Solar is an absolutely amazing way to harvest energy. It’s become one of the primary clean energy sources over the past few decades, and its popularity as a way to reduce energy costs in the home has reduced many American’s energy bills dramatically. There is an obvious problem with solar though; we can’t use it when the sun goes down.
That may change very soon though. Imagine being able to store solar energy for use when the sun has gone down, or even using wind energy when there isn’t the tiniest of breezes. With new technology, we’re just about there.
Donald Sadoway, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is working on developing a liquid metal battery (LMB) that harnesses and stores different kinds of renewable energy for use when that type of energy is not available.
Sadoway said that the reason he is developing this battery is because of America’s need for reliable sources of electricity. Combining wind and solar with a battery makes for energy that is reliable at all times of the day or night, regardless if there’s sun in the sky or wind in the air. Developing this battery could mean solar and wind become as reliable of energy sources as coal, gas or nuclear. They’re a whole lot cleaner, too.
A device like this could power solar flood lights in a driveway or even use solar panels to heat a pool at night. Traditionally, solar hasn’t been as reliable at night. This invention could change that, though.
The battery could be housed in a 40-foot shipping container. It could store enough power to satisfy the daily energy needs of approximately 200 households.
Could this battery be the missing link between renewable energy and widespread use? Some people think so. Enough, in fact, that Sadoway’s invention gained him a spot on TIME’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
One big hurdle that Sadoway had to overcome is designing the battery to be big enough and cheap enough. The battery is massive, so designing it to be low-cost was something difficult to accomplish. The batteries work; they now must be developed to be used on a massive, grid scale that’s efficient for widespread use.
The battery is officially a “molten-salt” battery. Its uses go far beyond just storing solar and wind energy. The battery could be used to power electric vehicles in a way that’s much more efficient then the current lineup of electric vehicle batteries. Even the United States Postal Service has adopted this technology, testing it with a number of delivery vans that have been converted to run 100% on electric power.
Sadoway, who recently appeared on The Colbert Report to discuss his liquid metal battery, believes that an energy storing grid battery is one key to a peaceful and prosperous world. He believes this battery could change the way we use electricity in the near future. One things for certain: if the battery is able to effectively do what it should be able to do, the way we produce and use energy will change for the better.