Tremendous-hot salt might be coming to a battery close to you


Ambri is a Boston-area startup that’s constructing molten-salt batteries from calcium and antimony. The corporate lately introduced an illustration venture deploying vitality storage for Microsoft information facilities, and final 12 months it raised over $140 million to construct its manufacturing capability. 

The corporate says its expertise might be 30-50% cheaper over its lifetime than an equal lithium-ion system. Molten salt batteries can even exceed 80% effectivity, that means {that a} comparatively low quantity of vitality that’s used to cost the battery is misplaced to warmth.  

Ambri was based in 2010 primarily based on analysis from Donald Sadoway’s lab at MIT. The objective was to develop a low-cost product for the stationary storage market, says David Bradwell, the corporate’s founder and CTO. 

The inspiration got here from an unlikely place: aluminum manufacturing. Utilizing comparable chemical reactions to what’s used for aluminum smelting, the crew constructed a lab-scale, low-cost vitality storage system. However turning this idea into an actual product hasn’t been so simple.

The magnesium and antimony-based chemistry the corporate began out with proved tough to fabricate. In 2015, after persevering with points with the batteries’ seals, Ambri laid off 1 / 4 of its employees and went again to the drafting board. 

In 2017, the corporate pivoted to a brand new method for its batteries, utilizing calcium and antimony. The brand new chemistry depends on cheaper supplies, and will show less complicated to fabricate, Bradwell says. Because the pivot, the corporate has labored out technical glitches and made progress on commercialization, going by third-party security testing and signing its first industrial offers, together with the Microsoft one. 

The Microsoft vitality storage system. Picture courtesy of Ambri.

There are nonetheless main challenges forward for the startup. The batteries function at excessive temperatures, over 500°C (about 900°F), which limits what supplies can be utilized to make them. And transferring from single battery cells, that are in regards to the measurement of a lunchbox, to very large container-sized programs can current challenges in system controls and logistics. 

That’s to not point out deploying a product to the true world means “coping with actual world issues that occur,” as Bradwell places it. The whole lot from lightning strikes to rodents can throw a wrench in a brand new battery system. 

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