In 2064, This Is Your Life As An Energy Generator

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This article is part of the ‘Think Further’ series, sponsored by Fred Alger Management, Inc. For more ‘Think Further’ content and videos, visit

We’ve been all over MIT researcher Donald Sadoway’s new “dirt cheap” liquid metal battery ever since it was a glimmer in his eye, so when Sadoway’s name came up in the context of a sponsored series for the investment firm Alger, that provided a good opportunity to dig a little deeper into his vision for our sparkly green future.

Alger has showcased Sadoway discussing the renewable energy landscape of tomorrow in a six-minute video, in which he divulged the inspiration behind his liquid metal battery. We were also intrigued by how the new battery technology could fit into the “every user could be a generator” theme that he articulates near the beginning of the video.

The Liquid Metal Battery Of The Future

In the video, Sadoway describes how the idea of a liquid metal battery was born out of the need to translate wind and solar energy into a reliable form.

That basically means pairing wind and solar with energy storage, including pumped hydro and thermal storage. Pumped hydro and thermal have limitations in terms of siting, scalability, and mobility.

Sadoway went in search of a more flexible, scalable form of energy storage with a low cost supply chain with the widest possible global reach.

That’s why Sadoway sent his research team literally digging in the dirt for battery materials, as described in the video.

What they ended up with is the “liquid metal battery,” consisting of three common, inexpensive substances: magnesium, a salt compound, and antimony. The three materials readily separate into three distinct layers in a liquid state, which Sadoway’s MIT team achieved through a process  inspired by the century-old technology for aluminum smelting.

The whole concept was bold enough to win a huge $7 million ARPA-E funding pot back in 2009. It’s been onwards and upwards since then, one recent development in May 2014 being a $35 million infusion of private financing for a grid-scale version of the technology.

Your Life As An Energy Generator

While Sadoway’s spinoff firm Ambri seems to be focusing on the grid-scale market, the potential for scaling the technology down to microgrids and personal use opens up endless possibilities.

So, what would your day look like if Ambri’s liquid metal battery became part and parcel of your future energy experience, say in 2064?

To some extent, that would depend on how you live. For example, if you own a single family home in a solar-friendly region, you get up in the morning and while brushing your teeth you check the status of the battery in your basement, which was charged the previous day from your rooftop and carport solar panels. If the weather outlook is sunny and your battery exceeds your projected needs for day, you would sell your extra solar energy to the local microgrid.

You could also contribute that extra energy to recharge a neighborhood-based battery for use in emergencies, or you could sell it at low cost (or what the heck, just donate it) to a charitable group or other non-profit organization that doesn’t have its own access to wind or solar.

The main point is, your capacity to economically generate and store renewable energy on your own property would provide you with a new opportunity to benefit yourself financially, but that’s already old news given the rapid growth of today’s solar market. What’s new, looking ahead to 2064, are new opportunities you would have to contribute to the well-being of your community.

You get bonus points if you’ve also taken into account the status of the battery in your electric vehicle, factoring in your estimated drive for the day along with potential opportunities to recharge it at work or elsewhere.

A similar scenario goes for commercial property owners, too, btw.

Generating And Storing Energy On The Go

That’s the ideal. Your reality could be quite different if you live in a multi-dwelling building sandwiched in a block of similar buildings, if other buildings or your neighbor’s trees shade your property, if you rent a home and the owner is one of the three people left on the planet who doesn’t believe in renewable energy, or if other circumstances prevent your access to on site solar.

Still, after you finish brushing your teeth there could be many other opportunities to generate and store energy as you move through your day.

For starters, the floors and stairs in your building could be embedded with kinetic energy generating devices that connect to a mini-battery in one of your closets, or a common battery in the basement. Juice from treadmills or other home exercise machines  would be icing on the cake, your plumbing might also be outfitted with hydrokinetic devices, and new waste heat recovery technology could also contribute heat energy from your stove and other home appliances to a battery.

As you get dressed, you might a strap a slim kinetic energy device onto your knee, which enables you to harvest energy with every step and store it in a lightweight micro-battery in your pocket. And yes, you get brownie points for using it when you’re out jogging.

If you commute to work by car, you could be driving over roadway-embedded kinetic energy harvesting devices while solar panels embedded in the body of your car harvest additional energy. If you commute by bus or train, the surface of your bus stop or train station could be similarly embedded.

Ditto for when you get to work: revolving doors, escalators, elevators, and floor surfaces are all candidates for kinetic energy harvesting devices that could be used to recharge batteries, if the battery technology develops to the point where the financials work out.

We still haven’t figured out how you could generate and store energy in your sleep but we’re thinking small scale biogas digesters could come into play.

If we missed anything, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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