The ability to store energy on the electric grid would greatly improve its efficiency and reliability while enabling the integration of intermittent renewable energy technologies (such as wind and solar) into baseload supply1,2,3,4. Batteries have long been considered strong candidate solutions owing to their small spatial footprint, mechanical simplicity and flexibility in siting. However, the barrier to widespread adoption of batteries is their high cost. Here we describe a lithium–antimony–lead liquid metal battery that potentially meets the performance specifications for stationary energy storage applications. This Li||Sb–Pb battery comprises a liquid lithium negative electrode, a molten salt electrolyte, and a liquid antimony–lead alloy positive electrode, which self-segregate by density into three distinct layers owing to the immiscibility of the contiguous salt and metal phases. The all-liquid construction confers the advantages of higher current density, longer cycle life and simpler manufacturing of large-scale storage systems (because no membranes or separators are involved) relative to those of conventional batteries5,6. At charge–discharge current densities of 275 milliamperes per square centimetre, the cells cycled at 450 degrees Celsius with 98 per cent Coulombic efficiency and 73 per cent round-trip energy efficiency. To provide evidence of their high power capability, the cells were discharged and charged at current densities as high as 1,000 milliamperes per square centimetre. Measured capacity loss after operation for 1,800 hours (more than 450 charge–discharge cycles at 100 per cent depth of discharge) projects retention of over 85 per cent of initial capacity after ten years of daily cycling. Our results demonstrate that alloying a high-melting-point, high-voltage metal (antimony) with a low-melting-point, low-cost metal (lead) advantageously decreases the operating temperature while maintaining a high cell voltage. Apart from the fact that this finding puts us on a desirable cost trajectory, this approach may well be more broadly applicable to other battery chemistries.
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We acknowledge financial support from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (US Department of Energy) and Total SA.
D.J.B. and D.R.S. are co-founders of Ambri, a company established to commercialize the liquid metal battery. D.J.B. is now Chief Technology Officer at Ambri. His contributions to this article were made while he was still a student at MIT pursuing his PhD and subsequently a postdoctoral associate for a short period of time. D.R.S.’s role with the company is advisory; he is formally the Chief Scientific Advisor and is a member of the Board of Directors.
Extended data figures and tables
The negative current collector consists of a stainless steel rod and Fe–Ni foam. The positive current collector is made of graphite (small cell; 3.16 cm2 active area) or 304 stainless steel (large cell; 62 cm2 active area). Current collectors are electrically isolated by means of an alumina insulator.
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Wang, K., Jiang, K., Chung, B. et al. Lithium–antimony–lead liquid metal battery for grid-level energy storage. Nature 514, 348–350 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13700
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