity test - the world was a much poorer and primitive before sixty years.
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 14, 2012
I'm on the waiting list for Andrea Rossi's E-CAT. There is a site you can register if you want- no money down. How funny it'll be when you'll have to buy a cold fusion reactor to keep up with the Joneses.
3.5 / 5 (2) Feb 14, 2012
This is a very good idea. After they scale it up just make sure after two days of clouds its still say 660c. My table shows Mg melts at 648.8 and Sb at 630.8 and solar thermal energy can do that. It takes what 3 hours of TV power to smelt one soda can, and if I remember that is when we had tubes in them. Sphere containment would be best, less surface area for heat transfer, and if it doesnt need much middle salt, it could hold massive amounts of Mg and Sb. I wish they gave volume ratios for the layers. I don't know why anyone has to be all pessimistic about this, but my mother said people that don't know much talk the most. I think it's too many dollar meals and mad cows; I did a study on that but the FDA burned it. Then they said "What study?".
not rated yet Feb 14, 2012
To make a significant economic impact these batteries are going to have to store dozens of terajoules. This means a large abount of chemical energy meaning a large amount of product. Magnesium sounds cheap, but antimony is not that cheap. Potassium sodium alloy could make a low cost liquid conductor, that can also be pumped in and out of the battery to a large storage tank. However is there a useful way to make a rechargeable battery with it? If oxygen from the air can be used as the other reactant then that too is a low cost product.
2 / 5 (21) Feb 15, 2012
Cold Fusion, like the Sasquatch or Yeti, has never been seen by a person or group that is reputable. It HAS been studied by various agencies that are reputable but nothing has come from it. Articles have been printed and web pages abound promoting it, but it just hasn't been seen yet.

Just like the Yeti.

If you search this site you can see the results of a look into Rossi and his contraption.

I am however, heartened by the progress made in the field of electrical storage. Large scale storage has always been a goal of providers and consumers of electricity. Even before solar, wind and other sources were added to the grid there has been a need to even out the load.

There are plenty of companies, people and ideas that are striving to help other people, you just need to quit being sorry for yourself and find them.

Lower electrical costs impact the poor more than the rich.
not rated yet Feb 15, 2012
The technology sounds very interesting but information on the capacity of this new battery to store energy is conspicuous by its absence.
1 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2012
Cold Fusion ... has never been seen by a person or group that is reputable.
It was never studied with reputable group, because of fear of lost of reputation. This is indeed a difference and the consequence is undeniable: we lost twenty years of cold fusion research just because of poor organization and prioritization of scientific research.
Large scale storage has always been a goal of providers and consumers of electricity.
Nope, the interest of consumers of electricity is to have unlimited source of cheap energy which would require no wires to grid, no storage, always ready for load. The battery backuped grid is just a remnant of previous century thinking, it's environmentally and material costly solution.
1 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2012
"..In a huge, grandiose convention center I found about 200 extremely conventional-looking scientists, almost all of them male and over 50. In fact some seemed over 70, and I realized why: The younger ones had bailed years ago, fearing career damage from the cold fusion stigma..."
"I have tenure, so I don't have to worry about my reputation," commented physicist George Miley, 65. "But if I were an assistant professor, I would think twice about getting involved."

This is how the mainstream science currently (doesn't) work. We may be left with the grim scenario described half a century ago by the famous physicist Max Planck:
"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
not rated yet Feb 15, 2012
Regarding tempoerature, see the text for the photo: "The battery itself is inside the *heavily insulated* metal cylinder at center"

The problem is not temperature, it has always been cost. If this new device will be cost-efficient remains to be seen, large-scale production will help a bit.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2012
It was never studied with reputable group, because of fear of lost of reputation.

You may be too young to remember, but there was a flurry of attempts to replicate pons and fleischmann; they all failed.

If cold fusion/LENR existed it would be a gamma radiation nightmare. You need novel physics to explain how it can be otherwise and so far nobody has stepped up to the plate.

This is indeed a difference and the consequence is undeniable: we lost twenty years of cold fusion research just because of poor organization and prioritization of scientific research.

We've also lost decades of research into astrology, homeopathy, alchemy and perpetual motion machines. Good riddens; scientists have chosen to spend their time doing things with a higher probability of success.
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2012
If oxygen from the air can be used as the other reactant then that too is a low cost product.
- Graeme

Input a life giving element and output crap. If I could charge you with promoting a crime against humanity, I would. Punishment for you - slow painful torture and your head on a spike.
1 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2012
You may be too young to remember, but there was a flurry of attempts to replicate pons and fleischmann; they all failed..
Apparently they didn't it well, because recently the same experiments were replicated publicly at MIT with COP > 10 during five days. http://world.std....emo.html How is it possible, the experts who are searching for minute violations of established theories suddenly missed the energy effects in the range of many watts? The explanation is simple: data from original experiments were manipulated and censored http://www.infini...port.pdf
1 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2012
Good riddens; scientists have chosen to spend their time doing things with a higher probability of success.
This situations just changed and this paradigm doesn't work anymore. Dense aether model explains it with water surface model: up to certain distance the deterministic approach which is using the transverse waves works well, but after certain distance the spreading of surface ripples becomes driven with underwater dispersion and the holistic approach involving underwater longitudinal waves becomes more efficient. The contemporary generation of physicists is apparently surprised and caught off guard with this change of paradigm: "how is it possible, our deterministic theories failed, if mathematical Universe worked so well so far?"

Well, it happens and I'd expect more insightful approach from scientists. But it has no meaning to speculate about it - even the voting status of posts about cold fusion demonstrates, how the people welcome the arrival of cold fusion.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2012
Every ignorance comes at its price: we lost twenty years in cold fusion research, we devastated life environment for it, we maintained Iraq war just because of oil sources and now we are facing global economical crisis, because the oil sources get depleted faster, than they can be renewed.
Unfortunately, this time not only the politicians and fossil fuel lobby are responsible for it. It's a collective fault of all scientists, who got money and equipment just for research of these phenomena, which should help the future of human civilization.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2012
-bluehigh When the battery is charged it produces oxygen, and when it discharges it consumes it. Over all it is oxygen neutral. However I now realise with an air based electrode, it may also remove water, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide from the air, which would contaminate the electrolyte and or liquid metal.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2012
Dense aether model explains...

we lost twenty years in cold fusion research...

Another sockpuppet zephyr/rawa/calippo/...? *sigh*
Don't you ever get tired of making a fool of yourself?
not rated yet Feb 18, 2012
Where do all the nutjobs come from? This is not a religious forum for you to spout off about your "Church of the Virgins of Cold Fusion".

Could you please stick to the topics addressing real science and go start another forum for that crap.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2012
This ignorant approach will only lead us into global nuclear war with Iran, because the batteries cannot solve the problem of energy production. Everyone, who believes, that the cold fusion is not worth of further approach is behaving like people in Nazi Germany, who believed, Hitler was not dangerous enough. It's a boiling frog effect: the people involved in risk of war can never recognize the risk of war, until the things will evolve such a way, that the consequences cannot be avoided anymore.

It's therefore important to recognize and name such an ignorance as soon, as possible. The true is, for many people is very advantageous to develop liquid batteries instead of distributed source of energy in form of cold fusion - not only for mysterious "fossil fuel lobby". These people are widespread here and they're all willing to risk the future of human civilization just for their belief, that the cold fusion is impossible.
not rated yet Feb 19, 2012
"cold fusion" is not a magic energy source you fruitcake. It is a chemical reaction with very expensive chemicals.

Read your own links.

There is no conspiracy, there is no magic. And before you say stupid things like " because the batteries cannot solve the problem of energy production" the article you are supposedly commenting on. NOBODY says that batteries are an energy source. They allow for renewable energy sources to become more practical. If you're so bent on supporting distributed energy, look at solar and wind.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 19, 2012
Nope, these batteries are proposed as a solution of problems, which would never exist in cold fusion powered economy. In cold fusion economy no need of energy transform, transport or storage would exist, because every house would have its independent source of electricity with rudimentary battery or capacitor only. So it's more logical to deal with final solution first, just after then to bother with curiosities, like the molten antimonide batteries, which would have no meaningful usage under such a situation.
not rated yet Feb 19, 2012
As for all the "conspiracy theories" about the evil fossil fuel lobbies: It is not a conspiracy. It is simply a bunch of very rich, very disgusting group of bastards using every trick they can to keep us hooked on their product.
They do this because we keep electing people who allow them to get away with things like buying up patents and then sitting on them (e.g. Ovonics).

But that doesn't stop other types of batteries from being used, it just slows things down. And if you really want to stop this, then find and vote for congress members who are intent on patent reform. Our patent system is a joke that stymies competition. You can get a patent for swinging sideways on a child's swingset.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 20, 2012
The people doesn't require to be very rich to behave like ignorants. Every scientist involved in alternative methods of energy production, transform, transport or storage will be motivated to behave in the same way, like the fossil fuel lobby, because his research, social credit and maybe whole meaning of life will be wasted when the cold fusion will gain the wide acceptance. It has no meaning to speculate about it, these motivations are real and everything what we are expected to do is to incorporate them into our psychosocial models and predictions. The individuals may be less or more tolerant, but as a whole these motivations of scientific community represent a rock-steady barrier of ignorance of cold fusion research. It's not rich, very disgusting group of bastards, who is responsible for this situation - and everyone, who claims the opposite is such a bastard too..;-)
not rated yet Feb 20, 2012
Look you stupid ass-clown, if someone can make this magical "cold fusion" work, they'll be TRILLIONAIRES overnight.

Nobody who can have that is worried about whether another scientist thinks they wear the right pocket protector.

Doesn't common sense ever enter your little pea-brain???
1 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2012
if someone can make this magical "cold fusion" work, they'll be TRILLIONAIRES overnight.
It's not so easy if this technology could be replicated easily. Try to imagine situation, you would develop a cheap alternative of Windows, but you should attach the source code to every copy of your product. Who would buy it from it under such a situation, if everyone could compile it itself? In addition, in the USA the spreading of nuclear technologies requires the certification, whose obtaining may took years - this is the minimal timespan for spreading of cold fusion there.

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