Monday, 30 September 2013
Molten Air Batteries: High Storage Capacity but High Costs as Well
Researchers working on creating batteries with ever-increasing storage capacity have made great strides with molten battery technology. Their latest creation, known as the molten air battery, is capable of storage capacities so high that they make the nearest competitor seem small by comparison. One version of this new battery has a capacity of 27,000 WH per litre.
Molten air batteries use a combination of oxygen and molten salt to store energy via multi-electron molecules. What gives these batteries such a high storage capacity is the ability to store multiple electrons within a single molecule. Traditional batteries are only capable of a single electron per molecule.
Adding to the attractiveness of the new technology is the fact that the molten air batteries are fully rechargeable. In theory, they could be used to power everything from electric cars to battery backup systems used by data centres and collocation facilities. The biggest drawback at this time is the cost of producing and maintaining the batteries.
The raw materials to build the batteries automatically introduce price challenges keeping them out of the commercial market. But it doesn't stop there. The cost of charging the batteries is also prohibitive. Unless researchers and manufacturers can figure out a way to bring the costs down then it's unlikely the batteries will ever get beyond the concept stage.
The high storage capacity of molten air batteries does result in an astoundingly high operating temperatures – the molten electrolyte operates in the region of 800°C at peak. However, management of such high temperatures should not be a problem if the batteries ever gain widespread acceptance. Many industries already use batteries operating in excess of 600°C.
Assuming costs of production operation can be brought under control, one wonders how these batteries could be put to use in the networking and IT services sectors. Could they be used as storage vehicles for solar thermal or photovoltaic systems? If so, would it be possible to operate a data centre or collocation facility completely off the grid? It is something to think about...
As Europe continues to lead the way in the creation of sustainable energy options for the IT sector, these batteries could play an integral part. It is easy to envision a brand new data centre using solar thermal as its primary energy source during the day. Excess energy could be stored in molten air battery systems to power the facility throughout the night hours.
In concept, such systems seem completely viable yet, in practice, it may not be the case any time within the foreseeable future. It may take decades to reach that point, if it's reachable at all.
In all likelihood, the first commercial application of the batteries will probably be electric cars. However, success there could translate into many other applications where traditional batteries are inadequate. All of this is speculation, of course – nothing could seriously be considered until the issue of cost effectiveness is dealt with.