Ambri, a startup founded by MIT chemistry professor Dr. Donald Sadoway and David Bradwell, has received another $35 million in venture capital funding from KLP Enterprises, the family office of Karen Pritzker and Michael Vlock, and Building Insurance Bern, a Swiss insurance company, along with existing investors Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Total. Other than those three long-time investors, previous investors include the Deshpanded Center and the Chesonis Family Foundation. (The Office of Naval Research also has provided grants for their work.)
The company was founded in 2010 to commercialize the liquid metal battery invented by Sadoway, and was originally called the Liquid Metal Battery Corporation. He has about forty years of experience working with such technology.
Cost-effective energy storage is often referred to as the “holy grail” of the energy industry. It could help renewable energy grow faster, could prevent overall power overcapacity, and could also make the grid more secure and more reliable. Professor Sadoway’s technology is supposed to become a commercial, viable, grid-scale battery storage system. In a 2012 TED talk now with 1.4 million views, he explained, “electricity demand must be in constant balance with electricity supply,” which is challenging without good energy storage technology. He also said that a giant battery system would need to be:
- very high power
- uncommonly long-lived
His slogan about material selection is charming and illuminating: “If you want something that is dirt-cheap, make it out of dirt.” Initially he and his students used magnesium, antimony and salt. (Italian professor Alessandro Volta used copper, zinc and salt in his voltaic pile around the year 1800.)
David Bradwell worked on implementing Professor Sadoway’s first design when he was a graduate student at MIT. Eventually, the team expanded to about twenty students and post docs in total, when funding came through. The company was formed to help accelerate the construction of larger and larger battery prototypes. Dr. Sadoway has emphasized the learning aspect of their research and testing, calling it “inventing inventors.”
There are much smaller grid-tied storage systems that can be used with home solar systems. For example, Wholesale Solar offers a back-up system for a 1,500 watt, six panel array for about $6,000. A similar system with off-grid capability and 21 solar panels would be about $15,000. SolarCity is also offering a home battery pack, but made by Tesla.
Whether we begin using battery storage systems that are massive or home-sized, it seems that electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind might grow even faster if they have this supporting technology to go with them.
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