A Carnegie Mellon University engineer says he has found a way to store electricity in salt water -- a development that attracted a $5 million federal grant Tuesday and could lead to his batteries one day dotting the country's electrical grid.
The sodium-based batteries would store enough energy to allow power plants to run at a constant speed, rather than ramp up and cool down to accommodate demand during different times of day, said Matt Rogers, senior adviser to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. The award is part of the $620 million in stimulus money that Chu announced in Columbus.
Rogers said the house-sized battery would handle massive amounts of energy for about one-tenth the price of other methods.
The battery was invented by a research team led by Carnegie Mellon engineer Jay Whitacre and his spinoff company, 44 Tech Inc. The federal grant will leverage $5 million from a California venture- capital firm that partnered with 44 Tech, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
"They use a salt solution to make this (battery) work," Rogers said, calling the design ingenious. "The challenge in batteries has been the high cost."
Other batteries can store large amounts of energy, but they rely on such items as molten sodium and sulfur. Some must be kept hotter than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Because we're using water ... the cost is an order of magnitude less," Whitacre said.
The grants are part of $1.6 billion in federal stimulus money that the Energy Department is spending to create a so-called "smart grid" -- which would waste less energy and be more reliable than today's energy grid.
The $1.6 billion is part of $4 billion in federal money going toward a $10 billion national energy-grid upgrade.
"The last time we made major investments in the grid was in the '60s and '70s," Rogers said. "We're …