Ambri’s liquid metal battery to be used at desert data centre in Nevada

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Some of the team at Ambri, photographed in 2016. Image: Businesswire.

‘Liquid metal’ battery technology developed as a potential low-cost competitor for lithium-ion looks set to be used at a data centre under development near Reno, Nevada.

An agreement has been made to deploy energy storage systems using the novel chemistry batteries between manufacturer Ambri and TerraScale, a developer of sustainable infrastructure solutions for the energy and digital technology sectors.

Co-founded by MIT materials chemistry professor Donald Sadoway and part-funded to get off the ground by Bill Gates, Ambri has designed a battery that uses a liquid calcium alloy anode, molten salt electrolyte and a cathode made of solid particles of antimony. The company claims this enables a low number of steps in the cell assembly process while the materials are low-cost. Ambri also integrates the batteries into a containerised energy storage system solution.

TerraScale meanwhile is developing a project called Energos Reno. A 3,700 acre development near the city of Fernley in the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area, the site will include a microgrid with more than 500MW of renewable energy capacity powering a data centre that TerraScale anticipates will be used by government and commercial clients.

Renewable resources that Energos Reno can call on will be solar and geothermal: there is already 10MW of solar generation built at the site, which TerraScale intends to bring up to 500MW and 23MW of active geothermal power with a rated capacity of 48MW. While the first phase of the project is the buildout of roadways and utilities to enable the sustainable data centre to be sited there, TerraScale said in a press release that it hopes the data centre and its microgrid will be built and completed within 10 years.

“Our data centre technology partners are looking forward to deploying Ambri's technology to enable high-volume, reliable, and resilient energy storage with potentially the lowest levelised cost of storage in the industry,” TerraScale CEO Danny Hayes said.

“The collaboration is underway and includes delivery of 250MWh of Ambri systems to TerraScale's first project in Reno, Nevada starting in 2021. The Ambri systems are particularly well suited for the project's high-desert operations, for the shifting of its large amounts of renewable solar load, and for its grid-system peak shaving capability,” Ambri chief commercial officer Adam Briggs said.

In racing to commercialise its novel battery technology, Ambri is among a handful of non-flow battery players that are beginning to realise a scale-up in deployments as rivals to lithium. These include Eos Energy Storage, which has recently brokered a couple of gigawatts in contracts with US developers for its zinc aqueous battery and 24M which has recently signed a deal for a Norwegian startup to manufacture its semi-solid electrode lithium batteries under license. Japanese equipment maker Kyocera has also signed up to use 24M's potentially disruptive lithium battery technology in residential energy storage systems in the Japanese market. 

24M was also started up by an MIT professor, Yet-Ming Chiang, who in turn has also involved been involved with Form Energy, which has recently emerged from stealth mode touting the potential of its aqueous air battery, claiming that it can store up to 150 hours of energy. Form Energy has also been backed by tech magnate Bill Gates, via the former Microsoft chief's Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund. 

Ambri meanwhile had been selected by the Massachusetts-headquartered energy storage system integrator arm of NEC as a potential technology solution for projects that required more than four hours’ duration of storage, with NEC Energy Solutions announcing a minimum purchase order of 200MWh of cells from Ambri in 2019. However despite a strong early leader position, NEC exited the energy storage industry earlier this year.

Ambri’s Donald Sadoway has said in the past few days via Twitter that the company’s batteries can operate in the desert “without need for air conditioning or fire suppression,” claimed that there was “no question that liquid metal battery can undercut lithium-ion,” and that the technology “offers resistance to capacity fade and immunity to thermal runaway while constructed of ethically sourced materials. All at the lowest price point”.

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