A buzzy startup working on a battery that sandwiches molten salt between two layers of liquid metal has gotten seed funding from Microsoft (s msft) Co-Founder Bill Gates, reports Cnet (s cbs). 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 (s tot).
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):