A better battery? MIT researchers say discovery could improve storage of energy from wind, sun
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers say they’ve improved a large-scale battery, opening the possibility of storing massive amounts of renewable energy for a rainy day — or a day without wind.
The researchers say their changes to liquid-sodium batteries will make them more durable and useful.
“I consider this a breakthrough,” MIT professor Donald Sadoway said in a prepared statement. He said the batteries, invented five decades ago, could finally become practical because of the new research.
A team led by Sadoway, which included postdoctoral researchers Huayi Yin and Brice Chung and four others, published its study this week in the journal Nature Energy.
Sadoway said the battery’s innards previously contained a fragile ceramic, but the team found a way to replace it with durable metal.
Currently, buildings powered by solar and wind energy have a problem: “The wind doesn’t blow all the time; the sun isn’t there after dark,” Sadoway said. And if there’s surplus energy, large amounts can’t be stored.
Because of that, the buildings still have to be connected to an electrical grid. But the improved liquid-sodium batteries could eliminate that need, Sadoway said.
“You’d effectively be in a position to go off-grid,” Sadoway said. “The idea is that the storage would be close to the demand center — whether it’s in a single-family home or a hospital,” he said.
He said the batteries could also be used by utilities, and that could eliminate their use of fossil fuels.
“The big thing that is holding back grid-scale storage is cost,” he said. “With the cost of natural gas being what it is, it’s a lot cheaper to hook up a gas-fired unit than it is to install batteries.”
The batteries can be made of cheap, abundant raw materials and are safe to operate, he said.