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Super-hot salt could possibly 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 firm just lately announced a demonstration project deploying vitality storage for Microsoft information facilities, and final yr it raised over $140 million to construct its manufacturing capability. 

The firm says its know-how could possibly be 30-50% cheaper over its lifetime than an equal lithium-ion system. Molten salt batteries may exceed 80% effectivity, which 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. Using related chemical reactions to what’s used for aluminum smelting, the workforce constructed a lab-scale, low-cost vitality storage system. But turning this idea into an actual product hasn’t been so easy.

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 a quarter of its staff 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 new chemistry depends on cheaper supplies, and may show less complicated to fabricate, Bradwell says. Since the pivot, the corporate has labored out technical glitches and made progress on commercialization, going by means of third-party security testing and signing its first business offers, together with the Microsoft one. 

The Microsoft vitality storage system. Image 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 techniques can current challenges in system controls and logistics. 

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