Show me — that’s the common thread in the top 10 most-trafficked GigaOM cleantech stories of 2012. Exclusive photos and videos of emerging clean power and electric car technologies lead the year. (OK, we’re not so surprised by that.)
A startup called Alveo Energy, with technology developed at Stanford University, is building an ultra low cost and long lasting battery that could help deliver breakthrough energy storage technology for the power grid.
Ambri (formerly called Liquid Metal Battery) gets the spotlight on The Colbert Report in an interview this week. Watch the video on this startup that was created by an MIT Professor and which has backing from Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures, oil company Total and ARPA-E.
As recent woes in the battery industry from the likes of A123 Systems have shown, it’s difficult to innovate and scale new battery technology. The solar industry has faced similar challenges, and could offer some lessons.
Brad Plumer at The Washington Post writes about the massive over capacity of the domestic battery industry right now, owing to the fact that EV sales have been disappointing. Borrowing a chart from consulting firm Advanced Automotive Batteries, he shows that the anticipated demand from EV production in 2013 was expected to be 3,900 megawatts of battery production capacity while it is more likely to be in the ballpark of about 330 megawatts. That’s more than a ten times miss in forecasting demand.
It’s never been completely clear to me how American battery makers were going to compete with their experienced East Asian counterparts, which have been at this game for a couple decades and which can always feed extra lithium ion batteries into their internal consumer electronics divisions. That’s what battery developers like Samsung do to keep cash coming into their battery divisions. They always have internal customers.
There is no Moore’s Law for batteries and the advantages of American battery technology are typically very incremental. Companies like Ambri have some promising new tech for grid storage and Envia says its got a battery in development that could do a 300 mile range at under 30K. Should any of these technologies every actually see the light of day, the trick is to find a way to keep manufacturing in the U.S., which is strangely an even larger hurdle than creating a technological breakthrough.
As some investors focus on the demand side of the grid through demand response, smart electronics, and smart metering, others are making bigger bets on battery storage as the ultimate solution. The trick is scaling and becoming cost-competitive with peaking turbine plants.
Liquid Metal Battery — a promising battery startup backed by Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures and oil giant Total — has changed it’s name to Ambri, a shorter and less literal word that’s a nod to Cambridge, where the company was founded.