Believe it or not: liquid batteries make energy storage real and affordable

The headline from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says, "It's Official: Wind Energy Can Be Stored Cheaply"' but gosh--cheap just sounds  Energy storage is more than just a cool advancement in technology, it is the Holy Grail. Grid level storage will make alternative and renewable energy available to the mass market with regularity and at a truly affordable rate. It's energy storage that will make harnessing temperamental energy sources like wind and solar plausible as a solution to our world energy needs.  It's energy storage that is the missing link.  To include cheap in the sentence seems somewhat demeaning ( although it is a press release from MIT and if Good Will Hunting taught me anything it's that those MIT guys know their stuff!).

Turns out one MIT guy in particular knows his stuff about grid level electrical storage and how to make it cost effective. Professor Donald Sadoway has developed the liquid metal battery; a device as he says, invented to the price point of the electric market.  Professor Sadoway's TED talk about his liquid metal battery is entertaining (colored chalk!) and actually makes simple sense of something that should be much more complicated.  

Donald Sadoway: solving energy's biggest challenge, like a boss. 

17 win investment or cash in ecochallenge

This past summer, General Electric Co. launched a $200 million innovation challenge to encourage ideas that would create a "smarter, cleaner, more efficient electric grid."

This week, the Fairfield, Conn.-based company announced five "innovation" winners, each nabbing $100,000. Officials said the challenge attracted about 4,000 ideas.

GE also announced a dozen winners that will share investment of $55 million put up by the company and its venture capital partners. Details of how the money will be disbursed was unclear. The company said this is the first of several rounds of innovation funding planned.

My former co-worker Jeff St. John at said in a post that "while the contest was marketed as a way to open the VC floodgates to greentech startups not already in the pipeline for corporate cash, the list is full of some already well-funded companies, including several GE is already investing in."

St. John said that didn't mean GE and its Ecomagination VC partners, which include Kleiner Perkins, Foundation Capital, Emerald Technology Ventures and RockPort Capital, didn’t pick well.

Investment winners included Sentient Energy of Burlingame, Calif., which makes intelligent sensor technologies; Soladigm of Milpitas, Calif. for efficiency windows; SustainX of West Lebanon, N.H. for compressed-air energy storage; ClimateWell of Stockholm, Sweden, which makes efficient appliances; Consert of Raleigh, N.C., which makes energy management systems and software; FMC-Tech Ltd. of Shannon, Ireland, which produces intelligent sensor technologies; The Fu Foundation School for Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University in New York for its electric vehicle charging stations; JouleX of Atlanta, which produces energy management systems and software; OPOWER of Arlington, Va., which produces energy management systems and software; Scientific Conservation of San Francisco, which produces energy management systems and software; SecureRF Corporation of Westport, Conn., which provides utility security; and SynapSense Corp. of Folsom, Calif. for data center services.

Innovation winners included an inflatable wind turbine, a turbine blade de-icer, a water meter that generates power, a two-way grid communication system and a system that prevents outages.

“We launched the Challenge to encourage new thinking and spur innovation at every level of development,” said Beth Comstock, GE's senior vice president and chief marketing officer, in a statement.

Challenge advisor and Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson said the nation's electrical grid is where the Internet was a generation ago, with its potential still largely untapped.

"Just as we did with the Internet, we can make them smarter and more efficient, using the power of collaboration, open access and a hugely expanded range of entrepreneurs," he said. "The Challenge was designed to accelerate this, and show that good ideas can come from anywhere. And the number and breadth of ideas we received was indeed inspiring."

More detail on the winners is available here and in the following paragraphs for the innovation award winners.

Carrollton, Texas-based Capstone Metering for its intelligent water meters. Officials said: "The company’s IntelliH2O is self-powered and delivers real-time water system management, which helps conserve water and eliminates the need for manual meter-readings."

Salem and Hollis, N.H.-based ElectricRoute for its secure communications network for the electric grid. Officials said: "Recognizing the substation's unique location in the electric grid, ElectricRoute created a communications gateway point for transmission and distribution systems. Its cyber-secure, communications network infrastructure eliminates duplicate sensors and thousands of copper lines running inside the substation."

Givatayim, Israel-based GridON for its device that controls power quality in electric grids. Officials said: "GridON created a fault-current-limiter to protect the electric grid from disruptions and power outages, increasing the grid’s reliability and enabling load growth and generation expansion from alternative energy sources."

West Lebanon, N.H.-based IceCode for its anti-icing and de-icing technology for wind turbine blades. Officials said: "Seeking to break one of nature’s strongest bonds, IceCode’s technology removes ice by using high-power pulses to apply heat from the inside out. Employing this technology for wind turbines substantially reduces the amount of energy used for de-icing and eliminates downtime for ice removal and inspection."

Kiryat Yam, Israel-based WinFlex: for its inflatable wind turbines. Officials said: "WinFlex produces rotors for wind turbines from light, flexible and inexpensive cloth sheets made out of composite materials. This flexible rotor design reduces installation costs by at least fifty percent and shortens the return on investment to three-four years, without subsidies."

Photo: Soladigm windows.