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Xcel Energy to test Liquid Metal battery

Metal News Tech - July 24, 2023

Forward-thinking utility works with Ambri on demo-scale deployment of molten metal battery for clean energy storage.

With the electric vehicle revolution demanding lithium-ion battery materials faster than mining companies can supply them, alternative systems for stationary renewable energy storage are needed. One such solution is the Ambri Liquid Metal battery that is being tested on a commercial scale by Xcel Energy, a forward-leaning utility company that delivers energy to millions of homes and businesses across eight midwestern and southwestern states.

"Xcel Energy is a forward-thinking and ambitious utility, and their enthusiasm for testing our system highlights the huge potential for Liquid Metal batteries," said Ambri Chief Commercial Officer Adam Briggs.

Born in the labs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and backed by Bill Gates and French energy giant Total, the Liquid Metal battery is exactly what its name suggests – a system that uses molten metal to store energy – without any of the concerns envisioned by such a system – it is reliable, does not produce gases, and there is no possibility for thermal runaway.

Ambri's Liquid Battery is already being used as an uninterruptible power supply for Microsoft's datacenter equipment. This early installation is no surprise, given that Gates is a founding investor in Ambri, and Microsoft is committed to eliminating diesel generators for the backup power critical to its facilities.

"At Microsoft, we are committed to pursuing progress toward 100% renewable power and replacing diesel backup generators by 2030, while providing reliable service to our customers," said Upshur Quinby, energy innovation manager on Microsoft's datacenter advanced development team. "Enhancing energy storage capabilities – including implementing long duration battery solutions for datacenters – is critically important to our mission."

Xcel-ing liquid metal batteries

Long-duration energy storage is also critically important to Xcel Energy, which is committed to responsibly reducing carbon emissions and delivering clean energy solutions from a variety of renewable sources at competitive prices.

"Xcel Energy has always been at the forefront among utilities in the transition to carbon-free electricity," said Justin Tomljanovic, vice president of corporate development at Xcel Energy.

To stay at the vanguard of the clean energy transition, Xcel Energy is working with Ambri to test a 300-kilowatt-hour Liquid Metal storage system at the Solar Technology Acceleration Center in Aurora, Colorado.

As the largest solar technology test facility in the United States, SolarTAC offers a world-class venue for researching, demonstrating, testing, and validating solar-related technologies at the early commercial or near-commercial stage of development.

Installation of the Ambri Liquid Metal battery system at the Colorado testing facility is slated to begin in early 2024 and is expected to be operational later that year. Taking advantage of the generation, inversion, and distribution infrastructure at SolarTAC, the system will be fed power from multiple sources, including wind and solar.

"This demonstration project with Ambri allows us to explore a technology that could help us continue to reliably supply the energy our customers depend on throughout the clean energy transition," said Tomljanovic.

Ambri battery advantages

The Liquid Metal battery technology developed by MIT professor Donald Sadoway and Ambri's co-founder David Bradwell is every bit as cutting edge as its name and origin story suggests.

These batteries have three main active ingredients – a calcium alloy anode, a base salt electrolyte, and an antimony cathode.

At room temperature, Ambri's cell is nonconductive, and the calcium and antimony are a solid alloy. Once heated to 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit), however, these ingredients melt and become active. The passing of ions through the electrolyte as the battery charges and discharges keep the metals molten, eliminating the need for auxiliary heating or cooling.

Ambri says these batteries are less expensive to manufacture, work in a wider range of climatic conditions, last longer, and are safer than their lithium-ion counterparts.

Highly tolerant to both over-charging and discharging without any damage or risk of thermal runaway, the Ambri Liquid Metal batteries are expected to last tens of thousands of cycles. And, at the end of their 20-year life, the common and low-toxicity materials in the Ambri systems are recyclable.

These advantages are why Xcel Energy is interested in Ambri Liquid Metal batteries as a storage system that will help the Minnesota-headquartered utility achieve its vision of delivering zero-carbon electricity to millions of residential and business customers by 2050.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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