In this Episode
Since 2019, the cost of wind and solar electricity production has been lower than that from fossil fuels, and costs are projected to continue falling well into the next decade. But for renewable energy to truly dominate the electricity market, it needs to be cheap and reliable, even when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. That means the battery market needs to grow, too.
So far, short duration lithium batteries have dominated the market of grid-scale battery storage, but a recent report from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory has highlighted the importance of developing longer-duration and lower cost storage options as a key to greater integration of renewable energy into the national grid.
So what types of long-duration batteries are emerging as contenders for widespread, gridscale storage? And what needs to happen to incorporate these batteries into the grid? Climate Now sat down with two leaders in the emerging grid storage market: Jeff Chapin, co-founder of Haven Energy, and Antonio Baclig, founder of Inlyte Energy, to get a read on the state and future of the quickly growing battery storage industry.
Climate Now: Nov 28, 2022
Battery power: the future of grid-scale energy storage
Renewable energy sources – wind and solar – have become the cheapest and fastest growing form of electricity generation. But the industry has not yet escaped the perennial criticism that keeps many from believing that the world could run entirely o
James Lawler: [00:00:00] Welcome to Climate Now, I’m your host James Lawler. We’ve had tremendous growth in our listener base in 2023 and so I thought it would be helpful near the top of 2024 to restate what Climate Now is all about, what we’re trying to do here. So at Climate Now we produce a weekly news show as well as biweekly deep dives with experts from industry, academia, and the public sector to bring our listeners to the front lines of the energy transition, climate change mitigation, and adaptation.
Our goal at Climate Now is to distill and explain the complexity of these topics, and to clarify the risks and opportunities associated with the massive dislocations that are underway globally as the planet warms, and as we shed our fossil fuel-based energy legacy for new sustainable models.
The better we all understand what is happening and why, and how it all works, the better equipped we’ll be to confront the growing challenges that we face in this arena. [00:01:00] Climate change, its destructive impacts, and the energy transition are accelerating. It’s more important than ever for the information that is shared publicly about these topics to be accurate.
For that reason, we spend the time that it takes to transcribe all of our episodes and we link to sources for all statements of fact made either by ourselves or our guests. So you can always go to our website, which is climatenow.com, find your way to the particular podcast you’re listening to and read what was said and click out to the various sources for the statements that we’re making.
We want to be your trusted source for information, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Finally, this year, in 2024, we want to get to know you, our listeners. Send us a note, tell us what you think of our work, what you’re wondering about, what you’d like to hear more of or less of, how we can do better. We try to respond to every email we receive. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And with that, on to today’s episode. If you’ve listened to any of our episodes, you know that [00:02:00] the green energy transition is far more complicated than simply adding more solar and wind to the grid. Which, as you may have heard, is not that straightforward either.
My guests and I frequently debate what America’s clean power grid will look like in the coming decades. For example, will it rely on massive utility scale solar and wind farms, or a more distributed model with solar panels on every suitable rooftop, or some complicated combination of the two? In fact, we have an entire episode covering precisely that debate published on September 26th of 2023, you can check it out on climatenow.com.
There’s one thing, however, that many analysts do agree on. America’s clean energy future will feature a lot of batteries, and not only for electric vehicles. Intermittent energy sources means energy sources that only produce electrons at certain times like wind and solar. These become far more effective when they’re paired with energy storage systems that will store excess energy at the peak production periods and then release it when that [00:03:00] supply has diminished, so when there’s cloud cover or perhaps during winter seasons.
Furthermore, home solar power systems require battery storage to keep a house energy independent in the event of power loss from the grid. S& P Global Commodity Insights reported that by the third quarter of 2023, battery storage capacity in the U.S. rose 342 percent on the year to 14.6 gigawatts of storage capacity. In November of 2023, the Solar Energy Industry Association predicted demand for battery storage across all applications to reach nearly 120 gigawatts by 2030. But even within the world of batteries, there are competing strategies and technologies.
Thus far, lithium-ion batteries have been the king of grid scale power storage. They’ve also accounted for the majority of EV batteries and home battery storage systems. Yet, other battery technologies are beginning to emerge, like so called redox flow batteries. A liquid [00:04:00] based system that can be less expensive than lithium ion batteries and potentially have a longer lifespan.
With all of these new systems, there are trade offs. In terms of the cost of the system, in terms of the duration of storage, that is, how long the electrons can be stored before they’re released again, and efficiency, which is basically the ratio of what comes out of the battery to what went in to charge it.
There are still more questions about how exactly to incorporate battery storage power into existing power grids and power markets. Time of use power rate plans, in which power costs less at low demand times of the day, can incentivize people to purchase home battery storage systems by allowing them to stock up on power during low rate hours. The state of Massachusetts, for example, actually has a program in which utilities pay homeowners to draw power from their battery storage systems during times of peak power demand, allowing people to essentially buy power when it’s cheapest or generate it themselves with home solar systems and sell it back to the grid when the price goes up.
My two guests today talked me through the nuances of this [00:05:00] complex and fast-growing industry of battery storage. The first is Jeff Chapin, co-founder of Haven Energy, which is a California based startup that both installs home solar power and storage systems, and also uses data driven remote management that optimizes customers usage patterns to give their batteries the most bang for their electric buck.
Next, and I’m very excited about this, I’ll speak with my friend Antonio Baclig, who is the founder of Inlyte Energy, which is developing a battery that avoids lithium entirely in favor of cheap iron and sodium, table salt. Antonio discusses the advantages and disadvantages of various battery technologies. That’s all coming up on the Climate Now Podcast.
California based startup Haven Energy is a one-stop shop for bespoke home solar power and battery storage systems. But the company doesn’t simply come to your house, install solar panels and batteries and call it a day, rather, Haven can remotely manage your power system, monitoring grid demand, weather patterns, and other [00:06:00] variables to turn your house into what Haven co-founder Jeff Chabin calls a virtual power plant. Jeff sat down with me to discuss the distributed battery storage industry and how exactly a virtual power plant works.
Jeff, thanks for joining us today. Great to have you.
Jeff Chapin: Yeah, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
James Lawler: So explain what is a virtual power plant and why is that something that Haven thinks is a good idea to be doing for customers and for the business?
Jeff Chapin: On a, um, maybe like a very high-level sense of virtual power plant, if you think of like a traditional power plant, which, whether it’s nuclear or coal or gas, it tends to be a very large facilities, you know, obviously located in one spot that sends out a huge amount of electricity. You can think of a virtual power plant as producing maybe the equivalent amount of electricity or electricity control, but disaggregated into thousands of little components. And so it’s virtual [00:07:00] because you use, effectively, you’re using software to aggregate all those into one entity that the, the of grid operators require that aggregation because they don’t want to generally don’t want to deal with, you know, thousands of five kilowatt batteries, they’d rather talk in megawatts.
And so virtual power plants, generally you’re, you’re aggregating all of those energy elements together into one entity that, you know, you can kind of centrally control.
James Lawler: And so is this Haven’s own virtual power plant? Or are you enrolling Haven systems in someone else’s virtual power plant
Jeff Chapin: ? A bit of both. So we aggregate and control the batteries that we deploy and then there’s a couple of levels in there. And then when it gets to kind of market access, so bidding into, into wholesale markets, we do work with a partner on the market access side.
James Lawler: So essentially if I’m a customer of Haven, maybe just sort of walk me through, you know, what that relationship is like.
Jeff Chapin: Yeah. So I think [00:08:00] it’s a unique product category and that in this business home batteries have very low awareness. And so we have a two step process where we are two, two things we have to achieve. One is explaining to people why they should get a battery and the value propositions there, you know, primarily are power backup.
We have an aging, particularly an aging electric grid, particularly the distribution side, the, the last mile that gets to homes and businesses. A lot of that is past its intended service life. And so what you are seeing is more power outages, particularly in California, Texas, they’re predicting, I think, in Texas that the grid this summer will not have enough power to supply the, you know, homes and businesses and so they’re already predicting rolling brownouts and blackouts.
And so a primary function of, of a home battery is electric backup. So you can get continuity of power. If the grid goes down, the [00:09:00] battery switches within milliseconds, and so it’s not noticeable to homeowners that you’ve switched from grid power to battery power.
The other big thing is, is financial savings on your electric bill. And this comes in two ways, and it does differ state by state. So our first market is California, it’s where we’re operating right now, and California, the regulators there have created time of use pricing tariffs for electric for residential electric bills as a way to drive behavior change. And so um, you might pay if you use electricity between 4 and 9 p. m in the summer, you might pay 65 cents a kilowatt hour, if you use that same electricity between 10 a. m. And 4 p. m., you might pay 20 cents a kilowatt hour. And so-
James Lawler: That’s amazing.
Jeff Chapin: Yes. It’s a huge price difference and obviously that’s done to try to, they want you to charge your EV or run your dryer or run your dishwasher in the [00:10:00] low peak times.
It’s a kind of marginal to moderate success at driving behavior change. But what a battery can do for you is a battery can charge when electricity is cheap and then discharge the house to the house when electricity is expensive. And so you can think of like the battery in an outage application is happening, you know, a couple of times a year.
In some places it’s more frequent than a dozen, 20 times a year. A battery in a cost saving application is a, is happening daily. Other states use other mechanisms to drive behavior change. So if you move into the Northeast, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, you get much larger into like a demand response type market.
So in Massachusetts, it’s called ConnectedSolutions program. It’s upward of a thousand or two thousand dollars a year if you have a battery enrolled in that program and they pay you just to enroll the battery and allow [00:11:00] them to access the battery, remotely control the battery, in the event that the utility needs the power relief. So essentially, they would either, I think, generally, they take your home and put it instead of pulling from the grid, they pull from the battery. Sometimes they, in some places, they’ll export electricity from the battery. Um, but essentially that’s a, they’re, they’re buying capacity, they’re buying the ability to tap into it if they want to. And then you sign a contract, and you allow them so many times a year that they access it.
James Lawler: Sort of like a virtual peaker plant, kind of, right?
Jeff Chapin: It’s kind of like a virtual peaker plant or, you know, demand response originally came more from the commercial side. If you’ve got a big factory with heaters and pumps, sometimes they’ll pay you enough that it’s worth shutting down your factory rather than just keeping to, to manufacture.
And so it’s essentially that on a virtual kind of power plant side, and you see it in energy markets, like in Texas, where it’s like [00:12:00] pay for play. So if you participate, you get paid for that unit of participation. California is starting to come up, there were a couple of events last year through the different utilities where homeowners would get paid 2 dollars a kilowatt hour for relief.
James Lawler: And so does this bring, is this a good segue to the virtual power plant concept that Haven is trying to execute?
Jeff Chapin: Yeah, so if you look at a home and the like electrified assets in a home right now, so I mentioned earlier that homes will increase their electricity and effectively their power draw 2x to 3x over the next 10 to 20 years as homes get electrified and so they’ll become- each individual home- as a node in a virtual power plant will become more and more valuable and more and more important to the electric grid.
And our focus is on helping- both helping homeowners [00:13:00] understand and get installed and operate, whether it’s batteries or solar or any, any parts of the kind of journey of home electrification, and then make maximum value out of that appliance that they’ve installed. And, and so there’s generally the core function, which obviously for like a battery is backup power for heat pumps, heating, for EV, driving, but you can pull more value from that when it’s sitting idle or through the use of a virtual power plant so it helps decrease the lifetime cost of ownership, um, while at the same time helping support and bolster the electric grid, which we don’t think is like hugely motivating for homeowners because it’s, you know, you’re one node in this giant thing, which is, which is operating trying to stay stable but what generally is motivating is financial savings or earning or earnings and just leveraging what you’ve already invested into make some money.
James Lawler: So the idea is that then like a [00:14:00] Haven Energy customer would see on their bills, some sort of like rebates based on how the virtual power plant that they’re enrolled in sort of used their excess capacity that they’re getting value that way.
Jeff Chapin: Yes. It’s a really interesting question. Right now, when we enroll people in the virtual power plant, we just provide a fixed guaranteed payment to them. It’s something we’ll, we’ll try to understand deeper over time and experiment with.
James Lawler: You’re basically making sort of a guess on some discounted basis of future value that would flow to your virtual power plant based on services you provide to the grid and then you’re gonna see how right you are or wrong you are and change that over time.
Jeff Chapin: Yeah, correct I think it’s a really new concept when we’re talking with homeowners and so in the kind of education and sales process, when you start to talk about it, if it’s an unknown payment, it gets discounted in their minds to zero, right? So [00:15:00] we have to provide a fixed payment and I think there’s probably more money, if they went along on the ride with us, there’s more money there than we have on the table right now. Obviously, we just, we, we would just need to publish case studies and track records and, and people will just need to understand it more. In, in the states where, where there’s more public awareness and press around virtual power plants, specifically California, we think it’ll, it’ll take some time, but it’ll start to be more understandable.
If, if you go to like the most advanced market in the, in the world, it’s probably Australia in this regard, I, I haven’t seen this firsthand, but I’ve read and heard that people shop for virtual power plant providers the same way you might shop for an insurance provider and so I don’t know if we’ll ever get that far in the U.S., but it’s something that’s so new that we need to provide some guarantee around it and make it very understandable and certain for people right now.
James Lawler: It might be useful just to very quickly summarize, like, what would you say, [00:16:00] in terms of the inquiries that are coming your way through, you know, from potential customers, what are generally the inquiries that can be satisfied by installing a battery and what are the inquiries that really, you know, are not realistic at this point in terms of what people want from a battery?
Jeff Chapin: Yeah, I mean, they can do backup of most homes. I think where we, you know, in these first few weeks where we’ve run into like more difficult homes, if you have two or three or four air conditioning units, which on some larger homes we’re seeing, you can do it, it just gets pretty expensive.
James Lawler: You’re just having to put in, you know, four or five batteries.
Jeff Chapin: Yeah. Yeah. And even then, it gets hard if you have four- or five-ton air conditioners, that’s a huge amount of electrical load.
James Lawler: How much load is that? Like you have like four- like a big air conditioner. What is that?
Jeff Chapin: That’s like four or five kilowatts. So like multiple air conditioners, although for like smaller single air conditioners, that that’s kind of no problem. Some people want to back up their EV. [00:17:00] And so like I can charge my EV off my home battery, but EVs generally, the battery packs in an EV are four to eight times the size of a home battery and so that doesn’t make a lot of sense as a use case application.
James Lawler: You really want the bidirectional features on the EV so you can use the EV as your battery, right?
Jeff Chapin: Yeah, yeah, we really think like in tandem, like what we’re working on is stationary storage and then kind of equal to home or vehicle to grid. They would really work well together and they just can do different things for you as a homeowner. But yeah, certainly from a capacity standpoint, it’s been in the news a lot obviously, with vehicle to grid, there’s a lot of hurdles to work through to get there, but it’ll be a great thing when it finally gets through.
James Lawler: So there’s sort of two different, there’s two trends, right, with kind of electrification as it concerns homeowners. You have sort of the grid electrification, so electrifying kind of utility scale power production. And then, you know, as a result, [00:18:00] homeowners using more green electrons because more sort of utility scale generation is now sort of green, right?
And then you’ve got distributed power generation and distributed storage, which is you know, solar panels on roofs and home battery systems. Both of these things are happening and kind of one of the key determinants of what will be more prevalent is grid connectivity is sort of the interconnection cues, which we know are very, very long and problematic.
How do you see these two trends playing out? I mean, do you, do you think that we’ll live in a world where every single structure has solar and storage or, what do you think the future will look like in that regard?
Jeff Chapin: Yeah, obviously, they’re both going to continue forward. One thing I’ve been amazed at coming into this space is actually like, particularly in California, how few homes actually have solar and this is the leading state in the country, um, because of the [00:19:00] economics of it for a homeowner, have been amazing for the last decade and will continue to be amazing for another decade. So I do believe that, like, distributed generation and storage will come and should come to most homes. I do think from like a pure resilience standpoint, the more distributed the generation and storage is, the better off we’ll be.
I mean, I think the main thing is we keep saying on our side, we say it’s like a once in a generation change, but I think it’s like once in a century change. I mean, this is a moment where we’re upgrading electric grid that was built a hundred years ago and so many things are going to change. There’s so much investment.
The Inflation Reduction Act is great for our business, but just great for home electrification in general in terms of the incentives that it’s put forth for, you know, homeowners to upgrade their homes. And so it’s a very exciting time to be in this space and you know, we’re fairly new to it.
One thing that’s been amazing to me is that there aren’t that many, I don’t find there’s that many [00:20:00] startups in the space. And so I, I have been encouraged to have friends from all of the tech companies that have been laid off recently. And I do find a lot of people moving into climate, which is like a great trend so I think the next couple of years will be super exciting in the space.
James Lawler: Agreed.
Jeff Chapin: And there’ll be a lot of new things built.
James Lawler: All right, well, thanks so much for your time, Jeff.
Antonio Backlig is an engineer and founder of InLyte Energy, which is developing grid scale batteries for commercial use. Inlyte’s calling card is a new battery technology that relies on relatively inexpensive iron and sodium to hold a charge rather than the more costly lithium.
In our conversation, he explains the advantages and disadvantages of various battery technologies starting with battery 101.
Antonio Backlig: So what a battery does is it converts chemical energy to electricity and back, forward and back. So, so really you have two reactants in the [00:21:00] battery and, you know, you could call them the plus and the minus the anode and the cathode, but you have two sides to the battery.
Now, if you just put those reactants together, they would chemically react and release their energy chemically as heat, and that’s not electricity. So the, the miracle of the battery is that you have these two reactants that want to react, but you have a, a separator in the middle of them, you know, you call it a separator, a membrane, or whatever you want, that prevents them from actually touching and chemically reacting and the way you get them to react is you have this ion that goes back and forth. It’s a charged particle that can go through that membrane and at the same time to balance that charge, you have an electron go through the external circuit. So you have a Li plus cross through the, through the membrane and you have an electron E minus go through the external circuit and that’s the way you get them to react and you get to harness that chemical reaction as electricity.
James Lawler: So, batteries work by putting two [00:22:00] oppositely charged materials, a cathode and an anode, close together, just close enough to swap ions without actually reacting. Graphite and metallic lead are common anodes, but usually when people discuss battery materials they discuss cathodes like cobalts, iron, sulfuric acid, manganese, and of course lithium, which is currently the most common cathode for EVs, home battery storage, and grid scale storage.
Antonio explains that there are three key considerations when choosing a battery technology to invest in; upfront costs, lifespan, i.e. the number of charge discharge cycles the battery can do, and round-trip efficiency, which is how much power a battery can provide compared to the energy it took to charge it. Lithium-ion batteries have an extremely high round trip efficiency, around 90%. This makes them very energy dense, as you can get more storage out of less material. Thus, lithium-ion batteries are terrific for electric vehicles or your wristwatch, which need to pack as much energy as possible into a small space.
But lithium batteries have a [00:23:00] major drawback. Lithium is a relatively expensive material, and its price fluctuates. Thus, Antonio said they are not ideal for grid scale battery storage, which is about supplying huge quantities of power as cheaply as possible. For a battery farm in a remote area where space isn’t much of an issue, utilities can afford to invest in less energy dense batteries that might score better on some of those other qualities, so why don’t they? According to Antonio, the only reason today is simply availability.
Antonio Backlig: Lithium-ion batteries are being deployed on the grid now because they store energy. We can use them, they’ve been ramped up for vehicles, so they’re being deployed on the grid. But essentially, if we are to extrapolate to how much batteries we need to get to, you know, 50 percent say solar and wind on the grid, there’s no way that the cost of lithium ion batteries competes with coal and natural gas at that point. That’s why I’m working on this. We need [00:24:00] lower cost batteries so that as we continue to scale renewables, we remain economically competitive versus fossil fuels.
James Lawler: So you’ve got upfront cost, your capital cost, you have your round trip efficiency, how much energy is coming out over how much energy is going in, and then you have your life expectancy, like that metric.
Antonio Backlig: Yeah. So, so you could do that as kind of a combined lifetime cost.
James Lawler: Lifetime costs versus round trip efficiency.
Antonio Backlig: Now, there’s multiple aspects to cost and what we’re really looking at is materials cost, which is the ultimate cost that these batteries can get down to once their manufacturing is scaled up.
Actually, lithium-ion batteries are very, very, very competitive on cost right now because their manufacturing is already scaled up. So, so that’s not adding a huge amount to their cost and other battery technologies don’t have that scale of manufacturing. So even if they have lower materials costs, their manufacturing ends up being [00:25:00] higher.
James Lawler: So what lithium-ion batteries have going for them is that they already have a developed manufacturing system. So you have large scale manufacturing plants and the cost of these things is already sort of paid down. You don’t need 200 million dollars to make your first lithium-ion battery anymore.
Antonio Backlig: Yeah. I think it’s useful to understand what different long duration technologies are trying to do.
So the logical strategy here to optimize for levelized cost of storage. is actually to trade off a bit where we can get technologies that have lower materials cost, really use just really more raw and abundant materials, but have a lower round trip efficiency.
James Lawler: Yeah, and let’s talk just to make that application clear. We, you know, we’ve talked about this before on the podcast, but, you know, in the context of, you know, renewables and getting more renewables on the grid, you, you have a couple of problems that you need to solve, right? They mostly stem [00:26:00] from kind of this problem of intermittency where you have, you know, more power being produced by solar, say, in the middle of the day, and then none being produced at night. Less being produced on cloudy days and much less being produced in the winter, let’s say in most places.
And so associated with those various dynamics, there are different specific challenges. So the first is this diurnal pattern. So how do you capture the sun, the energy at the peaks of production each day and then distribute that or release that at times during the day when there’s less power?
But then we also have sort of this long duration challenge of like, you know, what happens when it’s cloudy for, for days or weeks or seasonal challenges. And so there are some companies with these sorts of other long-term solutions. Can you, can you share a couple of those names? What are some of those names that are, you know, of companies that are working to address those long-term duration challenges?
Antonio Backlig: You know, a couple of that come to mind, I mean, Form Energy has made a lot of headlines. They’re, [00:27:00] they’re building a plant in West Virginia, amazing company, I really like the people there. They’re making an iron and air battery, so, you know, can’t get much cheaper than that. Iron, and air is, is free, right, so- but their round-trip efficiency, you know, at best is, is probably going to be about 50 percent round trip efficient. You know, versus a 80 to 90 percent efficient, uh, lithium ion battery. But, but again, this makes sense for the hundred plus hour battery that they’re working on.
James Lawler: And why does that make sense for the hundred hour battery?
Antonio Backlig: Because essentially if they can get down to their materials cost, their upfront cost is, is lower than lithium ion, much lower, their costs go up in terms of round trip efficiency and the energy lost, but because their application doesn’t have as many cycles, it doesn’t matter as much the overall economics as just that upfront capital cost.
James Lawler: Okay. [00:28:00] So Form Energy is one, are there any others that come to mind?
Antonio Backlig: I’ll shout out, I like this company and you know, they’re, they’re a bit smaller, but Noon Energy. What they’re making is a carbon to co2 battery so again you can’t, you also can’t get much cheaper right. It’s taking carbon and combining it with oxygen to go to CO2 and back and going back and forth now it’s a it’s a harder reaction to do but they got a lot of smart people there.
James Lawler: All right so now let’s come to Inlyte’s chemistry and sort of where this ranks on sort of those two axes.
Antonio Backlig: Yeah so we were talking about the diurnal storage and the long duration storage.
And, and really, I think those are the two main categories on the grid and that ultimately, we want some kind of energy storage optimized for those two. So before founding Inlyte Energy, I was at Stanford, uh, for eight years in the material science and engineering department, and I was looking for the best grid battery.
And then I got excited about this, this salt and iron battery for two main [00:29:00] reasons. One, from a theoretical standpoint, everything we talked about, about roundtrip efficiency, materials costs, lifetime, this is what I was looking for. And then two, was that it actually builds on an already proven battery technology called a zebra battery.
So this, the zebra battery was invented in the eighties and nineties for electric vehicles. And if you could explain our company strategy in a nutshell, it’s, it’s that we’re now re-optimizing the zebra battery for the grid. And by doing that, which we think is a better application for the, this type of battery, we’re making it much lower cost.
James Lawler: So I know you have some props that you might be able to share with us. Show us the battery. What does it, what does it look like?
Antonio Backlig: Yeah, yeah.
James Lawler: And we’ll try to do this in a way where people who are listening will actually be able to picture what is about to happen.
Antonio Backlig: To show you, so this is the beta alumina. This is [00:30:00] basically the cell for a conventional zebra battery. The type that was developed in the eighties and nineties for vehicles.
James Lawler: So you’re holding a, uh, a white stick that’s about a foot long and it has sort of these beveled faces. It looks a bit like a four-leaf clover in terms of its footprint, right?
And I’ve held this myself and it’s sort of like a ceramic feel, slightly rough ceramic feel. It’s very lightweight and this material is known as beta alumina, and that’s, it’s a tube.
Antonio Backlig: Exactly, exactly. So beta alumina is, is a ceramic membrane in our battery. When you charge it, the sodium goes through the, the ceramic.
James Lawler: So it’s sort of just an inert tube that has this unique property that lets sodium ions pass across it, but nothing else. It’s like a, a layered sort of crystalline structure and so the sodium ions can sort of eke their way through that structure and come out the other end. And so, as you charge [00:31:00] it, sodium sort of passes through and collects as sodium metal on the outside and then discharges, it goes back through.
Antonio Backlig: Exactly, exactly. And I’m a material scientist, I love this stuff. The, the incredible thing, right, is literally sodium is going through the crystal lattice. It’s, it’s not going through pores. There’s, there’s no holes. It’s, it’s completely dense, right? No holes in this. It’s the material itself, the crystalline lattice that sodium can hop through very quickly.
So that’s a very unique property of this ceramic. So the technology we’re working on, the salt and iron battery, it’s really attractive to me because it has a very low materials cost, you know, may, maybe not the lowest possible in terms of when we’re talking about iron air and, and carbon CO2, maybe it’s a little bit higher than that but we have a relatively high round trip efficiency again in the 80 to 90 percent round trip efficient range.
So we’re basically trying to be the same round trip efficiency as lithium ion, but a lower upfront [00:32:00] cost. And also by the way, a longer lifetime and better safety as well, and more reliable.
James Lawler: Right?
Antonio Backlig: So this is one of the big things we’re doing here at Inlyte Energy. The, the other thing of course is switching to the iron chemistry. So the conventional zebra batteries actually use a nickel-based chemistry.
James Lawler: Mm-Hmm.
Antonio Backlig: Which again was designed for electric vehicles. It was the logical choice to optimize for the acceleration of vehicles. Um, we’re going to the iron chemistry because that’s the better choice for the grid and optimizing for cost.
James Lawler: Hmm, interesting. And so Antonio, what do you think the biggest challenges are that you face now? I know you’ve just raised a significant amount of money in your seed round, congratulations, enough to have you up and running moving forward. What, what are the major challenges that you’re facing now? And what do you expect to face as you go forward here?
Antonio Backlig: Yeah, we’re really excited, but I would say in terms of bigger challenges, you know, for us and for any battery company, it’s really about getting [00:33:00] to that scale of manufacturing. How do we get to that first factory as soon as possible and then build a bigger factory? And there’s so many pieces to line up too. You have to have the cell design, then you have to have the manufacturing plant design and the supply chain set up, and then you have to finance it. So you have to have your customer orders ready, which means they have to see the evidence of the product working and you know, you have to line all of that up and try to do that as quickly as possible because the clock is ticking on climate.
So, you know, I, I think we have, as I said, great tailwinds with the IRA, you know, that, that really creates an incentive to manufacture in the US that’s, that’s going to be big. And we’re really racing to try to get out there and use those tax credits as soon as we can and there’s a lot of other companies racing to do that as well.
I’m deeply concerned about climate change and our slower than needed response to it as a world. And so it’s [00:34:00] very hard to connect the dots, right, to say we’re here now as a world where we’re still using 80 percent fossil fuel for energy still in 2023, how do we get that to zero in 2050? It’s really hard to draw those lines when you take a broad perspective, but when you look at what is happening at companies and different groups around the world, and the progress being made at a small scale, there is the potential for exponential growth. I can’t explain how it’s going to happen, but I do have this hope in our potential to find the solutions and scale them.
James Lawler: That’s it for this episode of the Climate Now podcast. You can hear more about the latest in clean power solutions and technological breakthroughs in previous episodes, which are available at [00:35:00] climatenow.com. And again, we’d love for you to get in touch with us and let us know what you think of how we’re doing. You can email us at contactatclimatenow.com. We hope you’ll join us for our next conversation.
Climate Now is made possible in part by our science partners like the Livermore Lab Foundation. The Livermore Lab Foundation supports climate research and carbon cleanup initiatives at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, which is a Department of Energy applied science and research facility. More information on the foundation’s climate work can be found at livermorelabfoundation.org.