Codename ‘Malta’: Google owner Alphabet’s secret lithium battery project

It’s not just the name of one of the world’s smallest islands: ‘Malta’ is code for Alphabet’s secret lithium battery project

1 August 2017, 3:39pm
A new project by Alphabet Inc.’s secret X lab could put salt and antifreeze at the center of battery technologies for renewable energy sources.
A new project by Alphabet Inc.’s secret X lab could put salt and antifreeze at the center of battery technologies for renewable energy sources.
A new project by Alphabet Inc.’s secret X lab could put salt and antifreeze at the center of battery technologies for renewable energy sources.

A decade ago, this lab made headlines for its driverless car. Now the lab’s leaders claim its new project – codenamed Malta – could store energy anywhere around the world, while boasting a longer lifespan than lithium-ion batteries.

“If the moonshot factory gives up on a big, important problem like climate change, then maybe it will never get solved,” said director Obi Felten, referring to his lab’s shoot-for-the-stars process in picking new projects. “If we do start solving it, there are trillions and trillions of dollars in market opportunity.”

Bloomberg describes the facility as a four-tank power plant that can be adjusted in size to fit the needs of the facility it powers. The collision of hot and cold air spins a massive turbine that generates electricity for the buildings to which the tanks are connected.

“The thermodynamic physics are well-known to anyone who studied it enough in college,” Malta product manager Julian Green said. “The trick is doing it at the right temperatures, with cheap materials. That is super compelling.”

Lithium-ion batteries are the Malta project’s main competitor for financial success, as the former’s prices continue falling. Low oil and gas prices have fueled investment in renewable energy technologies that do not risk breaking the bank during fossil fuel oversupply. Three years of bearish markets have incentivized research and development in green power infrastructure all over the world.

“[Malta] could potentially compete with lithium-ion,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Yayoi Sekine said. “But there are a lot of challenges that an emerging technology has to face.”

Attracting investments from venture capitalists is one such hurdle, but having the Alphabet brand behind it will certainly help X with the funding issue.