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Aquion, Ambri, and the Future of Renewable Energy for Batteries

Better batteries are being developed for storing renewable energy
Better batteries are being developed for storing renewable energy
Photo by Mark Kolbe

In this increasingly mobile era, the worst thing that could happen to the modern-day techie is to have devices run out of juice. Then, in the mad scramble for a charger or an available outlet in sight, you curse the heavens and mourn the fact that alas, your battery has given up on you. Batteries not only provide an energy source for nifty mobiles and gadgets, but they also basically power up the whole world. Despite the advances in technology today, batteries are still an ever-evolving study, with new discoveries being researched every day. What, then, is the future of renewable energy? Startups Aquion and Ambri may have already found out.

Aquion Battery: Made from Safe Materials You Can Actually Eat

Nobody wants to eat a battery. Aquion battery creator Jay Whitacre says the materials taste awful, but the point is that as opposed to dangerous lead and sulfuric acid, the Aquion batteries are made from nontoxic materials and non-combustible water-based chemicals that are friends of the environment. Even more impressive is that it costs almost the same as a lead-acid battery but charges up and lasts twice as long. Not bad for a startup company operating out of an old, then-abandoned Sony TV factory.

Aquion also takes pride in its low-maintenance ability to power up isolated areas. Its affordable technology of storing solar energy presents a sustainable solution to providing electricity especially in areas where fuel is the most expensive. A renewable recharge enables a battery to forego fuel, so pollution is immediately thrown out of the equation.

Composed of manganese oxide cathode, carbon composite anode, a saltwater electrolyte, and synthetic cotton separator, the Aquion battery is cheaper, safer, and more energy-efficient, but it is made specifically for stationary applications that require long durations. Not the best option for cars or portables, but if you need to power up a whole city, it’s certainly not a problem. It’s no wonder Bill Gates is funding this wonderful endeavor.

Ambri: Liquid Metal Battery Energy From the Wind and Sun

Speaking of funding from Bill Gates, another one of his genius investments is the Ambri battery. Highly flexible and unaffected by inconsistencies, it’s perfect for harnessing wind and solar energy because of its ability to store energy even when the sun is hiding or when the wind isn’t blowing. It can power up entire grids with the cheapest methods possible with materials that are abundantly available in nature.

Its liquid composition created by Donald Sadoway utilizes modular cells with three layers of self-separating liquid. Based on density, two metals and a salt float on top of the other with a self-heating system. “If we can get liquid-metal batteries down to $500 a kilowatt-hour, we'll change the world,” he says confidently.

Renewable Batteries: What’s Next?

For decades, the lithium-ion battery has been our go-to power source for mobile gadgets, electric cars, and flight systems. Despite their pocket-sized advantage and their recharge ability, powering large-scale machines and whole grids has always been a problem: they can overheat and explode, and they normally only last for about three years. The next phase of battery technology must store more energy, cost less, and last long with sustainable materials.

Vince Battaglia from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab says that there is a need to “leapfrog the engineering of making batteries. We've got to find the next big thing.”

With the low-cost, safe, and highly renewable energy options from both Aquion and Ambri, perhaps the next big thing is already here.


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