If you stop and think about it for a second, advances in lithium batteries have powered a fair number of emerging technologies in this decade. Electric cars, drones, smartphones, these are all becoming prolific because of improvements in lithium battery technologies. When it comes to portable batteries, short of some entirely new battery technology being developed, it looks like we’re going to be stuck with lithium batteries for a while. Here’s where all these batteries will be coming from:
It’s been a while since we mentioned anything about battery technology or power cells and the companies looking to advance these technologies. Batteries or power cell systems are generally made up of the anode, the cathode, and the electrolyte. The most popular material for the anode and the cathode is lithium, mainly because it is a safer alternative than most materials for manufacturing batteries. When looking to improve upon the lithium battery, there are two primary areas for improvement:
- Cycles need to be improved – Lithium batteries typically have a charge/discharge life cycle of 300 to 500 before they “die”.
- Density needs to be increased – The more energy you can store in a battery, the smaller and lighter you can make the appliance that carries the battery.
Since we first started writing about lithium battery technology startups, there have been a few notable acquisitions. Vacuum maker Dyson acquired Sakti3 which was working on solid state batteries. If you recall, solid state batteries eliminate the need for an electrolyte which means they are safer and cheaper to manufacture. Another battery technology startup called Seeo was developing solid state batteries based on a nano-structured polymer electrolyte. Seeo was acquired by Bosch in August of 2015. Both of these acquisitions show promising possible exits for other lithium battery technology startups. We had some of our on-staff PHDs try and put together a list of lithium battery technology startups to watch and here’s what they found.
The biggest lithium battery startup out there is Boston Power, a company we wrote about before that has taken in a whopping $370 million in funding so far to develop a next generation of lithium-ion battery cells that boast a 10-year lifespan. They’ve disappeared across the pond over to China where they are building loads of batteries now for electric vehicles. We couldn’t help but put in this very cool chart from Visual Capitalist on lithium-ion battery production in China and where Boston Power fits into the bigger picture:
China is expected to become a major player in lithium battery production by 2020 with a capacity increase of +521% between 2016 and 2020. Clearly Boston Power sees a future there that avoids having to compete directly with the Tesla Gigafactory.
English startup Nexeon has taken in $108 million in funding so far to develop a unique silicon anode technology which uses nanomaterials that we won’t get into because that’s complicated, innit. Their drop-in approach means that you can just start using their new cathode in your current manufacturing process and cell capacity will increase by 30-40%. They have a fully automated pilot plant in operation at the moment and have recently expanded into Asia via Japan. Their last funding was a $38 million round last year which they plan to use for acquisitions.
We talked about this Israeli company before which has taken in $66 million in funding and is using nanotechnology, specifically quantum dots, to create a battery that charges 100X quicker. The only issue they’re facing is that the technology requires the phone to attach directly to the charger (no wires) with a proprietary 20-pin connector. This means that you would need an entire ecosystem in place before the technology could be adopted. Nonetheless, the CEO and founder Doron Myersdorf believes that this is the year for a mass production launch.
Founded in 2006, Irvine California startup Enevate has taken in around $60 million in funding so far to develop a silicon-dominant anode battery technology referred to as HD-Energy. Phone run tests show 35-50% more use time along with 4X faster charge time than conventional batteries. The Company is currently in negotiations with several original-equipment manufacturers of mobile devices to supply batteries for certain product lines. While initially targeting smartphones, the new battery technology is also expected to be used in drones and electric vehicles as well.
We first wrote about Amprius way back in 2014, a California startup out of Stanford that took in $55 million to develop an anode made out of silicon nanowires. According to the Company, they are “currently designing and selling the highest energy batteries on the market, with 15-30% more energy per unit weight and volume than state-of-the-art batteries“. They also go on to say that “Amprius products are featured in a number of smartphones released in 2013 and 2014“. It seems like they’re pivoting into electric vehicles with their website stating “Amprius silicon nanowire anodes can improve the energy density of lithium-ion batteries by 1.4x to 10x, making them ideally suited for electric vehicles“.
This Massachusetts startup is working on an ultra-thin metal anode that can double energy density while using existing lithium-ion production infrastructure. They’ve taken in $20.5 million so far to further those aspirations, and their 3 funding rounds so far included participation from General Motors. When Samsung had all those phones catching fire recently, SolidEnergy was quick to point out that they are using electrolytes which are not flammable.
ActaCell, Inc. founded in 2007 is based in Austin, Texas, and was acquired by Contour Energy Systems in September 2012. Since the Contour Website isn’t functioning at the moment, we’re not sure if they’ve gone bankrupt or just have an incompetent hosting provider. ActaCell had raised a total of $9.8 million (of which $3 million was a grant from the Department of Commerce received in 2010) to develop cathodes made from magnesium spinel and anodes made from nanocomposite alloys. Prominent among its investors was none other than Google.
Another startup out of Massachusetts called Cadenza Innovation has taken in $5 million in funding to develop a new way of packaging lithium batteries. The founder, Christina Lampe-Onnerud, was also the founder of Boston Power so she knows a thing or two about batteries. Cadenza has also received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for a 4-year project that began back in 2014 to expand the range of electric car batteries by increasing energy density. Cadenza’s technology is a multifunctional battery pack design that costs less, has double the density, and can manage impact energy in the event of a collision.
Massachusetts startup Ionic Materials was founded in 2011 by CEO Mike Zimmerman Ph.D., a proven serial entrepreneur who has more than 30 years of polymer expertise. The Company has taken in $4.29 million in funding (according to PitchBook) to develop a novel polymer that eliminates the liquid electrolyte, creating a completely solid battery. They plan to be in production in the next two or three years . They were recently awarded with a $3 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) grant from the Department of Energy that will begin this year. Science Friday interviewed the company in this article in which the CEO is hopeful that “we’ll see devices supported by Ionic Materials’ plastic battery in two or three years“.
Colorado startup Prieto battery has taken in $2.5 million in funding from investors that included Intel and Stanley Black & Decker (NYSE:SWK). The Company is working on a 3D lithium-ion battery technology that is price-competitive, charges faster, and lasts longer. Their batteries use no liquid electrolytes, and instead use a highly conductive copper foam that can be shaped to fit spaces that are inaccessible – like the sort of custom shapes you might need when creating an ergonomic power tool. We wouldn’t be surprised to see them get acquired by SWK.
Mysterious San Jose startup QuantumScape has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding from investors that included Volkswagen, with the intent of developing a solid-state fireproof battery that can triple the range of its electric cars. The technology, which is being licensed from Stanford, was developed with a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. QuantumScape continues to operate in stealth mode so if suddenly VW announces a vehicle that has triple the range of a Tesla, we’ll know who is behind it.
Founded in 2004 with an undisclosed amount of funding, a UK-based startup called Oxis Energy is developing and innovating a Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) battery chemistry. This chemistry is the reason why Oxis’ patented technology is safer, lighter, maintenance-free, and provides 5 times (1,500 cycles) greater energy compared to conventional Li-ion technology. Oxis batteries can withstand the most extreme abuse like nail or bullet penetration. The Company is in the process of building pilot manufacturing facilities.
OneD Material was co-founded by Invention Capital Partners and a group of private investors who acquired Nanosys’ nanowire technologies and Palo Alto R&D activities for an undisclosed amount. Back in the day when nanotechnology first started to come to the attention of investors, Nanosys was expected to be a forerunner and actually came close to having an IPO. The OneD Material technology is a silicon-graphite anode material which improves the performance of lithium-ion batteries. Covered by more than 300 patents, their scalable SiNANOde™ production processes is available now for technology transfer and licensing.
In researching this article, we decided to exclude lithium technology startups like Brightvolt that are targeting thin film batteries for smaller applications like IoT or credit cards. That’s because we’re mainly interested in lithium technologies that will increase the range of electric vehicles, help our smartphones stay charged longer, and enable our drones to fly over longer distances. For that reason, we also skipped companies like Alevo or 24M that are focused on building large grid solutions.
Adoption of lithium batteries will only accelerate with a predicted reduction of battery prices in 2017 of at least 15% (after a 70% reduction in the past 5 years). With a few successful exits already, we can be assured that a new lithium battery technology from at least one of these startups will be powering a battery near you in the coming years. Think we missed a lithium battery technology company that’s targeting EVs/drones/phones? Drop us a line in the comments section below or shoot us an email.
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