Stepping into the “New” (Tech Tuesdays)

“If you want to make something dirt cheap, make it out of dirt.”

A quote by Professor Donald Sadoway discussing promising solutions to intermittent energy storage.

At this point I have said it several times, so allow me to restate that reaching a sustainable future for energy is indeed a multifaceted problem.

I always enjoy seeing the many parts of this problem being hacked away by individuals and corporations who dare venture into the world of — you guessed it — innovation.

Now that I have introduced a long repeated main idea, let’s define a few terms.

We all know that wonderful device that keeps our iPhone or galaxy powered on for a full day right? We all know it as the…

Battery, a vessel of energy that powers phones, cars, even buildings.

Here is a more formal definition by Oxford. “A container consisting of one or more cells, in which chemical energy is converted into electricity and used as a source of power.”

What does the battery store?

Energy, of course. Also formally defined  by Oxford as “Power derived from the utilization of physical or chemical resources, especially to provide light and heat or to work machines.”

Energy is a phenomenon that has powered our lives for years, but how can sustainable energy be achieved and maintained? My answer…

Innovation. Oxford derives the word innovate from the verb “innovare”, meaning  in – ‘into’ + novare – ‘make new’ (from novus ‘new’). Given this context, innovate quite literally means “to step into the new.” To transition into a new era, taking all of your current knowledge with you out on a vast horizon, into the next frontier, and forward into a new future.

Too abstract? Let’s bring it back down to earth.

Energy is now a huge buzz word. How we store it, how we distribute it and how we transfer it are three very intricate questions that require a new level of thinking. Noble scientists like Sadoway believe that batteries play an integral part in answering these questions. What might the strategic plan for answering these questions and gathering new solutions be? I’m glad you asked, Sadoway comically starts his Ted Talk by saying we must make something dirt cheap, out of very dirt we stand on.

More sophisticatedly put, Sadoway suggests us exploring the world of metallurgy, particularly:

Electrometallurgy, which I found to have quite an interesting and multifaceted definition.

Image Sourced from

In summary, electrometallurgy involves electrical energy when refining certain metals and other adequate materials.

From this point forward, I cordially invite you to watch snippets of the video after you read the following synopses:

1. Sadoway continues and describes“The Setup (at 4:11-4:48)” When developing the liquid metal battery, what initial thoughts must be considered?
2. “The Solution Concept (6:00-6:34)” Design specs of Sadoway’s liquid metal battery, adopted from the Hall, Heroult cell, developed in888.
3. “It All Ties Together (at 13:36-14:57)” Sadoway points out a few heterodoxies, comparing conventional designs to his new design. Ties it all together with his theme: ‘Full Spectrum”

I encourage you to watch the entire video HERE for more context, especially from 8:02 – 9:49 where he gets into the detailed chemistry, but dear readers….this is brilliant. I  have watched this video at least 9 times and am appeased every time. A real solution has been devised to solve a real problem. A solution that is initially designed to be cost-effective, energy efficient and scalable, instead of chased down by the OEM to reduce costs and emissions. So I am tempted to ask “why in the world do we not think this way all the time?” The best part about being engineers and scientists is that we make the impossible, possible. We side-step the cynical comments against climate change and recognize that efficiency is one of the many pillars of science. Whether we are building micro-controller or saving the entire planet from certain eminent disaster, efficiency is key!…. Another discussion entirely, but let’s stay focused.

All I can say is that I believe there is a need for more minds like Sadoway. It is minds like his, that actively pursue real solutions to real problems. Acts such as this inspire me every day to get out there and change the world, one circuit at a time.

What is your take on this? Do you agree that we are at the cusp of an energy innovation era? Is Sadoway speaking fact or fiction? What improvements can be made to this energy solution? Is there a notion that we can soon enough “innovate” our way into a new technology era — to step into the new?

Maybe consider another question: How might the Liquid Metal Battery measure up to another contender, the Dry Electrode Battery? Watch the video and offer your opinions!

Thanks for Reading

(As a believer of accountability and prose, all graphics and content have been properly sourced in the above passage.)

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