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Giant liquid metal batteries could make renewable energy sources more viable

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Researchers at MIT are developing a liquid metal battery that could be used to efficiently store the energy produced from wind and sun.

MIT Liquid metal battery
MIT Liquid metal battery

Professor Donald Sadoway and his team of students at MIT have managed to build a liquid metal battery that could one day make renewable energy sources like solar and wind a more reliable part of the grid. While the battery may sound like something out of science fiction — with its layer of molten salt sandwiched between two liquid metal electrodes — it was actually developed with the mandate to create something that would be both cheap and made from readily available materials. But Sadoway and his team don't just want to make a cheap battery, they also want to make a huge one.

"With a giant battery we'd be able to address the problem of intermittency that prevents wind and solar from contributing to the grid in the same way that coal and gas and nuclear do today," he explained during a TED talk earlier this year. The first prototype of the device was no bigger than a shot glass, while the most recent is six-inches across, an upgrade that has led to 200 times more storage capacity. With larger-scale batteries, this efficiency could eventually make it possible to easily store the energy produced from solar panels and wind turbines for later use by the grid.

While we won't see utility companies adopting the technology any time soon, the team has already made the first step towards commercialization — Sadoway and his protege David Bradwell recently formed Liquid Metal Battery Corp. to bring the dream to fruition.