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Fluid Mechanics of Liquid Metal Batteries
The quest for renewable energy sources entails an increasingly intermittent electricity supply.
Transmission grid updates can only partially account for balancing the resulting variations and large-scale stationary storage will gain importance in future energy landscapes dominated by volatile sources.
Today’s battery technologies were, with the notable exception of redox-flow batteries, mainly designed for and driven by mobile applications. Those prioritize properties (energy density, power rating) that are less important for stationary storage. Thus, battery technologies developed from the ground up to meet the needs of stationary storage have the potential to much better address the specifics of huge capacity installations.
Liquid metal batteries (LMBs) are a new technology for grid-scale energy storage, see  for a comprehensive review. They consist of all liquid cells that operate with liquid metals as electrodes and molten salts as electrolytes. The liquids separate into three stably stratified layers by virtue of density and mutual immiscibility (see the two upper left inserts in Fig. 1a). This conceptually very simple and self-assembling structure has the unique advantage to allow for an easy scale-up at the cell level: single-cell cross sections can potentially reach several square-meters. Such cell sizes enable highly favourable and otherwise unattainable ratios of active to construction material because of the cubic scaling (volume) of the former and the quadratic scaling (surface) of the latter. The total costs should therefore largely be determined by those of the active materials.
The talk will start with a general introduction to LMBs and then focus on the fluid mechanics in these devices . Electric currents, magnetic fields, and heat and mass transfer are tightly coupled with the cells’ electrochemistry. First a number of fluid dynamic instabilities will be discussed in relation to operational safety. The remainder of the talk will deal with transport phenomena in the positive electrode. While transport in most modern battery systems is typically dominated by diffusion and migration in micrometer-scale liquid layers and solids, convection - with exception of the aforementioned redox-flow batteries - rarely plays a role. This is in stark contrast to LMBs were mediated by the fully liquid interior fluid flow can be driven by various mechanisms. The influence of solutal convection on the cycling behavior of a cell (Fig. 1a) will be demonstrated. Electromagnetically induced convection can be used to improve mixing (Fig. 1b) thereby mitigating diffusion overpotentials.
Keywords: liquid metal batteries; electro-vortex flows; mass transfer; solutal convection
Invited lecture (Conferences)
Department Seminar Mechanical Engineering Department, 16.10.2020, Dearborn, MI, USA