167: Getting Salty – Salt Water Batteries

Matt and Sean talk about whether salt water based batteries will be able to push it without peppa. 

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, Why Salt Water may be the Future of Batteries https://youtu.be/vm2hNNA4lvM?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7

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On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re gonna be talking about whether or not salt based batteries will be able to push it without Peppa. I’m also gonna ask Matt how he feels about saying terms like Crustal abundance. Mm-hmm. And

Pickle Liquor. Pickle. Liquor Pickle. Everybody likes. Everybody likes Pickle.

And let’s

remember everybody. That is liquor as in a beverage, not liquor as in tongue related, just saying, Hey everybody as usual. I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci-fi. I write some stuff for kids, and I’m just generally curious about technology. Luckily for me, my brother is that Matt of undecided with Matt Ferrell, in which he talks about technology and its impact on our lives.

And Matt, how you doing today? I’m doing good. I feel like I just saw you, Sean. Yeah, I know. Seems like only the day before yesterday. Yes. That we were actually in the same room together. Yes. And as we parted, I jokingly said to you, talk to you tomorrow. But tomorrow was yesterday. Yes. What is today? Today’s the day after yesterday because I had to reschedule after realizing that perhaps.

High speed driving on the highways followed by podcasting. Might not work out so great. No, you might be a little bit tired. Might be a little tired. Our conversation might have looked a little bit like this,

so we delayed by 24 hours that graciously allowed his older brother to be old. Mm-hmm. And that leaves us with today’s conversation. Which is going to focus on Matt’s most recent episode, which taking a look at salt based batteries, which is in some ways a return. You’ve talked about these before. Yeah.

And you’ve talked about them not only directly, but they’ve come up in various conversations in various episodes of your channel, where in the myriad of storage options. Salt has come up again and again. Yeah. Yep. So this most recent conversation is about some recent developments as far as actually bringing the product to market and how it is now planting a flag as a direct competitor to those battery options that have been on the market now for like Tesla.

How long has Tesla’s Power Wall been available for? It’s, I don’t know. It’s.

10, 15 years kind of a timeframe.

Yeah. Right. So now we’ve got some new entries into that market, which we’ll be talking about be. Before we get into that conversation, wanted to share some thoughts from our previous episodes like this comment from episode 1 66.

I’m amazed that we have 166 episodes behind us. That doesn’t seem like a realistic number, but here we are. Oh, here we are. Means we’ve been doing this for three years. Is that possible? Apparently, unless we got our numbering way outta whack, that could be just accidentally out outta one. But on episode 1 66, which was talking about Toroidal propellers, Barbara wrote in to say, I am constantly amazed at the number of current and near future technologies that Matt reports on.

That this technology, the seemingly simple, well, okay. Sort of simple for current today’s society propeller that has been around since the 1850s and might be considered a mature technology is finally being reexamined. It’s very exciting. More, please. There’s also this from CH Listens who wrote, yes. The Propeller on a cargo ship runs 40 to a hundred rpm.

Big part of our conversation last week was mm-hmm. About how. The propeller designs showed efficiency improvements at higher RPMs, and a lot of the comments on Matt’s original video were, Matt, you’re a loser because big cargo ships don’t run that fast. Yeah, but CH Listens wants to jump into the comments and say, well, while it is true that cargo ships run at 400 to a hundred rpm, there are multiple pumps in the engine room.

The Toroidal propeller may work better on in the engine room of an aircraft carrier. There are literally hundreds of pumps that run at 3,600 rpm or greater. I’m sure it would not work on every pump, but it could help a lot. So, That’s really cool. There’s an application. It’s, it’s interesting to me that you and I have these conversations all the time where we’re like, oh, here’s a thing.

This thing is a propeller. We’re gonna talk about what propellers do. Yeah. And there are people with use case scenarios that we have either forgotten about or may not even be aware of somebody. I wasn’t aware of that saying like, oh yeah, there’s all sorts of things in the belly of a ship that used for propellers.

They might help out there and look like. It’s just fantastic. I really appreciate the comments that. Drop in as, uh, they really drive the conversation here and they drive the conversations at Matt’s original channel. You guys are responsible for a lot of ideas that Matt then jumps into producing videos on.

So keep it coming. Yes, please. So today’s conversation is gonna be focused on Matt’s most recent episode, which as of the recording was just a few days ago. May 9th. 2023, why salt water may be the future of batteries. And in the video you discuss a lot of overlap with other technologies that you’ve discussed previously.

Like the company that is one of the companies that is working on this technology is also involved in the project of putting solar panels. Over irrigation canals. Am I right? Yes. Yep. Yeah. Yeah. There’s a lot of overlap. I’m wondering, did you come across any other cases of overlap? Other companies that are doing the salt battery research that are also involved in other, in other products?

Or did that one jump out just because you recognized the name of the company? It

jumped out cause I just recognized the name of the company. It was, it was one of those in this field. We also talked about another company that we’ve talked about before. Like when we say salt, It’s like there’s sodium salt and then there’s right iron salts.

The main thrust of the video was about salt water based batteries, and that could be iron salts, it could be sodium salts. We kind of broadened it a little bit because mm-hmm. It’s an interesting area of growth. But yeah, we were, as we were pulling this together, it was like, oh yeah, well, we just talked about that, and that company was doing this thing and they fit perfectly right here too.

So there’s all this kind of overlap that kind of like Ki Ki came together. By accident. It was not, we did not plan on this. It was just like a, oh yeah, there’s a different angle toward this that we didn’t consider. And is there

a region of the world where the research in this has been more highly concentrated?

Australia always comes up as one of the regions where they clearly have been taking climate change and sustainability and reliance on technologies that will have less of a horrible footprint than what we’ve relied on for the past century. Is that the case here? Are they one of the leaders in this research or is it, is it more global?

It’s more global. But Australia is an interesting kind of test case, cuz I’ve been digging into this a lot recently and it’s like Australia has very odd government policies that are not about fighting climate change per se, but the population is very much on board with doing everything they can do to change.

So it’s like the government seems to be at odds with what the population is interested in, but just because of the bottom line and the bottom dollar. Australia is naturally kind of gravitating towards all these solutions to be self-sufficient and are really kind of pushing things in a, in a dramatic way.

So there’s a reason why, not necessarily a

progressive political environment, but a progressive capital environment. Progressive

capital environment and progressive people. So it’s, it’s just, it’s fascinating to me cuz it’s like the government doesn’t quite align with what’s actually happening on the ground and it’s just, I find that so fascinating how they’re pushing solar, how they’re pushing energy research.

We’ve talked about like the bromine batteries that they have, the flow battery systems that they’ve created and are researching that are very specific to that them, because they have a large supply of those materials, so it makes sense why they’re researching that. But when you’re talking about like these.

Salt, broader salts, whether you’re talking about iron salts or just sodium, that’s a little more. Global. I mean, there’s definitely regions like of Europe, United States, Australia, that are all looking into this. But it’s like, from what we’re seeing and when we were pulling together, it seemed to be more of a global approach because these materials are readily available everywhere.

It’s, it’s a very kind of global thing.

And you referenced Crustal abundance? Yeah. Okay. The idea that these things are in the Earth’s crust, of course we’re not talking about. You know, pie, crust or anything like that, although pie crust with a little bit of salt in it. Mm-hmm. Sounds, sounds really good.

Right now it’s just a nice, salty apple. Caramel. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Curious about the resources for these kinds of salt, especially if you’re talking about sodium. Is it really necessary for it to be a mining operation or is it literally. Saltwater as in ocean. Could they use ocean as a resource for getting these materials?

One of these companies did talk about like saltwater, like literally like seawater could be processed, purified and used. Yeah. In other cases, it’s more about like you’re, you’re mixing it yourself. You’re not using literal seawater, but you’re using sodium, which is very abundant. We already have huge supply chains that are already bringing that stuff in, so it’s like that’s.

That’s part of the reason why people look at this is like we can get sodium from seawater. We can get sodium from mines that we already have. We already know how to process it in large scale, so it’s like something that’s cheap and readily available. However you want to get it. So yeah, it’s, it’s

whatever you wanna do.

Basically, some of the things that were mentioned in the comments included this comment from John Doe who wrote, it’s not all that helpful to talk about energy density in the same conversation as grid storage, because 95% of the time it makes no difference. So if you want to mention energy density, you need to explain why it’s not important.

The biggest factors are cost and efficiency in conversion. Do you agree with that sentiment or did you want to dive into some of those particulars and, and. Parse out why you talk about what you talk


I think I get where John’s coming from with the energy density for grid storage. Energy density makes a lot of sense when you talk about cars, transportation, cell phones, because you have a limited amount of space.

You ha you wanna keep your weight down. So there’s reasons why you wanna do that. But for grid storage,

it’s isolated use. Right. It’s directly into your vehicle or your phone computer or whatever, right?

So it’s like, but for a grid storage, it’s like, who cares if it weighs twice as much as this other battery?

It’s just sitting there on the ground. It’s not gonna impact anybody. I, where I think energy density still comes into play is, is volumetric energy density, because we only have so much space. It’s like, yeah, okay, the weight’s not as big of a deal, but how much space this is gonna take up can have an impact on how it’s being


It’s having one in your home versus having to have it on a farm. Right.

Exactly. So it’s like I have a battery in my garage. I only have so much space. I need to have something that’s still somewhat, you know, biometrically small. It doesn’t have to be light, but it needs to be small-ish to be able to fit in different locations.

Right. So I still think energy density does play a important role. But if you’re talking about, like in Australia, there’s the Tesla Hornsdale Power, power Reserve, which is just a megapack installation. It’s like, yeah, if you have an acre of land and you’re just gonna build an energy storage on it, You can, it.

It’s not that big of a deal. It’s like, it’s like you can do what you need to do, but energy density does come into play. And not to take yourself on a tangent, it’s part of the reason why when you’re talking about flow batteries or you’re talking about hydrogen energy storage, It’s so key because you can increase the size of the storage tanks to increase how much energy you can store, or you can increase the, the energy stack that’s in between the tanks to increase how much power output you can put out.

So it’s like you can kind of scale it in two different ways where like a lithium battery. It’s like a linear thing. You need more storage. You have to literally make more batteries. So it’s gonna take up, you need twice the energy storage. You need twice the volume because it’s just gonna keep scaling linearly.

But with this, it’s not that same equation.

So the very basic terms, it might be like having a water tank with a fire hose. You can have a bigger tank or you can have a bigger hose. Are you correct both.

Yes. Uh, lithium battery is not bad case. It’s, it’s if you have a Tesla cell, it’s like it is what it is and you want more storage.

You literally test to keep adding those cells. So there’s a kind of a one-to-one relationship as it scales up, where with something like this, it’s not. So it gives you the flexibility to tailor the system for what you need in that given situation, which is ties back to why I think energy density isn’t something you can just write off.

It is something that’s important for the conversation, right? Cause it does play a

role in that. Do you think there’s a lack of terminology around some of this? No. Where there’s terminology that’s used and it’s used in multiple places and maybe it creates some of this confusion.

Yeah. Okay. In that case, yes, cuz energy density is technically not the right term to use.

Like you say, oh, what’s the specific energy of this battery? That’s the, the way you calculate, whether it’s the density of by volume or by weight. There’s ways that you refer to those. But in the common parlance we’re just saying, oh, what’s the energy density? So it’s like we’re kind of like mixing our metaphors.

We’re kind of like using a term that’s kinda like, well, what are you, what do you mean by energy density? So it’s like there’s different ways we can refer to it. So in that regard, yes, I do think it’s kind of the waters are muddied. But that’s because of just common understanding of how this works. It’s easier to describe it as energy density versus saying, oh, what’s the specific

energy of this battery?

Right. There was also this comment from Mark Umbers who wrote, I researched ess. That’s one of the companies Matt referred to in his video about the time South Australia installed Tesla’s big battery. I asked them if they could have matched the cost. And they only, not only confirmed that they could have, but pointed out that they would’ve had a lot longer life, no fire risk and no end of life disposal problems.

I often wondered what became of ess great to see that they are making progress. So this comment about I’m, I’m, first of all, I’m interested in the aspect of, well, they were around at that time. Yeah. When Tesla was putting together their stuff and then, Now to say like, oh, they’re still on. They’re still going on.

They’re still conducting your research. But I’m also interested in the aspect of their claims that they could have done everything that Tesla did, but better. Yep. And. I’m curious about your response to that. I’m curious, do you think this is a case of, I mean, we’re now years forward in time and the public perception of Elon Musk and Tesla has shifted over time.

Do we think that this may have been a case of people going with the. Young hot rod who was good at public perception and marketing, and they went with Tesla for that reason, as opposed to a company that was and also ran at the time. Or do you think that there’s something about their claims that maybe, yeah, it’s great that they are saying they could have done all these things, but realistically could they?

I’m asking you to weigh on something that you have no insight into it whatsoever. Just a kind of knee jerk response. You’re like, yeah, I think that they may be like, maybe I feel done

wonder, I’m gonna wander into a quagmire here if I’m not careful, but it’s, I think there’s a little bit of column A, B, C, D in there.

Yeah. But I think the big thing is E s S may have not been ready for primetime at that moment. Where lithium batteries are a known quantity. I don’t think it was purely, oh, Tesla’s just a name and had better branding. I think there was also Tesla came out and said, we actually have a product you can buy today and it works.

Versus ess, which is like, we’re still testing things out or we’re still early days, or it’s technically at that time it may have been more expensive at that moment or today, it’s now maybe

more cost competitive,

so it’s time does play a big role in this. Just the having the. The right time being the right place at the right time, and it may have been too soon for

ESS at that point.

And also, realistically, I mean, as much as public perception may shift marketing and the ability to talk and sell your product is also a part of the reality. So yes. To say that Tesla may have been able to better sell something, is not to say that that wasn’t a realistic part of the, the process of selling it.

So it’s not all about, you know, to say that salesmanship had a part is not to say it was smoke and mirrors and snake oil. It’s just to say that that’s part of the

equation. Yeah, it’s definitely not snake oil, but they were at the right place at the right

time. I also wanted to share this because it leads an interesting question about usage of this technology.

Dosa Doodle says this low energy density is perfect for home batteries based on a 1 25 watt hour. There’s a bunch of. Jar per liter. Per liter. Per liter. Yeah. A 10 gallon fish tank can hold about 4,000 kilowatt hours of energy. Scale that up to a small fridge size, and it can hold 798 liters or about a hundred kilowatt hours of storage.

That is the equivalent of eight power walls of energy. While Tesla rarely recommends more than three power walls for non mansions. Yeah. Is this a technology that the company is like, yeah, you can have this in your home. I don’t know that I got that

impression. They’re, I have not seen a, a whiff of that from ess.

Doesn’t mean that they’re not considering it, but n publicly I haven’t seen nothing about that from them. And I do like the, the call out about eight power. You can have eight power walls. Equivalent, but of course, you know, most people have three, maybe four max and that’s for a huge house. A lot of energy storage systems I see today that are lithium ion talk about, oh, we can go up to 128 kilowatt hours of storage.

And every time I see that, I’m like, who on earth in their home needs that much energy storage? Right? It is an absurd amount of energy storage. It’s like, yes, I want enough in my battery pack to last me two weeks. Why would you want that? Uh, but yeah, it’s, it’s interesting to see how this could play out. It seems that would really be

worth market scenario.

You’re like expecting hurricanes to knock out power for months, is what that sounds like to

me. You also have to think about this and how you roll out product out. Typically industry has deeper pockets than a homeowner, right? And so if you’re trying to scale your business up, you’re gonna go to the deep pockets first, cuz it’s gonna be more expensive upfront.

And industry can justify those costs more than somebody like you or me in our homes. So it’s like start there and I can see them in a few years, maybe if it, if they’re successful, starting to roll it out into a smaller scale

unit. Thank you for the comment and yeah, it made me consider as we got to the fridge sized, Specs Yeah.

That they described. My first thought was like, well, hospitals, like, that’s the kind of thing where a hospital would want a basement filled with, you know, a dozen of these to be able to, to continue things running. But I didn’t. Quite see the, the team that’s putting the research into this thinking, yeah, everybody will have one of these in their garage.

Finally, I wanted to share this from Nathaniel Fernando who wrote, I am grateful for this channel. Matt always showcases newer technologies that can be massive game changers in the industry. I am hoping for similar kinds of breakthroughs for other things personally, and this is where it gets interesting.

I would like to see innovations with sewage treatment, for instance, so there’s a little. Thing for you in the future. I, I know that right? You’ve actually visited sewage treatment previously? If I remember correctly. It may have been one of our first videos, so I think it might have been, yeah, it might have been, it might have been roughly three years ago.

So if Nathaniel, you’re a recent listener to this program, you might want to go way back to the beginning and take a look, but also Matt, you might consider revisiting. Yep. That and make. Another one of those videos, which would make it your number two video. Oh, on sewage treatment. Oh, oh. Sean and listeners, what do you think?

Let us know in the comments. Are there any other topics that you think Matt should cover or something that he should revisit from a previous video? And it’s always interesting to go into the way back machine to some of the earlier conversations we’ve had or some of his earlier videos. And I wonder, can anybody find something in Matt’s.

History, you know, which you think Matt may have forgotten about. Is there a tech buried deep in his previous earlier videos that you’re like, why doesn’t Matt ever talk about this anymore? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget. If you’d like to support the show, please consider reviewing us on YouTube, apple, Google, Spotify, wherever it was.

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