#1 cleantech news, reviews, & analysis site in the world. Subscribe today. The future is now.


Published on October 24th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan


Liquid Metal Battery & Donald Sadoway on Colbert

October 24th, 2012 by  

We’ve gotten a pretty decent stream of views in the past couple days from people googling “liquid metal battery” or “donald sadoway battery” or “ambri” or something along those lines. Given that there wasn’t any recent news on Donald Sadoway’s liquid metal battery (now being developed under the company name Ambri — which is backed by Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures, and several others), I was a bit unsure where the surge in interest was coming from. I figured it must have been featured on TV or something. Sure enough, that seems to have been the case — Donald Sadoway and his liquid metal battery were featured on The Colbert Report show this week. The full interview is below.

For anyone not aware, Colbert pretends to be an über conservative… nonstop. Surprisingly, many interviewees don’t seem to be aware of that coming into the interview. Or, if they are aware, they just get totally thrown off. Sadoway seems to do quite a good job here of playing along a bit, staying composed, and getting his key points across.

He does seem to inadvertently promote some common misconceptions in the interview, however. While pointing out that better batteries will make it easier to store and use electricity produced from solar and wind energy (true), he almost makes it sound like we can’t integrate those into the grid without better batteries (not true). As recent studies have shown: the U.S. could be getting 70% of its electricity cheaply from renewable energy by 2030 with current technology, and the world could be 95% powered by renewables by 2050 with no breakthrough technologies.

So, it’s definitely not that we can’t do it, or that there’s anything technical holding back a surge in renewable integration today. However, big breakthroughs, especially in energy storage, will certainly help and can speed up our global renewable energy revolution. We here at CleanTechnica are big fans of Sadoway and his liquid metal battery, and I’m very happy to see him getting some attention in ‘mainstream’ media. I imagine the real Colbert is, too.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

Zach is tryin’ to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he’s also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada.

Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don’t jump to conclusions.


    Can magnesium and antimony be mined, large scale, in an environmentally and socially responsible way that doesn’t ruin Sadoway’s cost projections? I just found this quote from a 2009 article: “Because the technology is being patented and could lead to very large-scale commercialization, Sadoway will not discuss the details of the materials being used. But both Sadoway and ARPA-E say the battery is based on low-cost, domestically available liquid metals that have the potential to shatter the cost barrier to large-scale energy storage as part of the nation’s energy grid.” (http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/liquid-battery.html) Now that we know what the materials are, can this statement be verified?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Your link isn’t working for me. It appears to be a 2009 page from MIT.

      I think Sadoway has moved on from magnesium and antimony to other metals but I haven’t seen exactly what stated to date.

      In a recent release he stated –

      ““We explored many chemistries,” Sadoway says, looking for the right combination of electrical properties, abundant availability and differences in density that would allow the layers to remain separate. His team has found a number of promising candidates, he says, and is publishing their detailed analysis of one such combination: magnesium for the negative electrode (top layer), a salt mixture containing magnesium chloride for the electrolyte (middle layer) and antimony for the positive electrode (bottom layer). The system would operate at a temperature of 700 degrees Celsius, or 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit.”


    • I think I saw him mention that he moved away from antimony, but I could be mistaken.

  • Hey Zachary, I’m actually working at an energy conference at the moment and the more I listen to these guys talk, it reinforces the fact that current energy companies want nothing to do with this type of technology.

    Sadoway’s technology has the potential to realistically change the world. But what I see are a bunch of companies that are more worried about revenues and bottom lines, than technology that will positively shift overall economic and environmental “realities”. Something like the liquid metal battery will drastically change our current Energy grid, and the companies tied to the current delivery system.

    Even though Sadoway has big-name backing and support in his circles, how is his amazing invention going to be accepted into the real world of energy delivery and storage? Do you think he realistically has a chance?

    (I, for one, hope he does. This is revolutionary).


    • Bob_Wallace

      I’m not Zach, but I suspect he’d answer about like I’m going to.

      Really good technologies push older technologies out. Slide rule companies quit manufacturing slide rules two years after the scientific calculator was introduced. Computers killed typewriters and ledger books in about ten years. Same for digital photography and film.

      Walk around your house, look at things, and ask what they replaced. Got an ice box? A telegraph key? Drive a horse?

      All Sadoway (or one of the other promising battery technologies) has to do is to produce something that work and works at a good price.

      Utility companies are going to look at this new storage device and in five minutes crank through the numbers to see if it would be cheaper to store late night off-peak power for peak use or to continue using gas peakers. Gas peakers are very expensive.

      A couple years ago the State of CA released a study showing projections of the cost of electricity for new generation placed in service in 2018. Capital expense, financing, fixed and variable operation costs
      and transmission costs were included.

      Wind was 10 to 12 cents per kWh. Advanced single cycle natural gas (gas peakers, the best version) was 35 cents.

      Sadoway is talking 2 cents. 12 cent wind plus 2 cents per storage vs. 35 cents for gas peakers? All those business school types you’re looking at will be able to understand that math.

  • T Adkins

    well these could store the extra wind that tends to blow harder at night and any power generated on the weekends. With the right scale they could help to replace peaker plants and help move cheaper off-peak power to peak times, in addition to smoothing out power loads. They can also be used to help slower but already existing peaker plants to get up to speed, by buying them that bit of time they need.

    Just thinking they may even be very useful for subway systems to have a close place to dump electricity from the regenerative braking systems that have been talked about.

    • agreed. really exciting potential solution, hope it comes into play.

  • Luke

    Love Colbert. Congratulations to Sadoway for getting this far as well – I’m not sure what he’s waiting for, but he seemed pretty sure that it could be commercialized quite quickly during his TED talk. Keep us posted, Zachary!

  • We could benefit from grid storage even now, before we get a lot of renewables online — coal plants and other base load generation plants that can’t be ramped up or down quickly could be used at a lower constant level and just charge the batteries when the demand isn’t there. This would eliminate the need for as many peak load plants, which are much more expensive to run.

    So, we should get working to quickly bring grid storage online asap, and then when we move more and more to renewable energy, we will be ready!

    Your point about not requiring grid storage for renewables is correct — with a well designed mix of renewable sources and a “smarter” grid, storage batteries make it better, but they are not required if you have other storage methods, like elevated reservoir hydro or underground compressed air storage.


Back to Top ↑