Liquid Metal Battery Corporation (LMBC), a Cambridge, Massachusetts company founded in 2010 to develop new forms of electric storage batteries that work in large, grid-scale applications, has secured the rights to key patent technology from MIT. Earlier this year, the company announced it had received financing from France’s Total—which earlier had funded research on the technology at MIT (earlier post)—and from a personal investment by Bill Gates.
Patents for all liquid metal battery inventions were licensed from MIT. The technologies were invented by Donald Sadoway, John Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT, and David Bradwell, whose doctoral research in the Sadoway laboratory was on liquid metal batteries. Sadoway and Bradwell, along with Dr. Luis Ortiz, are founders of LMBC.
Sadoway’s basic principle is to place three layers of liquid inside a container: two different metal alloys (e.g., antimony and magnesium), and one layer of a salt. With different densities, the materials separate naturally into three distinct layers, with the salt in the middle separating the two metal layers.
The energy is stored in the liquid metals that want to react with one another but can do so only by transferring ions across the electrolyte, which results in the flow of electric current out of the battery. When the battery is being charged, some ions migrate through the insulating salt layer to collect at one of the terminals. Then, when the power is being drained from the battery, those ions migrate back through the salt and collect at the opposite terminal.
The whole device is kept at a high temperature, around 700 °C, so that the layers remain molten.
This is an important step forward for Liquid Metal Battery Corporation. By securing the necessary IP infrastructure and funding from two important new-energy investors, LMBC can explore scale-up engineering and commercialization efforts.—Luis Ortiz, LMBC’s President
Affordable grid-level energy storage is the linchpin for massive deployment of renewable energy on the electric power grid. The approach being pursued by LMBC mixes the economies of scale in electrometallurgy with use of earth-abundant elements to achieve affordable electrical energy storage.
The liquid metal battery received early sponsorship by the Desphpande Center, the Chesonis Family Foundation and DARPA. Later in 2009, ARPA-e chose the technology as a recipient of a grant in its first round of awards, this project alone totaling nearly $9,000,000 in funding (since its invention, the liquid metal battery has garnered approximately $12,000,000 of campus based research funds).
Total has funded liquid metal battery research at MIT since 2009 and LMBC represents a continued commitment to this cutting-edge technology. As a major player in the Solar Industry, we are convinced that the development of a low-cost, long life battery will help the widespread deployment of affordable solar power.—Philippe Boisseau, President Total Gas & Power
LMBC’s commercialization efforts will build upon the efforts and accomplishments of the team of researchers working on the Total and ARPA-e funded project at MIT. Liquid Metal Battery Corporation is recruiting a commercialization team to bring the liquid metal battery to its most efficient operational scale. The end product will be a cost-effective solution for bulk energy storage able to smooth out the intermittent flow of power from renewable sources like wind turbines and solar cells.