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Summary:

A buzzy startup working on a battery that sandwiches molten salt between two layers of liquid metal, has gotten seed funding from Bill Gates. The company is called Liquid Metal Battery, and it’s the brainchild of MIT Professor Donald Sadoway.

liquidmetal

A buzzy startup working on a battery that sandwiches molten salt between two layers of liquid metal has gotten seed funding from Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates, reports Cnet . The company is called Liquid Metal Battery, and it’s the brainchild of MIT Professor Donald Sadoway (see our 15 Questions for the Don of Liquid Metal Batteries). When I attended the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E event earlier this year, Liquid Metal Battery was the company everyone was talking about. (It was one of the earliest grant winners under the ARPA-E program.)

Sadoway and his team have been working on a stable, low-cost, large-scale grid battery, and the group has been building the battery at larger and larger sizes to prove the concept — from “shot glass” scale, to hockey puck, to pizza, and eventually to ping-pong table-sized. Sadoway told us he was planning to spin off the company with some of his co-workers, and this seed round from Gates and others is no doubt to get the company up and running. Cnet says Sadoway is taking a year-long sabbatical from MIT to be the Science Advisor to Liquid Metal Battery.

Sadoway told us what drew him to use liquid metals for a grid battery was a belief that a battery based on liquid metal electrodes would be stable, and scalable at an acceptably low cost for grid storage and renewables storage applications. “That’s the number one problem with storage right now. We have batteries that can cycle and do all sorts of things that will meet the technical requirements of the application, but they’re far too costly,” said Sadoway. Using a large pool of liquid in the battery — as opposed to many individual cells — is why Sadoway thinks the design can deliver a low-cost battery.

The project received an ARPA-E grant of $6.9 million, and Sadoway said the funds helped the team move much more quickly, including expanding company operations to hire more staff, students and post-docs. The project also received $4 million from oil company Total.

Over the past year, Bill Gates has been talking about, and investing in, green technology companies, including nuclear startup TerraPower and being an LP in Khosla Venture’s fund. Gates also said at an event last year that he has invested in five battery startups. Liquid Metal Battery must be one of those. Also during that event, Gates said he thinks that battery innovation “may not be solvable in an economic way.”

If you want to see more of Gate’s comments on batteries, watch this jumpy video I shot (maybe just listen to the audio):

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  1. Any sense of energy densities and how they compare, say, with lithium-ion? This development, along with Arizona-based Fluidic Energy, is encouraging.

    1. It’s a grid storage battery so density isn’t really a concern, cost and durability are what matter.

  2. Katie Fehrenbacher Friday, May 20, 2011

    @Tyler, I’m not sure on that. I’ll ping them though, good question. I would guess there is a trade off for such a low cost. Sadoway said to us that the cost has to get below $100 per kilowatt-hour (and CNET has total installed cost at below $250 per kilowatt-hour). So that’s pretty cheap.

  3. connectedtraveler Friday, May 20, 2011

    This is very encouraging to see battery technology getting much needed attention and to see that venture funding sees the future. This will certainly bear results before traveling wave reactors another of Gates’ projects.

  4. Charles E. Campbell Sunday, May 22, 2011

    I love the idea of Bill Gates providing seed funding for a nonconventional idea. However, I question whether he would provide the same seed funding for innovators who are not MIT Professors. Innovation is not relegated only to those with degrees from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and MIT. The power of ideas and those who dare to try something different are the key active ingredients for innovation. Congratulations to Donald Sadoway, Liquid Metal Battery!

    Charles E. Campbell, Founder & CEO
    Allen Hydro Energy Corporation (AHEC)
    http://www.ahecEnergy.com
    True Innovation @ Work

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