Tuesday, February 21, 2012

MIT's liquid battery--the answer for renewable energy?

As several panelists noted at last week's Solar Energy Symposium in New Jersey, solar and wind energy will become a true alternative (or, at least, a greater complement) to fossil-fuel generation only when their intermittent supply limitations can be offset by large-scale and affordable storage capacity.

MIT Professor Donald Sadoway and
Research Affiliate David Bradwell

A new generation of batteries to capture wind power at night (when a utility's demand is low) or to utilize solar energy to power air conditioning units during heat waves (even on cloudy days when soar panels are producing fewer watts) is the holy grail of alternative energy research.

Today, there is promising environmental news from scientists at MIT who are working on a new type of 'liquid battery' that they believe could provide that storage at far lower cost and with greater longevity than other methods

The high-temperature battery's 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 electrolyte — a material that charged particles cross through as the battery is being charged or discharged — in between. 

The negative electrode (anode) is in the top layer and is made of magnesium; the middle layer, the electrolyte, consists of a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride; and the bottom layer, which is the positive electrode (cathode), is made of antimony.
This battery operates at a temperature of 700 °C, which is 1,292 °F.
The negative electrode (anode) is in the top layer and is made of magnesium; the middle layer, the electrolyte, consists of a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride; and the bottom layer, which is the positive electrode (cathode), is made of antimony.
This battery operates at a temperature of 700 °C, which is 1,292 °F.
The negative electrode (anode) is in the top layer and is made of magnesium; the middle layer, the electrolyte, consists of a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride; and the bottom layer, which is the positive electrode (cathode), is made of antimony.
This battery operates at a temperature of 700 °C, which is 1,292 °F.
The negative electrode (anode) is in the top layer and is made of magnesium; the middle layer, the electrolyte, consists of a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride; and the bottom layer, which is the positive electrode (cathode), is made of antimony.
This battery operates at a temperature of 700 °C, which is 1,292 °F.
The negative electrode (anode) is in the top layer and is made of magnesium; the middle layer, the electrolyte, consists of a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride; and the bottom layer, which is the positive electrode (cathode), is made of antimony.
This battery operates at a temperature of 700 °C, which is 1,292 °F.
The negative electrode (anode) is in the top layer and is made of magnesium; the middle layer, the electrolyte, consists of a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride; and the bottom layer, which is the positive electrode (cathode), is made of antimony.
The negative electrode (anode) is in the top layer and is made of magnesium; the middle layer, the electrolyte, consists of a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride; and the bottom layer, which is the positive electrode (cathode), is made of antimony.
The negative electrode (anode) in the top layer is made of magnesium. The middle layer, the electrolyte, consists of a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride, and the bottom layer, which is the positive electrode (cathode), is made of antimony.

The system would operate at a temperature of 700 degrees Celsius, or 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit.
This battery operates at a temperature of 700 °C, which is 1,292 °F.
This battery operates at a temperature of 700 °C, which is 1,292 °F.

All three layers are composed of materials that are abundant and inexpensive, according to Donald Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT and the senior author of the new paper reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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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.

Read more about the MIT liquid battery research
Liquid batteries could level the load
MIT: Liquid Batteries Have Huge Potential

 

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