I recently had the opportunity to talk with Ambri CEO Phil Giudice about what many of us here at CleanTechnica consider to be one of the most promising battery storage startups on the planet. It was a very interesting discussion, and I got more information from Phil than I expected. Below are paraphrased questions and answers, with some direct quotes sprinkled in.
When will the batteries hopefully be on the market?
Prototype batteries are being installed in several locations for different purposes in 2015. If those are successful, 2016 will see the introduction of commercial deliveries. Ambri has already landed its 1st commercial order, which will be for a military base at Pearl Harbor. A small part of base will be able to be islanded from the grid and get its electricity from solar power and Ambri batteries. It will be a 1 MWh, 0.5 MW peak capacity system.
Any projections on cost and lifespan?
Ambri, like almost everyone in the battery storage world, isn’t openly discussing cost, but it is discussing lifespan. The lifespan on its long-duration cells is currently exceeding 2,700 cycles, at 100% depth of discharge (DoD). Extrapolating, at 10,000 cycles, they would retain 98% of their capacity.
(Note from a top CleanTechnica advisor: 10,000 cycles — 27 years of daily cycles — with almost no loss is incredible. That means a double wind/solar daily cycle and the battery would (apparently) still be usable for several decades. Whatever the upfront cost, it’s going to be divided by a lot of cycles.)
You opened a factory in November 2013. Would that factory be utilized for commercial production, or is it mostly just useful for this prototype stage?
“We opened this factory to primarily learn about manufacturing as it relates to our technology, and it’s providing tremendous usefulness in that regard.” It will also be used for the prototypes and initial commercial orders.
The factory can produce 20 MWh a year. It only required a few million dollars of capital, one of the advantages Ambri has. A full-size, 500 MWh per year battery factory would only require about $50 million of capital investment.
Ambri, as it scales up, would very likely build factories around the world to serve their surrounding regions. That currently seems like the most cost-effective route.
Has the battery chemistry been finalized?
Ambri is continuing to work with the chemistry that has been in use since the company (initially called the “Liquid Metal Battery Corporation”) was established. The MIT campus continues to work on other chemistries, which Ambri is keeping an eye on, but they are not needed. Ambri has rights to license all the campus research related to the Liquid Metal Battery technology.
You have some initial partnerships. Can you name those partners?
For now, the partnerships are centered around grant-funded prototypes; these prototypes are our “Beta Cores” and each will have a capacity of about 35 kWh. We have partnerships with the Joint Base Cape Cod in Massachusetts; with NY-BEST, NYSERDA, and ConEd in New York; with the Hawaii Energy Excelerator and multiple partners in Hawaii; and with the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Alaska.”
What are your initial target markets? Primary regulation? Microgrids?
“We look at the world from a cost-of-electricity standpoint.” Places with high electricity costs will place a very high value on energy storage.
Ambri isn’t just looking at the frequency regulation market, but also storage for up to 24 hours where that can be helpful and cost competitive.
“2 MWh / 1 MW units strung together will give you the best economics.”
There’s a lot of competition in the battery space. Aquion Energy, ViZn, more established lithium-ion players like Samsung, BYD, Panasonic, and LG. What are the key parts of your pitch that you think convince the likes of Bill Gates, TOTAL, and Khosla Ventures to invest in Ambri?
Almost all of the technologies that are advancing are technologies that have been around for a long while, lithium-ion batteries, flow batteries, lead-acid batteries…. “All interesting technologies, but our technology has never been brought to the commercial marketplace.” The idea, as we’ve discussed previously, comes from the aluminum smelter business.
(Note from Zach: It seems to have come from a sort of “Aha!” moment by MIT professor Donald Sadoway.)
What about the software that goes between the batteries and the grid? Are you working on that side of thing much as well, or considering partnerships with companies like Younicos?
Ambri is focusing on developing the batteries to be the best possible, but it is watching these software-focused companies that can help with integration into the grid as well, including Younicos and STEM. It is also working with Raytheon on the Pearl Harbor project. Among other functions, Raytheon is producing the control system for the project. Eventually, Ambri could partner with these or other companies working on such solutions.
Image via Ambri
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